The SeaPhantom - helicopter speed, powerboat price
By Mike Hanlon
February 13, 2007
February 14, 2007 As a leap forward in the capability of watercraft, the SeaPhantom is landmark. The company’s catchcry “Helicopter speed, powerboat price” explains how effective it is, but the devil is in the detail and this toy is a combination of several technologies, each of them adding a significant dimension to the capabilities. At low speeds, it’s just like a boat, then as it transitions to medium speeds, it lifts out of the water on proprietary shock dampened 'foils' which are outboard on each side and are the marine equivalent of a desert race car suspension – long travel and capable of withstanding massive impacts. This is a very serious suspension system with non-corrosive fiberglass leaf springs and billet-aluminum airbags tested to 60,000 pounds for dampening the wave impacts. At these speeds SeaPhantom is like a trike with two wheels (the foils) at the front and one driving wheel – in this case a 625hp Ilmor V-10 running through a propulsion system adapted from an offshore race boat. Once there’s clear water in front of it, tweak the speed and the lifting-body airfoil design picks it off the water in ground effect, radically reducing hydrodynamic drag. Without all that resistance of the water to contend with, the SeaPhantom can rocket along at 120 mph using just a fraction of the V-10’s 625 horsepower with radically-improved fuel consumption.
The biggest advantage of the ground effect is that it’s infinitely smoother than being pounded into the face of every wave, so passengers do not experience the cruelness of the ocean.
The number one long-term concern of the US Navy SEAL operative during small boat insertion operations is the accumulative effect of the constant pounding on his body. The average SEAL will complete his career one inch shorter than his enlistment height, due solely to the endless wave impact loads on his spine. Many admirable approaches have been made to mitigate shock loads to small boat combatants at the seat base, but the more logical approach would be to intercept the problem at its source: the sea-surface interaction zone. The SeaPhantom does this.
Water transportation built the foundations of the modern world but its sedate pace has seen it sidelined as a serious transport alternative for anything but vacations and as a short haul ferry.
The SeaPhantom is considerably faster than an automobile, making it a viable transportation alternative particularly suitable as a watertaxi with a viable range of several hundred kilometres, for police and emergency response teams, and of course, many military applications.
It’s the military potential of the SeaPhantom that makes it very likely to attract investment. For starts, without a brutal battering by the waves, servicemen will be in far better shape to perform their duties.
One example of the potential of the SeaPhantom as a Future Force Multiplier is on the company’s web site. Scaled up and armed with ship-to-ship, surface-to-surface, and surface-to-air systems, plus six, internally deployable, 85-knot similarly armed drone craft. All this in a ship that can cruise at 150 knots.
The acquisition cost of two such systems would be similar to that of a Blackhawk helicopter but would yield a force multiplier factor of 30+. A Blackhawk goes home after 2 hours, or it will run out of fuel, whereas the indefinite loiter capability of the SeaPhantom puts it on station for twelve hours with the unmanned drones capable of loitering indefinitely. Such an investment could secure a major harbor for the price of a Blackhawk.
Borman is adamant that the SeaPhantom offers remarkable stealth and agility qualities make it an impossible target to hit.
“Assuming AWACS or JSTARS battle-theater control, with satellite downlink, then a cruise missile attack on the SeaPhantom system will fail,” believes Gorman. “The SeaPhantom simply vectors away at 150 knots from sub-sonic missiles. Air-to-surface, ship-to-ship attacks fail against the SeaPhantom as well, as its inherently low radar signature foils targeting systems. You cannot kill what you cannot target. Very high speed and extreme maneuverability due to the craft's bank turn system foil manually targeted attempts. Ultra-high survival probabilities are apparent. It’s still early days, but the operational design objectives include the elimination of active aeronautical control surfaces to simplify pilot duty. Basically, the craft's built-in stability systems - including automated computer controlled gyroscopic feedback- means the craft may be operated by anyone familiar with high performance offshore powerboat operation.
Several computers operate quietly in the background sampling the vessel's attitude 400 times per second, automatically balancing the craft until manual override steering inputs are registered. The computer instantly takes back control to balance the craft against quartering waves, 'misload' conditions, or prevailing winds off the beam. Ultimately, however, safety does not rely not on e-control systems, but instead is based on the passive stability incorporated into the craft's design. Fly-by-wire control systems are simply to ease pilot load and are not relied upon as a safety device.
Future designs will scale the technology to the size of 1930's DC3s: 18 - 24 passenger models with projected cruise speeds of 150 knots, flying 8 to 12 feet above the average wave crests, making scheduled travel with impunity, across, for example, the Gulf of Mexico, Coastal US routes, island-to-island throughout the Caribbean, or South Pacific Islands...
The first production models will be based on the proof-of-concept craft. They will be ideally suited for jet-turbine power driving through counter-rotating stern drive, straight inboard, or experimental water jet.
The first production models will have approximately the same dimensions as the prototype: 30' loa x 12'6" boa and the company is exploring a joint venture to design a craft around a lightweight six-cylinder diesel.
The prices for the civilian pleasure craft will be confirmed soon, but they should start between $400,000 and $600,000, depending on the model specifications.
For your half million, you’d get an elite water sportscar capable of carrying the four passengers in 2 +2 formation behind your F1 style center-seat. A clever design enables the SeaPhantom’s pilot to have 300 degrees of over-the-shoulder visibility, with outward pointing video cameras covering the remainder and giving the passengers an all-round view via large LCD screens.
SeaPhantom is the work of David Borman, a name we suspect you’ll hear more of. His remarkable career and the informal education he had as a child have given him some unique skills and background knowledge.