The Virgin Oceanic Flying Submarine
by Owen James Burke
Sir Richard Branson will probably be remembered as one of the most influential and entrepreneurial individuals of our time. Branson’s Virgin Group includes over 400 companies, and now he has added Virgin Oceanic, a flying submarine, to the brand. His plan? Reach the deepest point of each of the world’s 5 oceans.
In collaboration with Chris Welsh and Graham Hawkes, Branson plans to descend to the deepest point of each of the five oceans of the world, starting with the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, which reaches a depth of 35,797 ft., or just under seven miles. The last and only trip to this lowest point on earth was made by Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard in January of 1960, though the two were only on the ocean floor for a matter of minutes before beginning their ascension.
Unlike Piccard and Walsh’s submarine, Trieste, Virgin Oceanic’s “flying submarine” will not be constrained to strictly vertical mobility, but glide its way down to the ocean floor for miles before requiring an ascent.
Waiting at the surface will be the mother ship, a 125-foot-long catamaran with a 126-foot-tall mast, simply named Catamaran. Catamaran was the late Steven Fossett’s ship, once called Cheyenne, with performance hulls designed to break speed records, but Fossett perished in a plane crash in September of 2008. Ironically, Fossett had been working with Graham Hawkes (now Virgin Oceanic’s flying submarine designer) to develop plans for a submarine trip to the Mariana Trench, which set plans for Virgin Oceanic into motion.
Many questions arise here: will the hull material be thick enough to withstand the pressure 7 miles below the sea’s surface or will a giant squid engulf the craft before it even has the chance?
History could be forever changed in the coming months, as it is estimated that 97% of the oceans’ floors remain largely unexplored. We can only hope for the best, and that maybe one day you and I will be provided with the opportunity to take the tour ourselves.