The Aqueon, want to "fly" underwater up to 6 mph under your own power? If so, read on ...
Calvin A. Gongwer, "Cal" graduated from CalTech in Aeronautical Technology and has approached design problems from that perspective. Fluids include both air and water and are governed by fluid dynamics. So shifting from airborne travel to underwater in practical design is no big change in things, right? Wrong. This 92 year old renowned hydrodynamicist and inventor is still going hard at it through his company, Innerspace Corporation.
Over time he has amassed over 71 patents in underwater technology. His fertile imagination has resulted in the creation of numerous innovations, including thrusters used on many important platforms such as the submersibles Alvin, Deep Rover and numerous Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) including the Triton, Oceaneering, Perry and other vehicles.
The Deep Rover sporting gray Innerspace Corporation thrusters
Cal first had the idea for a oscillating foil propulsion system about 55 years ago. He was inspired by fish and dolphin tail fin propulsion. How to adapt the motion into a man-driven device? So came about the Aqueon. The Aqueon is a man-powered diver propulsion device capable of producing speeds of 5 1/2 kts. A 165 lb. diver was measured to develop static thrust of 87 lbs. exceeding that most electric diver propulsion vehicles that come to mind. For two years he traveled the world promoting his device in the 1960's. The world may not quite have been ready. Cal tells me it took about 50 years for the bicycle to catch on and now look at it today. In U.S. Navy trials two swimmers equipped with twin 90 cft. diving tanks (Northhill aluminum 90's, had a pair myself with UDT Frogs back in the day, sssh) and fins swam for all they were worth a distance of 1500 yds. The divers made it in 44 min. 20 sec. and were exhausted. They did the run again tow hours later with Aqueons in 24 minutes and arrived energized and ready for more. You can review full product literature and performance test results HERE
Last weekend I took the Aqueon out on the Wreck of the Inchulva off Delray Beach, FL. We were treated to some excellent 70 ft. viz. in bluewater.
Cal has quite a lot of time on the Aqueon naturally enough and some notable crossings. He crossed Lake Tahoe, 22 miles in 14 hours when he was 52. The next year he topped that by towing a man on a paddle board across the Catalina Channel in 11 hours.
Looking back to the mainland from Avalon on Santa Catalina Island
He told me about sneaking up on basking sharks and giving them a jolt with this strange looking device on the way to Catalina. He described another case of a fit 185 lb. man who towed his similarly sized brother for 100 m (plus turn at 50 m) in an underwater breathhold dive in a pool.
I was lucky enough to find one of these in my early UW exploration days as a teenager in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. My good friend Vic and I used to tool offshore at speed over the reefs. It was an amazing way to check things out, with minimal exertion. Vic still has two of these in Alaska, the Bahamas, the Middle East or wherever he lands next with the requisite dolphins and water.
Recently I contacted Cal and acquired another Aqueon. Some pictures and videos of the device in action appear throughout this article.
Moving out across the wreck
A short video clip of the device in action. NOTE: All of the recent still and video Aqueon images were taken with the new Olympus 770 SW amphibious camera.* The stills are processed with Photoshop, but what else is new? Apologies for the distracting spine-like brown phytoplankton that show up in the shots on an otherwise very clear day. The camera is an impressive device all on its own and in a very small water & shock resistant package.
You can work up a nice head of speed with the Aqueon. The unit requires some ease in the water and a bit time to get used to it. Still when you see someone moving out naturally enough you may want to do it yourself. Gliding underwater with minimal exertion is an unusual sensation. Ripping loose on a speed run is only more so.
Moving around the boilers
The Delray Wreck or the Wreck of the Inchulva is comprised of several sections including the boilers shown above and this section of hull.
Nice viz. for a warm summer day
Cal put this design together consisting of a low drag face shield/faring, integrated snorkel and even compass display for the run to Catalina as shown in Popular Mechanics, November 1968. It might look funny to some but it serves a variety of essential functions for distance runs in cold water. He had 14 painful hours experiencing elevated convective heat loss from his head the year prior in crossing Lake Tahoe to think up this design. Necessity as always the mother of invention. His bride of 67 years sometimes requests that some of the accumulated inventions from over the years move on from the family garage. Lots of history there, if you ever have a garage sale, let me know!
The day prior we headed out to the nearshore reef off Deerfield Beach. The viz. wasn't nearly as nice as off Delray the next day, still you get a feel for the performance of the Aqueon.
Exaggerating the stroke to enter into a dive. Still figuring out ways to use the Aqueon for best effect in free diving.
It had a secondary trait that I wasn't expecting. There was also a small turtle, perhaps a male cruising for a likely female to create some eggs with.
Swimming along and off into the haze.
I followed along for a while and I think the guy fell for the Aqueon. He wasn't running away and when I veered off and stopped he actually turned and came over my way.
So, for a fifty year old design it is pretty incredible. Makes you wonder why you don't see them out all over? Well, like Cal said, it took 50 years for people to embrace the bicycle. Perhaps a new day may be coming for the Aqueon.
* Olympus 770 SW 7.1 Megapixel Camera