The View from Below
A private-island resort in Fiji offers guests underwater flights in the Super Falcon submersible.
Graham Hawkes has been stalked by a great white shark 100 miles off the coast of Mexico and felt no fear. He has laughed giddily while submerged upside down 300 feet below the surface of Monterey Bay. From the inky-blue depths of Lake Tahoe he has sped toward the clouds in the sky above to feel the thrill of a breach. All of these experiences were enabled by the Super Falcon, the winged submersible that the British-born U.S. engineer launched in 2009 after decades of designing and building the craft to, as he describes it, fly underwater.
Hawkes’s company, DeepFlight, has built three examples of the $1.7 million, 22-foot-long Super Falcon. One belongs to the technology-industry venture capitalist Tom Perkins, and Hawkes sold the example that he used as a showroom model to a Turkish yacht owner. The third Super Falcon was delivered last June to Laucala, a private-island resort in Fiji that was named to the Robb Report 100, our list of the world’s top 100 resorts. Guests of Laucala now have access to the vessel and the unique experiences that Hawkes designed it to deliver.
“With the Super Falcon, you’re able to explore reefs and marine life in a way that you can’t with anything else,” says Hawkes. “Because of its ability to cover distance and maneuver with such agility, you can experience things underwater that no one has before.” Hawkes visited Laucala last summer with his wife, Karen (who handles the marketing for DeepFlight), and some of his staff to teach the resort’s dive-center team how to maintain and operate the sub. While on the island, Hawkes also trained the resort’s owner, the Red Bull cofounder Dietrich Mateschitz, and his son. Mateschitz is an aircraft pilot and therefore quickly mastered the Super Falcon’s fly-by-wire controls. “The operating principles of the Falcon are identical to an aircraft, with a few minor deviations,” says Hawkes.
Hawkes describes how Perkins recently spent three years exploring the South Pacific with his Super Falcon, which he would launch from his 120-foot expedition yacht Dr. No. He tells about the time that Perkins was swarmed by dolphins while submerged in the vessel, and how, on another occasion, he glided far beneath the water’s surface alongside a pod of humpback whales, enjoying a 360-degree, crystal-clear view of them from under one of the acrylic dome canopies that cover the Super Falcon’s two tandem seats. “[Perkins] is the first human to move with humpback whales in deep water,” says Hawkes, noting that the craft operates in virtual silence. It is propelled by zero-emissions electric-powered thrusters that can operate for as long as six hours on a single charge.
Unlike most submersibles, the Super Falcon is not equipped with headlights. “A sub with headlights is capable of putting a million times more light in that environment than ever existed before,” explains Hawkes. “We’re seeing big sharks, whales, and other animals, and if we had blazing headlights or made too much noise, they’d get the heck out of there.”
The Super Falcon is designed to dive deeper underwater when thrust is applied and to rise to the surface when not under power, making it fail-safe in the event of a malfunction, according to Hawkes. He also notes that any malfunction would be a first for the Super Falcon; he and his team have continually tried—and failed—to break the sub during test runs.
(Continues on next page...)