An home-made boat pushed to 511 km/h, the world record from 1978

Australia. Forty years, 1 month and 8 days ago, Ken Warby, an Australian professional pilot, started in the waters of the Blowering Dam pushing the 10,000 horsepower of his Spirit of Australia to 511 km / h making history. Today we want to relive that modern myth, which appears to us as a story from another era with all the flavor of a “home-made” enterprise. Yes, because the Spirit of Australia, Ken’s boat, had not come from a specialized shipyard or from a laboratory of technicians and engineers, but from the pilot’s garden.

The fastest boat in history is “home-made”

It was 1970 when Ken designed the project on the kitchen table. After some time he came to an auction with surplus products of the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) in Sydney, where he came out with three jet engines for J-34 aircraft: spending $ 100 for the first two and $ 60 for the third . From that day on Warby took advantage of every free moment and began to build Spirit of Australia in his garden working only during the day and when it was good weather, covering Spirit of Australia with a cloth on rainy days. The materials? No carbon if it is what you were thinking of, but only wood, fiberglass and elbow grease


After four years of work, in 1974, the boat was ready for launch. It still lacks much to make it “complete” because there were not both the air intakes and the tail of the aircraft aft, but it was enough to conquer the Australian speed record. Having established this record Ken needed more space, to undermine a new goal: the world record. The “spot” for this purpose was found in Blowering Dam, New South Wales in Australia. To focus on his dream, Ken abandoned his daily work and started working on the 100% boat, with a sponsor like Shell supporting him. To keep going the project, in addition to the sponsor, he needed more. Thus the future record-man began to cross Australia by selling oil paintings and showing his project in the service stations.

Spirit of Australia towards the absolute record of speed on the water

At that point Spirit of Australia needed some tests and so it was taken to the wind tunnel of NSW University where Professor Tom Finks highlighted the critical issues Ken would have to focus on: engine overhaul, tail plane and air intakes. The professor was not new to projects of that kind, having also collaborated on the Bluebird K7 of the great Donald Campbell, who died in his attempt to record crashing his seaplane at more than 320 miles per hour in 1967. Ken’s project impressed at this point Finks entered the record preparation team. With the support of professor, Ken conquered the first world record in 1977, with the record of 464 km / h.

After this record Ken focused on a new big goal: exceed 300 miles per hour (about 480 km / h). With the help of RAAF technicians and a full-blown J-34 (also with another sponsorship, Speedo), Ken returned to Blowering Dam in 1978. Here the Australian traveled at 511 km / h average, with peaks at 550 km / h becoming the first person to design, build and drive a boat with a speed record on the water.

Spirit of Australia is now in the National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbor, Sydney Australia.



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