POINT RICHMOND, Calif., Oct. 25 -- Set to go where no human has gone before, pioneer Graham Hawkes said Friday the launch of his revolutionary one-man submersible sets the stage for unprecedented exploration of the ocean depths. 'The DEEP FLIGHT program marks a new era of ocean exploration,' said the renowened ocean engineer and explorer, who has long awaited the maiden voyage of his prototype DEEP FLIGHT 1, a small, swift, economic craft with revolutionary design and unique capabilities. 'Although oceans cover more than two-thirds of the planet, scientists acknowledge that we know less about the sea floor than we do about the moon.' Strapped in face down, with head and shoulders encased in a clear, acrylic nose cone, hands on the joysticks, Hawkes piloted the vehicle on its first open-ocean test flight over Monterey Canyon. Presented by Rolex Watch U.S.A. and hosted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the trip was intended to show 'underwater flight is achievable,' Hawkes said. Smaller, faster, more economical than conventional submersibles, DEEP FLIGHT is billed as the flag ship for an entirely new class of underwater vehicles called Hydro-Acrobatic Winged Craft. Virtually an underwater airplane, the craft moves with the freedom and grace of a dolphin, said Roland Puton, president and chief executive officer of Rolex, which developed the first waterproof watch in 1926 and has since come up with a series of new and improved ocean depth-defying time pieces. For his part, Hawkes has designed more than 70 percent of all manned submersibles and more than 300 remote operated vehicles built for research and industry worldwide since 1970.
He holds the world record for the deepest solo ocean dive, of 3,000 feet, achieved while test piloting his last submersible design, Deep Rover. 'Now that we have seen the Earth from space and understand that we live on a blue ocean planet, what is at stake is nothing less than the knowledge and resources we can gain through manned exploration of the inner territories of our own planet,' Hawkes said. The Japanese have recognized the importance of deep ocean exploration, launching a several hundred million dollar program to reach the bottom of the sea, he noted. 'Projet DEEP FLIGHT is the only other known development program for manned deep ocean access,' he said. The craft is capable of reaching depths of 3,300 feet. The next generation sub, DEEP FLIGHT II, will reach even deeper, to 37,000 feet. Hawkes and Sylvia Earle, chief scientist for Project DEEP FLIGHT plan to pilot this sub straight down to the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on earth. 'That's the ocean equivalent of going to the moon,' Hawkes said, noting he and Earle have dubbed the challenge Ocean Everest. While DEEP FLIGHT I is but an experiment, its successor is expected to be a working system of craft and modules that can be reconfigured for various missions. To withstand the pressures of the abyssal ocean depths, the hull will be composed of unique ceramic materials developed by the U.S. Navy.