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Innovation Canada

Skimming the Waves

Although Canada’s water routes have always been key transportation links, the demands of an expanding country, and the need to overcome great distances and winter conditions, have driven us to innovate.

Hydrofoil research in Canada began with the groundbreaking work of Alexander Graham Bell and F. W. Baldwin in 1918–1919. A hydrofoil is a ship that uses underwater “wings” or foils to lift the craft free of the water. Raising the vessel’s hull from the water reduces the friction and drag, producing much higher maximum speeds.

The Bras d'Or hydrofoil in flight (Courtesy Boeing Canada, de Havilland Div., Photographic Dept, 32606)
The “Bras d’Or” hydrofoil in flight (Courtesy Boeing Canada, de Havilland Div., Photographic Dept, 32606)

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) began exploring hydrofoil technology for naval applications in the 1940s. The RCN’s early hydrofoil research was conducted with the British Admiralty, which sponsored tank tests in which the craft was towed through water under controlled conditions. Canada was responsible for carrying out the actual sea trials on these experimental vessels. Canada’s goal was to develop a hydrofoil capable of deep-sea, anti-submarine warfare; British interests were focused on developing a smaller hydrofoil for coastal patrol.

Initial results were discouraging—in part, because the lack of suitable lightweight engines limited the vessels’ size to 50 tonnes. This range was acceptable to the British, and they convinced the Canadian team to undertake sea trials on a 17-tonne prototype of a proposed 50-tonne patrol boat. The prototype, known as the R-103, was built in Britain in 1957, and is now preserved in the Museum’s collection (900323*). Learning from the R-103 sea trials, a new foil configuration (main lift foils aft, steering foil forward) was developed by the Canadian team.

Research after 1960 led to the creation of the 200-tonne FHE-400 “Bras d'Or,” which was 46.5 metres long and had a foil span of 20 metres. Construction of the prototype started in 1964, and sea trails began in 1968. These confirmed the technical design and feasibility of this highly innovative design. It was by far the most advanced and sophisticated hydrofoil of its time. However, cost overruns and new RCN priorities led to the project being shelved and ultimately abandoned. The Museum’s presentation model of the “Bras d'Or” (900032) was given to Richard Becker, of de Havilland Canada, for his contribution to the hydrofoil project.

*Note to readers: The numbers in parentheses are the accession numbers of artifacts in the Museum’s collection.

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