Although a hydrofoil is defined by the Columbia University Press as “a flat or curved finlike device, attached by struts to the hull of a watercraft that lifts the moving watercraft above the water's surface”, the word is often used in reference to the watercraft as a whole. Using the same principles as an airplane wing, the foil develops lift as it moves through the water, eventually raising the hull of the boat above the surface as it reaches higher speeds. Thus, the drag experienced by the vessel is far less, making the ship far more efficient and economical to run. In fact, hydrofoils are now the vehicles of choice as ferries in many European and Asian countries, as well as for the American military. However, though the hydrofoil maintains the appearance of simple functionality, it is actually quite a complex mechanism with deep-rooted history. Let’s take a look: In 1906, an article published in Scientific American outlined the basic principles under which a hydrofoil should function. Logically, the principles made sense, but they had never been put into practice. However, always up for a challenge, Alexander Graham Bell got to work on the physical construction of such a vehicle, completing his work in the year 1919. His masterpiece, the HD-4 set a world marine speed record of 114 km/h – a record that remained unbroken for over ten years. During testing, Bell’s colleague, Casey Baldwin was said to describe a ride on the HD-4 as being “as smooth as flying.”
As word of the speed and efficiency of this new marine vessel spread, many others became interested in the use of the hydrofoil, particularly for commercial purposes. Thus, in 1952, the first commercial hydrofoil was launched, with the capability of transporting 32 passengers at a speed of 35 knots. Given its simple mechanics, this accomplishment was deemed remarkable. As such, many other countries including Canada, the United States, and what was the Soviet Union began to commission research on high-performance military hydrofoils. The results were outstanding. Eventually, hydrofoils proved to be very fast and well-armed, capable of sinking nearly any and every other surface vessel. In addition to their service in the military, hydrofoils are still widely used today as tourist transportation.