Underwater Airplanes sounds like an oxymoron, but it is what Sir Richard is attempting to build and sell at Virgin Atlantic. The idea is to produce vessels that can carry people under water over great distances or to great depth for tourism (similar to his space tourism scheme). This is not a new idea, except the tourism part with lots of windows. The German, Italian and Japanese armies used transport submarines in both world wars to avoid blockades. One German vessel surfaced in New York harbor in 1940 and proceeded to purchase and load several tons of food. At that time the United States was still technically a neutral in World War II, but the authorities found a way to delay the launch until a British destroyer could block the entrance to the harbor.

The ability to move invisibly around the world and get past blockades (specifically British and American) lead to restrictions on commercial submarines in the treaty of Versailles, and the original UN charter. I am sure that Sir Richard will find a way around any legal restrictions, and his product should be fun. I would love to do a deep dive into the mid Atlantic rig or one of the Pacific trenches. For that matter, a gentle sail across the Gulf of Mexico about 500 feet down would be nice, too.

The non-military benefit to submarine travel is primarily protection from weather. You cannot see very far in most of the ocean (scuba is very intimate to your surroundings). Some areas of the ocean are murky due to lots of sediment in the water, some are just dark due to depth. Big spot lights are only going to help to a point. But being under water means you do not have to worry about a sudden storm or even a hurricane as long as you are deep enough and have the technology to peer into the deep.

For years I have wondered why no one has built a huge oil tanker submarine. It would make hijacking by pirates almost impossible, rerouting due to weather would be reduced, and there would be no deck to speak of to keep clean. I can see why cargo ships have not been replaced, with the obvious over stacking that you can see at any port. A submarine has a fixed shipping capability, where a cargo ship can be stacked as high as the captain and the water line will allow.

Smaller versions of submarines have always been objects of fascination through out the world. Cars that could be subs (all custom made of course) have graced the pages of Popular Mechanics and been featured at various worlds fairs, not to mention James Bond films. These personal vehicles have just not been practical for many reasons; maintenance, complexity of operation, difficulties in getting in and out, and over all cost to name a few. Sir Richard, making this a “cruise” of sorts will remove several of these obstacles, but I am sure that the price will be steep for quite a while.

I hope it works, but then again I am a hopeless romantic, dreaming of the space travel vacation. Now I can add a deep sea adventure to the dream list. I just have to save up a couple of million dollars.

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