It was during the New York Boat Show of 1952 the public first heard about Frank and Stella Hanning-Lee. On the floor at the Old Madison Square Gardens, where the Boat Show was held, was a stunning hydrofoil boat obviously designed for high speeds. Yet the story of the Whie Hawk it's driver and team members has somehow been overshadowed by the record breaking community.  This is such a shame because it reads like a film script, includes a fascinating cast of characters and would indeed make a Howard Hughes (leonardo di Caprio) style film in typical Hollywood style.  It has it all.  A dashing war hero, a glamorous heroine, secret technology, espionage, intrigue, action, dramatic accidents and a cruel twist in the tail.  What a thriller!




Frank Hanning-Lee



The British couple aimed to break the speedboat record with their jet-powered craft, the White Hawk, on Lake Mead, Nevada in the fall.  The man-and-wife team collaborated on the design. Mrs. Henning-Lee (an American by birth) is the driver.


They have made a hobby of hydrofoils and that is the basis for their craft. The hydrofoils correspond to the airfoils or wings of an airplane, lifting the hull clear of the water to reduce drag at high speeds. Since water is denser than air, the wings can be much smaller.  The 20 foot White Hawk has a 12-foot beam. Its Rolls-Royce Derwent jet airplane engine develops 4000 horsepower.


In 1951, work was in progress on the White Hawk (registered K5), the jet-powered hydrofoil of a former submarine lieutenant in the British Navy called Hanning-Lee. Supported by his beautiful 28-year-old wife Stella, Frank Hanning-Lee may have inherited the blind daring of his ancestor, Horatio Nelson, when he decided to embark on the highly experimental task of fitting a 1943 Whittle turbojet engine of 2,000 lb. thrust into the cigar-shaped fuselage of a hydrofoil configuration, and take a patriotic crack at the water speed record.


A propeller-driven boat tends to lift its bow because of the low position of the thrust. A jet boat tends to push its bow down into the water (obviously depending on the aim of the exhaust). To overcome this tendency, the designers broadened the forward hull. At top speeds, the hydrofoils keep the nose from burrowing into the water.  It would not have been a giant leap to have made the lowest foil into a planing shoe, as used on the Bluebird K7 a few years late by Ken Norris.


In the September of 1951, having collected a substantial amount of data about hydrofoils from both the Admiralty and Professor Christopher Hook of the Hydrofoil Association, the Hanning-Lees invited Ken Norris 'to do their sums for them' and before long Norris found himself doing the entire design work himself, until he realised that he was not going to be paid for his labours.


The 25 ft White Hawk was built and after flotation and engine tests out on the sea at Margate and on the Thames at Tilbury, the £14,000 hydrofoil was transported up to Lake Windermere for trials in the August of 1952. Apart from a fortnight in September when they went south to replace the old engine with a Rolls-Royce Derwent Mark V unit, the Hanning-Lees stayed at Windermere for three months but were totally unsuccessful in getting their craft to lift at speeds much over the 70.86 mph, which Graham Bell's Hydrodome IV had set up over thirty-three years before.


Another Englishman, John Cobb, went after the record in a jet boat in 1952 and was killed when it exploded during a speed run. His boat was a flat-bottomed hydroplane with heavy surface drag. The Henning-Lees say their hydrofoil design eliminates this danger.  But are there other limitations?


The White Hawk had a beautifully made all-aluminum hull.  The steel foil system consisted of a full span U-foil forward and a single tail foil aft. The aft strut-foil assembly was steerable. The hull looked like an airplane fuselage and was wrapped around a Rolls Royce Derwent jet engine. The Derwent gave the craft a thrust-to-weight ratio greater than one, so all you had to do was point it skyward and you had a rocket! The hull contained a single seat cockpit forward of the gas turbine.


It was advertised that the craft had been brought to the United States from England with the objective of seeking the world's speed record for marine craft. At this time the US Bureau of Aeronautics was interested in hydrofoils to be used to improve the landing characteristics of seaplanes in rough water. Some experimental work was underway funded by the Bureau and managed out of the Office of Naval Research. It was decided that the US Navy would make an investigation into this particular craft and as Hydrofoil Project Officer, I was given the task of looking into the vehicle.


Bill Carl (then with John H. Carl and Sons of Long Island) and Tom Buermann (of Gibbs and Cox) were two New Yorkers involved with the hydrofoil program. Upon contacting them regarding the Boat Show hydrofoil, they both reported that they had seen the craft and that the owners and operators were Mr. and Mrs. Hanning-Lee, from England. Both Bill and Tom had talked with the Hanning-Lees and had learned that they wanted nothing to do with the US Navy. They were seeking commercial support and were convinced that they would be well paid for their efforts. They of course expressed interest in obtaining any contributions that Gibbs and Cox or John H. Carl would care to make.





Frank was born into a naval family and educated at Stowe school not far from the Silverstone grand prix circuit.  At the time Stowe was a fairly new establishment, former pupils included actor David Niven.  Young Frank was a boarder and studied the classics, to include Greek and Latin, which is surprising considering his later career.  He really wanted to be an engineer not a sailor, but he parents got their way and in 1937 Frank signed up for  a cram course to teach him all the things he would have learned at Stowe. He was a bright student and came out top of the class of twenty.  Out of those 20 classmates, the other nineteen apparently lost their lives in the war.


Having joined a ship, Hanning-Lee saw service in Singapore at the time when Japan was about to invade and later in submarines before embarking on the hazards of convoy escort duty to and from the USA. It was on one of these trips that he met his future wife. 


His wife Stella was previously a cost-accountant at the Quincy ship yards, near Boston.  She was a striking, attractive, brunette with a cultured accent and a strong personality. Their first son, Vaughan, remembers that his father was very much an ideas-man.  Frank was always inventive, and loved new technology.  He saw the big picture at the expense of the day-to-day practicalities. His wife by contrast was very practical and determined.  She was the sort of character who would push a project along from drawing board, driving through whatever obstacles got in the way.  Stella is also described as statuesque, with long blond hair and a very business like attitude. Both had strong British accents and used quite cultivated English.  Mrs. Hanning-Lee had been born and raised in Connecticut. She met the Commander during the war, married, and wet to live in England, where she quickly developed a thick English accent.


At some point during his naval service, Lieutenant Hanning-Lee, was inspired by a captured German torpedo boat which featured hydrofoils to lift it clear of the drag-inducing water.  Frank kept this in mind and wanted to use the idea in peace time for a commercial flying boat. I think we can all see the attraction in that.


Being somewhat impatient by nature he bought himself out of the Navy 12 months short of his 10 year service and not only cost himself a good deal of money but forfeited his future pension rights. Vaughan Hanning-Lee recalls that this was very much in the spirit of the time, his father having survived active service throughout the war when so many colleagues had perished.


Once in civilian life he went into business, backed up and pushed forward by Stella, running ex army DUKW amphibious trucks as a ferry service to and from the Isle of Wight. Later a boat was built to complement them, the 220 seat Island Princess.  Finance for all of this probably came from the legacy left to Frank by his late father in 1947.  That same legacy allowed him to set off on his next venture, a stepping stone for the promotion of hydrofoils in readiness for the aircraft he eventually planned to construct - the White Hawk.





Frank reckoned that speed record projects gained a huge amount of publicity at the time and that such a project would also give credibility to his future plans and influence potential backers.  Logically, he decided on attacking the water speed record, which at the time was  held by Sir Malcolm Campbell in the Bluebird K4 hydroplane, itself something of a British military secret.  The record set by Sir Malcolm in 1939, stood at 141 mph but was soon to  be broken decisively by Stanley Sayers in the USA, who pushed the goal posts to a little over 160 mph.





With his admiralty contacts he was able to bend the ear of a professor in the west country who was studying foils for the Navy. Frank went along to see him and came away armed with performance graphs and charts which he could base the foil designs upon. He also touched base with Professor Christopher Hook of the Hydrofoil society and so acquired more vital data, some of which was probably a state secret at the time.


However Hanning-Lee, despite his interest in things mechanical was not a trained engineer and having conceived a basic layout for the boat contacted Imperial College, London, to see if they might help him work out the stresses and structures involved. He contacted Professor Tom Fink, who in turn passed him over to a promising student of his who had come to Imperial after wartime service with Armstrong Whitworth. This student had worked on projects that included the top secret "flying wing" aircraft, his name was Ken Norris, future designer of both Bluebird K7 and CN7.  


Ken Norris tells the story in his own words:  "Hanning-Lee wanted some stressing done. So I went along to his town house, in Chelsea I think, and met him. He took me into the cellar and showed me some performance charts and calculations he had got hold of and an outline drawing of this boat on the wall, complete with a sharks fin on the top. He said 'Can you stress that?' and when I said 'Where are the plans?' he just pointed to the drawing and said 'That's it'. I told him I needed structural plans to work from - but he hadn't got any, just this outline. He said 'Can you draw them for us?' and that's how it started".


Working to the basic concept before him, Ken drew up a steel square-tube frame clad in aluminium with a two seat, tandem-style cockpit ahead of the jet engine, a sleek pointed nose and foils borne on outriggers either side of the intake. Ken said: "I didn't know much about hydrodynamics, I was into aircraft and aerodynamics, my brother Lew was the marine expert so I asked him and he helped out. I was working for Hanning-Lee, Lew was already working for Donald Campbell (on the prop-riding K4) so we were in rival camps, but he still helped out and so we got on okay with the design".  Ken also used a steel frame and aluminum body for his Bluebird K7 design.




Frank Hanning-Lee



General consensus has it that Accles & Pollack built the main framework, probably for a very advantageous price. When it came to panelling the boat, the Hanning-Lee's employed a small family firm, Brownlow Road Sheet Metal Co. based in Willsden. The company was run by Bert, Harold & Alan Noble and their day-to-day work consisted of building hearse bodies!


Vaughan Hanning-Lee believes that his parents had a deal with Accles & Pollack to build the hull for a very advantageous price, maybe even free, but the press of the day still made hay of the fact it had cost the Hanning-Lees some £14,000 to get WHITE HAWK to the point of making a run. During the build, Vaughan also recalls that some work was done by Bob Sellars, exactly what it was he isn't sure, but Bob Sellars went on to design part of the Lightning fighter plane. White Hawk certainly didn't lack for designers with "the right stuff"! When complete the craft was floated at Tilbury docks and a static engine test performed. Then it was loaded onto a truck which headed north to the lake district. At this time John Cobb was making the same trip but his boat, Crusader carried on past the lakes to Loch Ness where he began extensive test runs. It's interesting that both boats are exact contemporaries but also that White Hawk was registered as K5 and Crusader as K6. If one assumes the first non-aircraft use of a jet engine was in Campbell's unsuccessful Goblin-powered Bluebird K4 "slipper" in 1946-47, White Hawk must rank as only the second such use and Crusader as the third - something close to a decade before the concept was applied to a pukka land speed record vehicle.  


In his book 'Water Speed Records', historian Kevin Desmond quotes the boat as using an early Whittle engine dating from 1943.  However, Vaughan Hanning-Lee is quoted as  remembering his father talking of the original Whittle engine, and there is a photo showing such an engine sitting in the rear of a space-frame nearing completion, the design of Ken Norris.  Vaughan also confirms that at some point an approach was made to Rolls Royce about supplying something more up to date, on the pretext that any record breaking would be good PR for them too.  It appears the suggestion was persuasive since not only were Frank and Stella given a Derwent engine,  but they also got a spare, and a couple of mechanics to work on the engines when needed.

The team arrived at Windermere on the weekend of the 17/18 August 1952 and encountered immediate problems with getting the boat off the transporter and actually into the water! It took until Tuesday when a mobile crane was employed to lift it bodily down into the lake at Bowness pier head, some 500 yards from it's boathouse. Amid great excitement the engine was fired and Frank took the controls. This was just a systems test and the surface was choppy, but he motored the White Hawk out from the pier a short distance, plumes of spray almost engulfing it, before cutting the engine. Pushing up the cockpit cover, he stood up in the seat he waved a launch over to tow him back as the swell was stronger than expected. Later in the day the boat was towed across to the far bank where the trees shielded the wind a little and a further short run of a few hundred yards was made at low speed. "It was far too rough ... I doubt whether I managed to get above 60 mph" he later told the press. Another run was planned for the following day - weather permitting. This time White Hawk gave the press men something to write about when it made a two mile run with Stella at the controls and Frank in the back-seat. This was potentially big news, a woman at the wheel of such a radical craft - not only that but she was young and glamorous and happened to be American into the bargain! One can envisage the stir this must have caused in Fleet Street and indeed there was no shortage of press men on hand to witness the drama.  

Geoff Hallawell, a regular member of the Bluebird crew from 1949 onwards was among them, in his capacity as a press photographer. Hallawell recalls the boat's performance with a chuckle. "it never actually got going at any speed, it sort of porpoised up and down with big clouds of spray.  He never saw it go faster that 50 mph. Apparently the Hanning-Lees did not warm to Geoff, he says they viewed him with a degree of suspicion and were rather unfriendly, but admits that his association with Donald Campbell's team - their direct rival, was probably the cause.  Hallawell recalls that there was a degree of American media interest in the project, thanks to Stella. This spurred Associated Press to send along their own cameraman, Les Priest and Movietone News also saw the potential of the effort, sending their north-west cameraman Jimmie Humphries to cover activities on the lake. 


Movietone had once been edited by Sir Malcolm Campbell of course, so they were naturally always interested in record attempts. What happened next certainly justified their presence. Frank took over the controls, Stella alighted and White Hawk splashed off up the lake again amid clouds of spray then suddenly at around 60 mph hit the wake of a pleasure steamer that was moving around. Onlookers saw the sleek white jet boat suddenly dive headlong into the water and completely submerge! It bobbed under the surface swallowing a large volume of water as it did so but amazingly bobbed back up again, intact! Vaughan Hanning-Lee recalls his father telling him how it went suddenly quiet and seemed to take for ever to resurface! The reported "thousands lining the shores" watched as launches rushed out to offer assistance. It seemed to be sinking again, rather slowly, and Frank feared the hull had been holed. Rapidly a line was attached to tow it back to the pier. It was a 300 yard trip and they succeeded in dragging it into the shallows before it actually went under for the second time. 


Reports have it that the craft was effectively beached in some four feet of water. Ken Norris, on reading a newspaper clipping of this incident commented that the boat shouldn't have been run at all if other craft were moving on the lake, but that it was very much in the gung-ho spirit of the times that Hanning-Lee had simply "had a go". In fact it is unclear what form of team ran the boat, if any. Its possible that they were reliant on eager locals for the most part to provide launches and general help with launching White Hawk, and probably their Rolls Royce mechanics to keep it running. A later press report mentions "the mechanic worked until 1am the get the boat ready", giving the impression that it was something of a one-man operation!. Certainly there seems to be no record of any organised troupe of helpers.  

A careful check of the boat was made after it was finally retrieved and Frank reported "There is no damage done and she will dry out in a couple of days" but in fact a couple of large dents were found near the prow and another along the starboard side which needed repairing. The press had been told Stella would be making a full out attempt on the record the following Saturday but the incident effectively ruled that out. Things then went quiet. The boat was taken off the lake and repairs and sundry modifications began. The weather also turned sour - as it always seems to when any form or record attempt is in progress!  

In the meantime Cobb was undergoing tests on Loch Ness and making good progress - then disaster. The Crusader nose-dived into the lake and exploded during the official record attempt and Cobb died of his injuries.  Doubt was cast over the White Hawk project. Vaughan recalls a lot of reporters hanging around for a quote, sure that everything would be called off, but it was announced that the Hanning-Lees would indeed be going ahead with more trials as soon as the boat and the weather were in a suitable state to continue. Fatal accidents in the early 50s were not seen in the same light as they are today.  



White Hawk's frame and jet engine



News reports dried up until early October when Stella was said to have made a 100 mph run but experienced severe "porpoising" which would require more modifications and a further 5 days to fix as work was carried out not at Windermere, but in Barrow. On the 18th The Times reported that a new Derwent engine was being fitted with 6000hp available. When this was completed the weather had again gone sour and after only one test run with the new unit in early November, Frank was quoted as saying he would have to wait until the lake had been combed for driftwood before more trials could take place, assuming the weather improved and the wind dropped. The modifications carried out at Barrow were said to have cured the porpoising and he denied stories that they would soon have to pack up and head south for the winter. Young Vaughan had been attending the local school and the family had been living in various local hotels. Almost four moths had now passed since the early runs, the press had largely gone home, the weather was unrelentingly dreadful - if it hadn't been strong wind, it had been fog or rain that caused endless postponed runs -and money, as always, was running low. Despite earlier statements Frank & Stella went back to London in late November, returned briefly in early December then announced the venture was being put on hold until at least Easter in the hope of better weather.  





Navy personnel arranged to meet with the Hanning-Lees to propose an association, but the couple got the wrong end of the stick and were somewhat mislead as to the intent of the meeting, believing private money was being offered - they rejected any notion of a tie up with the Navy.


Some time went by before we heard anymore about the White Hawk or the Hanning-Lees, perhaps about three months. The Hanning-Lees eventually contacted  Bill Carl to rekindle negotiations. Apparently their campaign to raise funds had not been very successful, having only secured fuel to power the craft for a speed attempt. They asked Bill Carl if they could anticipate any support based on our conversations at the Grammercy Hotel.  At which point Bill confessed to the couple that the meeting had been an attempt by the US Navy to learn more about them and their craft.  He further revealed to them that a colleague was a Naval Officer in the assignment of Hydrofoil Project Officer with the Office of Naval Research.  At this point the Hanning-Lees said  that they no longer had any reservations about Navy support.


Washington decided to try and get Frank to make a demonstration run.  The Navy's proposition was that if the Hanning-Lees would furnish the craft and pilot, the Navy would pick up the expense for the other costs for a run over a measured mile. Then, if they exceeded a speed of 100 miles per hour, the Navy would be interested in talking to them about a test program. The Hanning-Lees agreed to this without hesitation, and who can blame them. It constituted a genuine offer of sponsorship.  Accordingly, the Navy put some extra funds into what became known as the " John H. Carl and Sons" contract, with Bill Carl as project manager.  Work began on the measured course shortly thereafter. 


Then the troubles began.  After agreeing terms, the Hanning-Lees confessed to the Navy that they had never run the craft.  Apparently, in their eagerness to get to the USA to raise funds, they had left England as soon as the craft was completed. They didn't even know the last time the turbine had been run, hence  aircraft mechanics would be needed to get the engine working.   The newly formed team sought help  from Grumman Aircraft, and in particular from Jake Swirbul, a founder and then president of Grumman. Fortunately, Jake offered the assistance of not one, but two mechanics. Since this was for the Navy he even stated that there would be no cost.


The location chosen for the measured mile was near Eaton's Neck on the northern shore of Long Island. Here there was sheltered water and the availability of the US Coast Guard to assist in the event. The more the team learned about the craft, the more they became concerned about the safety of the pilot. There were no instruments on board to give an indication of speed. Even the turbine's instrumentation was limited. Further, when the pilot closed and secured the overhead hatch, it could only be opened from the inside - so if the pilot was unconscious, it would be a problem.  For this reason the Coast Guard agreed to furnish a helicopter with a rescue crew on board, with  an axe to break the pilot out in the event of an accident. The Coast Guard also furnished other boats along the measured mile to mark the course and for rescue assistance if required.




Stella Hanning-Lee



By now the news of the event had spread throughout the hydrofoil community, and on the day of the trial about a hundred hydrofoil enthusiasts had gathered on Long Island.  At last the great day had arrived. The team  selected an early morning run as the winds were lighter and the sound was calmer.  By about 0630 everyone and everything was in place.  


The night before the trial was most interesting. The US Navy team had dinner with the Hanning-Lees and the subject was, ' who would pilot the hydrofoil'.  Since both of the Hanning-Lees were capable.  The discussion that followed revealed the concern both had for the safety of the venture. They discussed openly who would be the pilot. Finally, it was decided it would be best for Commander Hanning-Lee to make the run because in the event of an accident, Mrs. Hanning-Lee would be able to take care of their  son. 


The Commander was in the White Hawk with the turbine running nicely about a quarter of a mile before the marker boat, the start of the measured mile.  The signal to go was given and for the first time White Hawk was underway on its own power. The craft quickly picked up speed and was foil-borne well before reaching the start of the mile. The vessel hit the start line well up on its foils, running quite stable, and from the sound of the turbine seemed to be near full power.


For the next quarter of a mile the boat appeared to be handling nicely, when all of a sudden the boat  disappeared in a cloud of white spray.  Thankfully, White Hawk and driver emerged from the mist afloat and in one piece. Frank opened the hatch and climbed out quite calmly.  But after the excitement of the halt died down, it emerged that Frank had no idea of the speed he was going at.  The speed at which the water seemed to be coming at him in that small space, without any feedback dictated he should throttle back, if rather suddenly. It seemed like the sensible thing to do.


A post-run examination of the craft revealed that everything was intact except the turbine had ingested quite a bit of water.  This necessitated cleaning before any more running.  Hence, events were called off for the day, and the attempt was rescheduled for the following morning. The Grumman mechanics worked diligently through the day and night to clean the turbine and by dawn the next day the craft was ready to go.  However, the winds had come up over night and the water over the course was rough. So delaying testing.  Due to the spiraling standby costs the Navy representatives decided that they could no longer keep the wait going and called off the trial at Eaton's Neck.  However, the Navy had seen enough in that short time to want to pursue the matter further. Thus, the Navy asked Frank and Stella to come forward with a proposal to permit the Navy to conduct trials at Patuxent Naval Air Test Center.


Roughly three weeks later, the Hanning-Lees arrived in Washington with a proposal and brought with them a very pushy lawyer.  Although they didn't know it at the time, their proposal far exceeded the Navy's budget.  The proposal put forward was based on an achieved mile per hour basis demonstration. Each time the speed exceeded certain performance thresholds the mph cost went up considerably.  The cost of reaching 125 miles per hour along with the living costs and salaries for both of the Hanning-Lees worked out more than the US Navy had available.  However, instead of negotiating, the pushy lawyer demanded an immediate contract.  That had the effect of putting the Navy off and the discussion was halted. Also, the interest in hydrofoil sea planes was on the wane. It was just bad timing and the opportunity was not to come again. Though after cooling off the Hanning-Lees called the Navy and said they would be willing to accept any reasonable proposition the Navy would make, it was no go.  It appears they had been overconfident of their saleability.





The boat was being stored at a service station in Silver Spring but even that was costing more than the Hanning-Lees could afford so it went back to Stella's mother's in Boston. Popular Mechanics ran a feature in August 1953 in which it was said to have run 125 mph in England. This is almost certainly not true. Kevin Desmond quotes no more than 70 mph was recorded and here we come to the crux of the matter. Ken Norris says that later experiments with foils showed that above a certain speed (70-80 mph) the foil "cavitates". In effect it builds up a low pressure area over the top surface of the foil and at a given speed this causes the water to break away from the surface of the foil, much as an aircraft wing would do in a stall situation. This ruins the lift, two thirds of it would suddenly vanish and cause the whole thing to fall back down into the water abruptly. The foil is designed to run in the water, unlike a hydroplane and it simply cannot do it's job with the stall-effect that eventually builds up. Ken says that this was not appreciated at the time as nothing with foils had gone anything like as fast as White Hawk.  The experience gained from the craft was therefore very useful in learning hydrofoil limitations.  

This would explain the porpoising effect that the craft exhibited on Windermere and may also explain the abrupt end to the Navy trial run. Where Frank is presumed to have bottled out, what may have happened is that the boat reached the cavitation point, fell back into the water and, mindful that any flaw might ruin a potentially lucrative agreement, Frank may have decided to shoulder the blame rather than admit there was a problem with the design.  

It's possible he did lose his nerve but for a man who had seen so much action in the war, already experienced one near disaster and still gone ahead with other runs as if nothing had happened, this seems out of character. Further to that we only have the late Bob Johnson's story of the Navy tests to work from (published on an Internet site) and it's clear that he wrote the story from memory, some of which is bound to be rather hazy with the passing of almost 50 years.  He states for example that the boat had been built by the British aircraft industry, that it had never been run and that it was a single-seater, all of which is grossly inaccurate. Readers may decide for themselves if Frank Hanning-Lee lost his nerve, or that the boat suffered from cavitation as Ken Norris has predicted.  

The Hanning-Lees did venture out to Nevada and stayed at the Sahara Hotel on Las Vegas while trying to arrange a run on Lake Mead but nothing came of this and they returned to Boston and worked hard to save enough money for a return to Britain. 




A model of White Hawk






They had gone broke in trying to promote their craft and didn't have enough funds to return them or their craft to England. They had both taken jobs in retailing to keep their son in school and to save enough to go home. It seems that on return to England, they could not afford to pay the import duty then payable, since the boat had been out of the country of origin for some time.


Frank finally made it back to Southampton, bringing back the boat as cargo in 1954.  On arriving he was hen hit by the final twist of fate - he hadn't the funds to get the White Hawk  through customs!  How this situation came about is unclear, but we can guess there was some rule about time out of the country.  The customs and excise impounded the boat and that is the last anyone heard of it.  Inquiries at the Customs House in Orchard Place Southampton, yielded a polite and immediate response, that records relating to this period in time have long-since been destroyed.  The department said there was no chance of the boat lying undiscovered in the corner of a warehouse, as the entire docks had been rebuilt since the 50's.  It is presumed the craft was sold for scrap.  However, we all know how military secrets are kept locked away.  


Stella and Vaughan arrived by air some weeks later and picked up the pieces after their transatlantic adventure. Frank went ahead with his flying boat idea and contacted Tom Fink at Imperial once again, but the plane never got off the drawing board. The experience gained in fibreglass work stood Frank and Stella in good stead in their later business ventures. Frank outlived his wife and died in late 1998. Vaughan went on to study aeronautical engineering at Queen Mary's while younger brother Mark works in California as a computer software writer for industry. 


The moral of this story is, if you are considering doing anything so outrageous, you will go down in the history books, but nobody will know the personal hardships you may have suffered along the way, unless you either find sponsorship, take a record, or die in the process.  Almost all record breakers suffer financially.  The few who didn't, were already wealthy before they started.




The Hanning-Lees - James Bond takes a back seat




Ken Norris, who pulled out of the project before the craft went up to Windermere, explained what happened:


'I concluded that above a speed of 70 mph, the hydrofoil would be subject to cavitation. Unlike a hydroplane, which generates lift by being on top and skating over the surface, the hydrofoil is immersed fully, generating lift on both the top and the bottom surface. As the speed increases, so the pressures round the foil change until eventually the pressure on the top surface can become so low that the aerated water tends to create a complete bubble and break down the lift on the top surface. At that point one might lose as much as two-thirds of the lift and at that speed the vessel will drop back into the water. So it rides up for a start, gets up to surface speed and then drops down, rather like a stall with an aeroplane. I believe that this is what happened to the White Hawk, although this doesn't mean that their achievement wasn't pretty good.'

The most cynical comment about the project was that the Hanning-Lees were really waiting for Lake Windermere to freeze over so they could then perform on ice-skis!


The sad thing about all this, is that White Hawk could never have achieved the outright record as a foil rider, the laws of physics were simply not going to let it - Ken Norris had been right.  Perhaps the Hanning-Lees should have been content with the hydrofoil class record!




White Hawk docking








White Hawk, the £14,000 jet-propelled speedboat, was beached on the shore of Lake Windermere yesterday.  It had bounced wildly after hitting the wash of a pleasure steamer while travelling at over 60 m.p.h. in the middle of the lake.

The cockpit went under the water as the boat dived nose first.  It bobbed up again and the pilot, ex-naval officer Mr. Frank Hanning-Lee, climbed out and got astride the fuselage.  Thousand lining the shores saw pleasure boats secure a rope and tow the White Hawk 300 yards to be beached in 4 ft. of water.



Slight damage

A crane lifted the boat out of the water after Mr. Hanning-Lee and holidaymakers had pumped water from the hull. There was only superficial damage.  Mr. Hanning-Lee said: "I expected to find a hole. When I struck the wash water entered the air intake and caused the boat to slew round and dive.

"It will take only about a couple of days to dry her out as the fresh water will not have damaged the engine. Then we will have another go" The White Hawk was on a second trial run.


Mr. Hanning-Lee had taken over from his wife, Stella, who had piloted it on a two-mile burst.

She hopes to beat the world water speed record of 178.4 m.p.h.


(The Daily Graphic, August 21, 1952)




Jet Boat Takes A Dive At 70 M.P.H.

This jet-propelled boat was tearing across Lake Windermere at about 70 m.p.h. yesterday when it began bouncing wildly over the swell. Before the driver could slow down the boat dived under the water. It re-appeared almost immediately but began sinking slowly. Pleasure boats rushed alongside and the waterlogged boat was towed to the beach. On Saturday, with Stella Hanning-Lee, 28, at the controls, it was to have made an attempt on the world water speed record — 178.49 m.p.h. — held by America. Frank Hanning-Lee, Stella’s husband, was driving at the time of the accident. He was unhurt. His wife was driving when this picture was taken, earlier in the day. After the accident, Mr Hanning-Lee said: "There is no damage done and she will dry out in a couple of days."


(The Daily Mirror, August 21, 1952)




Slight Mishap to White Hawk  - Future trials only in the early mornings


Hopes were being entertained last night for a start early this morning of trials on Windermere by the jet propelled speedboat, White Hawk, preliminary to the attempt to snatch the world water speed record from America — 178.4 miles an hour.


White Hawk, new hope of ex-submarine lieutenant Frank Hanning-Lee and his wife Stella, was beached on Wednesday night after it had run into the wash of a pleasure steamer while travelling at 60 m.p.h. Although no mechanical damage was caused, Mr. Hanning-Lee revised his plans for water trials and announced that in future he would take the boat out on the lake only in the early morning hours.


The speedboat, the first to attempt the record fitted in hydrofoils, arrived at Windermere last week-end from the south but launching difficulties held up trial work until Tuesday when the craft was towed 500 years from its boathouse to the pier head at Bowness and lifted bodily into the water by mobile crane.




The First Run

Weather conditions were, however, against the trial — carried out mainly to test the boat's controls after its trip from the south — and Mr. Hanning-Lee made only a short run to Storrs Hall.


After he had turned the boat round only a few yards out from the shore, Mr. Hanning-Lee pushed back the cockpit cover, stood up and waved his hands to indicate to watchers that the water was too rough.

He did, however, make a second run on the opposite side of the lake and in the shelter of a wooded shore, but after covering only a few hundred yards the White Hawk was towed back in.

Later, Mr. Hanning-Lee said: It was far too rough to do anything and I doubt whether I managed to get above 60 m.p.h."


[text missing] passenger vessel and the violence of the swell had caused the hydrofoils to exercise a negative rather than a positive action with he result that they pulled the boat under the water.  At first it was suspected that the craft had been holed because it sank so quickly. When the boat was actually lifted from the water it was seen that there was very little underwater damage apart from the two fairly large dents near the prow.


These were caused by the violence of the impact when the boat struck the water.  As for a small dent on the starboard side of White Hawk, Mr. Hanning-Lee said "I don't know how that came to be there."

About the future, he said that the engine would have to be pumped out and overhauled, but there did not seem to be serious structural damage requiring attention.  "There is very little damage done and it is just a matter of drying out the engine," Mr. Hanning-Lee later added.




Wife at Controls

Until the mishap all had gone quite well with the trials. Both Mr. Hanning-Lee and his wife Stella — who intends to pilot White Hawk when a record bid is made — have admitted that very little is known about hydrofoils.


Mrs. Hanning-Lee accompanied her husband in the cockpit of the boat and was seen to be at the controls for the first trial runs. First test was made towards the southern end of the lake and later Mrs. Hanning-Lee handed over to her husband and left the boat.


Mr. Hanning-Lee said that the mishap would not interfere with plans for further trials.

He gave no figure of the speed at which his boat travelled during yesterday's tests.


(Late August, 1952)



Attempt On Water Speed Record To Go On


It was stated yesterday that Mr. and Mrs. F. Hanning-Lee intend to carry on with their attempts on the world water speed record of 178.4 m.p.h. on Windermere. At present their 3,000 h.p. jet-powered speedboat White Hawk is confined to the boathouse while minor alterations are being made to the stern hydrofoil.


(The Times, October 1, 1952)




Record attempt. Mr. and Mrs. Hanning-Lee in their jointly designed jet-propelled speedboat at Lake Windermere, where they hope to set up a new world water speed record when weather permits.


(The Telegraph October 6, 1952)




White Hawk, Jet Challenger, Flashes By — With A 28-Year-Old Mother At The Wheel

White Hawk, jet challenger for the world's water-speed record of 178.49 miles an hour swishes across the waters of Lake Windermere at more that 100 miles an hour in a test run — with Stella Hanning–Lee, 28-year-old mother, at the wheel. She and her husband Frank have been seven weeks at Windermere. Yesterday it was said there would be a five-day delay in trials while further modifications are carries out to try to correct "porpoising" tendencies of the boat while travelling at speed.


(The Express, October 10, 1952)




Ready For An Attempt on the World Water-Speed Record : Mrs. F. Hanning-Lee With Her Husband Aboard White Hawk on Lake Windermere.


Mr. and Mrs. F. Hanning-Lee have been waiting for some weeks to attempt to raise the world water-speed record in their 3,000-h.p. jet-powered speedboat White Hawk on Lake Windermere. They designed the aluminium boat themselves and expect to reach 200 m.p.h. in her. On October 3 Mr. Hanning-Lee stated that his wife would pilot the boat when the attempt was made.


(The Illustrated London News, October 18, 1952)




New Engine for Speed Boat


A new jet engine is to be fitted to the boat White Hawk, with which Mr. and Mrs Frank Hanning-Lee hope to break the world's water speed record on Windermere. The new engine is a 6,000 h.p. Rolls-Royce Derwent Mark V. Further modifications will also be made to improve the boat's stability at speed

(The Times, October 18, 1952)



Still They Wait at Windermere - Bad Weather Delays Jet-Boat Trials

White Hawk, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hanning-Lee's jet-propelled speedboat, has been confined to her Bowness boathouse all this wee, because of the rough weather. The boat has not had a trial since being refitted with a new engine last week. Mr. Hanning-Lee said yesterday (Thursday) that he is determined to wait until there is an improvement in the weather.


Following the stormy weather there is a possibility of much driftwood having found its way into the lake. Although Mr. Hanning-Lee has decided that the course should be thoroughly "combed" before any trial run, there remains the fact that larger pieces of timber, when thoroughly waterlogged, float just beneath the surface and are invisible from a boat.

(The Gazette, November 1, 1952)





Mr. Frank Hanning-Lee who has been waiting at Windermere for the weather to improve to test the new 6,000 h.p. jet engine installed in his speed boat White Hawk has denied rumours that he is postponing trials until next year and that he and his wife, Stella, intend leaving Windermere in the near future.


(The Barrow News, November 1, 1952 )




Water Record Bid Put Off - Speed Trials hampered


An attempt on the world water speed record on Lake Windermere by Mr. and Mrs Frank Hanning-Lee, in their jet-propelled speedboat White Hawk, has been postponed. Bad weather has hampered the trial. Mr. Hanning-Lee, whose home is in Chelsea, S.W., has not officially abandoned his record bid, but his friends believe he will soon take the White Hawk south and return next summer.


(November 10, 1952)


Jet-Propelled Speedboat in  Test Run: The Whitehawk [sic], which looks like a seaplane, streaking along at 100 miles an hour [sic] on Lake Windermere, England. Test was made in preparation for the attempt on the world's water speed record by Frank Hanning-Lee and his wife. The official world mark is 178.497 m.p.h.


( New York Times, November 14, 1952)




White Hawk Trials  Decision this week-end?


Mr. Frank Hanning-Lee is expected to return to Windermere tomorrow (Saturday), but it is not yet known whether or not he intends to conduct further trials this year with his speedboat, White Hawk. for a fortnight the jet-powered boat has remained in the boathouse since having only one trial run to test her new engine.


Mr. Hanning-Lee, and his wife, Stella, who was to have made an attempt on the world's water speed record, came up to Windermere nearly three months ago.


(The Gazette, November 15, 1952)




Is White Hawk winter-bound?

It now seems unlikely that there can be further trials of the jet propelled speedboat White Hawk on Windermere.  Rapidly worsening weather conditions have so far prevented Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hanning-Lee taking the boat on the lake more than once since further modifications were made at Barrow and a new engine fitted a week or two ago.


Local opinion holds that the onset of November makes it far too late to hope for a calm lake or for any favourable weather conditions, and while there has been no statement from Mr. and Mrs. Hanning-Lee, who have been in London for a few day, it is thought that they will take their craft south very shortly.

Hitherto Mr. Hanning-Lee has denied that he and his wife intend abandoning their attempt on the world water speed record for this year, but the signs now are that the weather will defeat them.


(November 15, 1952)




White Hawk may be "rested" till next year

Although Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hanning-Lee are still in London, their jet propelled speedboat White Hawk remains in the boat house at Bowness, where it was brought from the South of England for an attack on the world water speed record.  The Hanning-Lees' plans are unknown. Certainly White Hawk has not been on Windermere for tests for some time but whether the attempt to set a new record has been abandoned for this year has not yet been announce.


November is regarded as an unfavourable month because of the risk of mist and, with the advent of chill winds and frost, the chance that patches of ice may form on the lake surface.  It was reported recently that the Hanning-Lees might be forced by the weather to postpone further attempts until next year. This boat has been fitted with a more powerful engine and has been modified twice since being brought North.

It is understood that the Hanning-Lees' young son is attending school at Windermere.


(Source? November 29, 1952)



News in Brief


Mr. Frank Hanning-Lee said at Windermere on Saturday that he and his wife had postponed until next year their attempt to beat the world's water speed record.


(The Times, December 1, 1952)




Trials off until Easter  Windermere Jet-boat Decision


Mr. Frank Hanning-Lee returned to Windermere last week-end when he announce that he and his wife had decided to abandon trials with their speedboat White Hawk for this year. The boat is to be ta

ken south and various adjustments will be made during the winter, but Mr. Hanning-Lee said he and his wife hope to resume trials at Easter.


On Monday, the jet-powered boat was taken up the lake to Calgarth where she was hoisted on a road trailer and brought back to Bowness to await the journey south.


(The Gazette, December 6, 1952)




Jet-boat has fastest trial run


Mrs. Stella Hanning-Lee (28), who is to pilot the 3,000 h.p. jet-boat White Hawk in an attempt on the world water speed record on Windermere, was not present yesterday when her husband, Mr. Frank Hanning-Lee, had his fastest trial run of more than 100 m.p.h.


Mr. Hanning-Lee said afterwards: "Although my air speed gauge was out of commission, I was certain that White Hawk travelled at well over 100 m.p.h. Recent modifications have proved successful, and today the boat rode perfectly.  "I intend to travel faster each day, and hope to call in the official timekeepers at the weekend.




White Hawk does 110 - Speed tests on Windermere Jet-Boat "Steady"

White Hawk, the 3,000 h.p. jet boat, piloted by Mr. Frank Hanning-Lee, traveled faster than ever before in a test on Windermere on Sunday morning. This was her first real trial since modification at Barrow and Mr. Hanning-Lee is satisfied that the "porpoising" tendency has been remove. He estimated his speed on that run as in the region of 110 miles an hour.


The boat now travels with a steadiness which was conspicuous by its absence in previous trial runs.

Further modifications may be necessary to increase the directional stability of the revolutionary craft, but this is not likely to cause serious delay. Some defect in the fuel feed system has also to be corrected.



Mist Delayed Wednesday Trial

On Wednesday a heavy blanket of mist reduced visibility to an absolute minimum, and thought the mechanic had worked until 1 a.m. to get the boat ready, it was not possible to have a run until after 11 o'clock. The engine was started with difficulty, and the boat then did a run north of Hen Holme, after which she was towed back because of an air-lock in the fuel supply. It is hoped to resume trials on Friday.


Mr. Hanning-Lee confirmed this week that the actual bid on the world's water speed record would be made by his 28-years-old wife, Stella.




White Hawk

Mr. and Mrs. Hanning-Lee have taken their jet-propelled hydrofoil boat White Hawk to the U.S.A. They hope to make an attempt on the world speed record.


When they arrived in Massachusetts they had plans to renew their attack on the water speed record "at Lake Mead or some lake in Florida, sometime next month."


(Motor Boat & Yachting, March 1953)










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