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Bay Area designer creates first commercial, personal submarine

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A Bay Area designer has created the first ever consumer-friendly submarine. (KGO-TV )

If you didn't get everything you wanted for Christmas this year, why not check out the first, consumer friendly, submarine.

The sub was built by a legendary Bay Area designer who wants to change how people experience the ocean.

At first glance, it looks like somebody dropped a Formula One racecar into the ocean, but it is actually a different kind of high-performance vehicle. Dubbed the Deep Flight Dragon, it's a commercially available personal submarine.

The sub is the brainchild of designer Graham Hawkes, who's been building submarines for nearly half a century. From James Bond movies to a highly publicized expedition to reach the deepest point in the ocean. But he says this one is unique and safer.

"The batteries are so powerful they power this thing for six to eight hours," Hawkes said.

Instead of filling up with ballast to sink beneath the surface, the Dragon uses four vertical thrusters to drive itself down. The sub itself, always stays buoyant, so if a system fails, it's designed to float back to the surface.

"Suddenly we had this great safety advantage," Hawkes said. "You push if forward and you go down, pull it back you go up. Somewhere in between you're hovering. It's that easy."

In fact, he says the inspiration came from the increasingly popular commercial drones. At his headquarters in Point Richmond, Hawkes sketches prototypes and chief designer Randall Fletcher turns them into plans.

"We'll look over it on the computer, talk about it a little bit," said Randall Fletcher, chief designer.

The result is a sub that can reach depths of 400 feet, stay under water for up to eight hours, and will still be safe enough for novices to pilot. In fact, Hawkes says the sensation is more like flying than sailing.

In the age of global warming and threats to sea-life, he hopes to introduce an entire generation to a world few have experienced for themselves.

"Go down in one of these and I what you'll see is this infinite wilderness. Then if you look up and see a big shark, you're blown away. It's just magic," Hawkes said.

For most people, that magic is likely to come in a group setting, at someplace like a resort and that's because the price of dragon is currently listed at a little more than $1 million.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.

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