Ted Jones Talks Hydroplanes [1959]
By Eileen Crimmin

The tall, slightly graying, 49-year-old phenomenon that is Ted Jones will soon celebrate a decade of unparalleled racing achievement.

His hulls hold more world records than any other designer's in marine history. Their concepts are revolutionary, yet so sound in principle that future designers will borrow and build from them for generations to come.

In his own generation, one obsessed with speed, Ted is more than a man of his time. Singly, with the criticism of detractors loud in his ears, he has brought unlimited hydroplane racing from its obscurity as a pastime of the few into the limelight as a spectator sport for the many.

Much has been written about the races in which his boats have competed. Some notice has been given the speed runs. A little construction information has tip- toed into print, but less, almost nothing, has been written about the man himself.

He is easy to meet; difficult to know. He speaks clearly, slowly and with infinite, sometimes weary patience. He possesses an air of suppressed explosion, a portion of which escapes through restless fingers continually engaged in trifling motion -- brushing lint from a sleeve, dust from a sponson, sawdust from a cowling.

It is best to meet him beside one of his boats; better still to find him intent upon construction problems of an unlimited hydroplane. There, especially there, he could laugh about the modern dictionary definition that a hydroplane is an airplane that lands on water.

"Actually, in general usage, hydroplane means any vehicle built with a lateral step or steps (sometimes longitudinal) in the hull bottom that makes it ride over the surface of the water, whether it's an airplane or boat. Hydro means water; plane, lifting out of or onto the surface of the water.

"I first read about hydroplanes in the 1920s. Their lateral break amidships brought them up in the water and jumped their speed considerably.

"This single step is generally known as a two-point hydroplane. The boat rides on its stern and the forward plane. The prop is completely in the water and ushing the boat through it. Of course, the higher the boat planes, the less water resistance, or drag, there is -- and the faster she goes. Still, the two-point design depends on water buoyancy to suspend the boat.

"During the era of this type of hydro, anyone designing boats for speed was confronted with two elements, water and air. Since water is 800 times denser than air, everyone tried to get as much boat as possible into the lighter element.

"Suppose, then, that we could get all the boat out of the water. Suppose we could ride on a film of air trapped between the bottom of the boat and the surface of the water. Suppose we could get the prop not only to push the boat but also carry some of the boat's weight.

"If all these things could be done we would have a boat that could attain maximum speed with minimum horsepower. Such a boat would no longer depend on water to suspend its weight, but could use the water as a running, or balancing, surface.

"The hull I came up with did all these things and is now generally known as the three-point hydroplane. The prop carries approximately 750 pounds of weight. Therefore, the boat is said to 'prop ride.' The rest of the hull rides on air. Only a small poortion of the after ends of each sponson touches the water at intervals to balance the craft."

Use of this design in the 1950 Gold Cup Regatta in Detroit catapulted Ted to fame. He personally drove Slo-mo-shun IV to victory against a field of single step hydros whose supporters had publicly intimated that the new craft and designer were both inept radicals.

Under those conditions the taste of victory was considerably sweetened. The fame that continued to build around Ted was, doubtless, no less sweet to a man who had dedicated his life to boat racing and hull design.

In his teens he had raced motorcycles and automobiles. From these activities he received a thorough grounding in getting speed out of an engine. He also owned and flew a Jenny airplane. It was the instruments from its panel that he installed into the first racing boat he built.

"Like most racers I worked in my garage -- built my first boat in 1927 when I was 18. I used other builders' designs at first, but circumstances forced me into designing my own hulls. At that time I was competing in the limited classes. Unfortunately, I didn't have the finances to put into my engines to get the horsepower from them that my competition was getting. So I had to come up with a hull that would give me maximum speed with minimum horsepower. By 1929 I was experimenting with my own ideas."

From the vantage point of 1959 Ted looked back at 30 years of unremitting effort through the smoke of a cigarette, one of too many he smokes incessantly. Those years were filled with necessity; the necessity of supporting his wife and four children and the almost obsessive necessity of designing hulls.

"I worked out my ideas in my head before putting them on paper -- I still do. But back then it seemed I never got anything on paper before midnight. In all my spare time I thought, designed, built and tested.

"But to come up to date, once the plans are ready the construction of an unlimited begins with the bottom of the hull. This is completed, even to the duralumin sheating, then turned over for the placement of the spars and frames.

"In these boats it's of great importance to distribute the structural strength throughout its length and width. This is accomplished through use of two engine stringers, or spars, laminated of spruce and plywood. They are roughly 30 feet long, 1 1/4 inches thick and about 16 inches high at their highest point.

"The frames are then bolted onto these two spars. In turn, the bottom, deck and sides are bolted to the frames. Later, the engine and as much internal hardware as possible is also bolted to the spars. In this way the majority of weight is directly on them, yet, because of the way the rest of the boat is tied in, the load is distributed over the entire structure."

Each unlimited is more than a custom job because Ted sometimes makes changes as the craft begins to shape up. It's not unusual to find him harassing into shape a piece of cardboard which he then turns over to the builders as a pattern for them to execute in playwood or duralumin.

In deference to such on--the-spot innovations, it is necessary for Ted constantly to supervise construction. When he is called out of town the work grinds to a frustrating halt.

How much of his designing is calculated, how much instinctive, is the subject of heated speculation. One group, friends and enemies alike, insists that Ted proceeds on nothing but instinct. Their opposition is less quick to dismiss all his talent as natural aptitude.

Any man who designs better than his contemporareis is obviously designing with knowledge of and respect for the forces governing his field. That Ted does not spout scientific formulas or wave sheafs of mathematical calculations does not prove him unaware of the basics out of which he creates.

Nevertheless, Ted himself is quick to assert that certain areas of his work are necessarily trial and error. In the matter of running an entire hull on air, something nobody had successfully done, he had no precedent to follow.

"As I mentioned before, the sponsons merely touch the water to balance the craft. In effect, the boats really do fly. We not only ride on air but through it like an airplane and we have the same problem aerodynamically that planes have, that of gaining lift. However, we must create a balance between the lifting pressure under the hull and what we call 'deck pressure' atop the deck so that the boat flies but never gains altitude.

"There was nothing to guide me about this. On one boat I would put 65 per cent lift and 35 per cent deck pressure. Next time I'd use 60 per cent lift opposed by 40 per cent deck pressure. And so it went until I was satisfied with the riding qualities of each boat. These pressures are adjusted through the angles at which the deck and bottom slope to meet each other, and each boat is slightly different."

With each new design Ted not only solved previous problems that had stymied other designers, but he created new ones for himself in the uncharted territory he had entered. The old problem of torque took on greater significance as speeds increased.

"Because racing boats always make left turns we use right hand rotating propellers whose torque makes the boat turn anti-clock, or left. In straightaway running, however, this torque tends to reduce some of the weight from the right sponson. To counteract this we change the angle of attack on the left sponson, causing it to lift a bit more than the right. Then the boat will plane down the straight on an even, level keel. This changed angle varies but the sponson differences are never more than 1/16 of an inch in finished construction.

"I've also used an air-trim tab to help compensate for torque. However, this is merely an aid, not a deciding factor in the performance of the boat."

An engineer once described Ted as being a man who "solves these speed difficulties in the most simple manner possible. By that, I mean his solutions are direct, uncomplicated and so damn right that everybody immediately wonders why they hadn't done it long ago."

Proof of this is Ted's redesign of rudders for unlimiteds.

"Prior to the time I got into high speed racing, they were using a rudder built like an air foil, with the blunt edge forward. As this blunt edge struct the water at high speed, 90 mph over over, the water no longer followed the contour of this foil. The water action left the trailing tip of the rudder in a void that created what we call fishtailing -- the stern of the boat whipping left and right until the driver lost control.

"I devised a rudder shaped like a wedge with its fine edge forward. This shape equalizes the water pressure on each side of it regardless of speed. At present, high speed aircraft use the same principle for control of supersonic planes because at 2,000 mph trhe air gets about as hard as water gets at, say, 150 mph. In either element the pressures become enormous and it's not enough to simply make everything stronger. You have to design to outwit or conform to these pressures.

"The Thriftway Too rudder weighs better than 60 pounds. It is a forging of steel 1 1/4 inches thick, tapering down to 3/8ths inch. It's roughly 30 inche slong and 9 inches wide. The thickest, strongest part begins dead even with the bottom of the hull and tapers down to the end. We keep the liens of this last 15 inches very fine and clean because this part is in the water at all times. The portion above is not so important. When the boat is running this part is completely out of the water and makes no difference to the speed.

"High speed rudders also have camber and caster similar to the front wheels of an automobile. This tends to hold the boat on a true course with the least amount of correction from the steering wheel."

Considerable care is taken about rudder placement. It is set to left of the transom centerline.

"Naturally, we must get it out of the wash of the propeller. The water coming off the prop is coming off faster than the speed of the boat, therefore becomes quite hard. A rudder directly in the wash of the prop would soon deteriorate.

"But just as important are the forces governing the turns. With the rudder on the left side there is a tendency for the port quarter to be pulled down toward the water in the turns. This action naturally lifts the right foward section and gives a certain amount of banking attitude to the craft as she makes the corners. This gives us some help against centrifugal force.

"The same force must be outwitted in the fiberglassed gasoline tanks. Their interiors are filled with baffles which prevent any sudden and disastrous shift of weight as the craft maneuvers. Further, sufficient fuel must always be trapped over the engine feed line. Without this precaution, unthwarted centrifugal force would throw fuel high against the side and top of each tank during every turn."

Like any possessor of outstanding creative talent, Ted Jones is both idolized and disliked. Prime motivation for disapproval seems based on misunderstanding of his high-handed certainty about his theories and his boats.

It is a fact that when Ted agrees to build an unlimtied he stipulates there is to be no tampering with his design; that his word is final in all decisions affecting safety of the driver and performance of the boat.

"Perhaps my insistence seems abritrary," said Ted, carefully, "but the past has proved that when there is a variance from the original concepts of each boat there is usually trouble. Not enough speed is gotten out of the boat. It refuses to turn properly. It may be wild in rough water or ride too hard. Maybe it won't be light enough on its feet in smooth water. Extremely minor changes in the hull can cause any of these difficulties and make the boat unsafe.

"Actually, I worry less about speed and performance problems than about the safety of the driver. I was no longer with the Slo-mo-shun team when a decision was made to place some strips across the deck of the Slo-mo V. The thought was that these strips would hold the boat tighter to the water, even though, in my opinion, she had never been flightly and was a terrifically competitive boat.

"When I understood what had been done and saw them on the boat, I realized these strips would not increased deck pressure but act as lifting foils. I warned them.

"Later, as everyone knows, the Mo went into the air and did a complete inside loop. Miraculously, the driver lived. But for me it was very bad to know what would surely happen and find that nobody would listen to my warning."

Ted admits that he "dies a dozen deaths every time the boats go out to race." Anyone watching him in the pits will confirm this. He paces, glances at the course, sits in his car, gets out again, wanders among the trailers, and sometimes turns his back on the whole roaring business.

At present Ed is engaged in experimentation with outboard hydroplanes. The X-Class hull driven by Hugh Entrop to a new world's speed record was taken from one of Ted's designs but Entrop himself built the boat. After exhaustive preliminary test runs, Ted was called in as consultant.

The X was the first outboard hydro hull to prop-ride successfully. As such, it has opened a new field of record breaking performance for every other outboard racing class and Ted is testing even newer designs for this type of hull.

Further experimentation with present unlimiteds is virtually finished, according to the designer.

"At present speeds we are continually plagued with equipment failures. The strut bearings go . . . the stuffing box bearings . . . we have shaft trouble . . . prop failure . . . gear box difficulties . . . it's one thing after another.

"The enxt step will be the jet engine which will automatically eliminate all these troublesome things. Hulls will have to be stronger. Roughly speaking, at 150 mph water impact measures 465 pounds per squre inch. Double the speed to 300 mph and the impact loads go up to 1,800 pounds per square inch. Hulls must be beefed up to withstand these pressures and some design changes must also be made.

"However, there is another direction for the principles of the three-point hydroplane and its air ride concepts, and that is for use in commercial, naval and pleasure boats. By modifying and adapting these principles to fit specific marine needs, we come to the newly designed and highly efficient catamaran of today.

"There is good reason for the reawakening interest in this hull type. Its development through coming generations will be as fascinating as its past record in history. It is, I believe, the boat of the future as well as of the present.

(reprinted from Motor Boating, Sept. 1959)


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