Why did the US Navy abandon hydrofoils? [2023]

Have you ever wondered why the US Navy abandoned hydrofoils? These fast and agile vessels were once a key part of the Navy’s fleet, but they are no longer in use. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the Navy’s decision to abandon hydrofoils and delve into the history and technology behind these fascinating vessels. So, let’s dive in and uncover the story behind the US Navy’s abandonment of hydrofoils.

Quick Answer

The US Navy abandoned hydrofoils primarily due to their lack of cost-effectiveness for the Navy’s offensive missions. Hydrofoils consumed a significant amount of fuel when in hydrofoil form, making them less practical for long-range operations. Additionally, the Navy’s focus shifted towards other types of vessels that better suited their evolving needs. Despite their abandonment by the Navy, hydrofoils continue to be used in various civilian applications, including recreational hydrofoil boarding.

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Quick Tips and Facts

Before we delve into the details, here are some quick tips and facts about hydrofoils and their abandonment by the US Navy:

  • Hydrofoils are vessels that use underwater wings (foils) to lift the hull out of the water, reducing drag and increasing speed.
  • The US Navy employed hydrofoils, specifically the Pegasus-class hydrofoils, from 1977 until 1993.
  • The Pegasus-class hydrofoils were initially intended for NATO operations in the North Sea and Baltic Sea.
  • These hydrofoils were powered by two Mercedes-Benz MTU marine diesels and a General Electric LM2500 gas turbine, enabling them to reach speeds of 12 knots hullborne and 48 knots foilborne.
  • The ships were armed with 8 Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles and a 76 mm OTO Melara gun.
  • The primary technology used in the hydrofoils was also utilized in the Boeing Jetfoil ferries, which employed submerged flying foils with waterjet propulsion.
  • The hydrofoils were stationed at NAS Key West, and all other PHMs in the class were sold for scrap, except for one that was preserved as a memorial.

Background: The Rise and Fall of Hydrofoils

To understand why the US Navy abandoned hydrofoils, we need to explore the history and development of these vessels. Hydrofoils have a long and storied past, with their origins dating back to the early 20th century. The concept of using foils to lift a vessel out of the water and reduce drag was first patented by Italian engineer Enrico Forlanini in 1906. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that hydrofoils gained significant attention and were developed for commercial and military use.

During the Cold War, hydrofoils captured the imagination of naval engineers and military strategists. Their ability to achieve high speeds and maneuverability made them attractive for various naval operations. The US Navy, in particular, saw the potential of hydrofoils for coastal patrol and rapid response missions. This led to the development of the Pegasus-class hydrofoils, which were specifically designed for NATO operations in the North Sea and Baltic Sea.

History of the Pegasus-class Hydrofoils

The Pegasus-class hydrofoils were a series of fast attack patrol boats employed by the United States Navy from 1977 until 1993. These hydrofoils were constructed by Boeing at the Renton plant in Seattle. The primary technology used in the hydrofoils was also utilized in the Boeing Jetfoil ferries, which were commercial vessels employing submerged flying foils with waterjet propulsion.

The Pegasus-class hydrofoils were well-armed for their size, carrying two four-rack RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and an Oto Melara 76 mm gun. They were powered by two Mercedes-Benz MTU marine diesels and a General Electric LM2500 gas turbine, enabling them to achieve impressive speeds of 12 knots hullborne and 48 knots foilborne.

Why did the US Navy Abandon Hydrofoils?

The US Navy’s decision to abandon hydrofoils was primarily driven by their lack of cost-effectiveness for the Navy’s offensive missions. While hydrofoils offered high speeds and maneuverability, they consumed a significant amount of fuel when in hydrofoil form. According to reports, hydrofoils would use around 1000 gallons of fuel per hour when in hydrofoil form, compared to only 100 gallons of fuel per hour when in surface ship form.

This high fuel consumption made hydrofoils less practical for long-range operations, which were a key focus of the Navy’s offensive missions. As the Navy’s needs evolved, they shifted their focus towards other types of vessels that offered a better balance of speed, range, and fuel efficiency.

The Problem with Hydrofoil Boats

While hydrofoils offered impressive speed and maneuverability, they also presented certain challenges and limitations. Some of the key problems associated with hydrofoil boats include:

  1. High Fuel Consumption: As mentioned earlier, hydrofoils consume a significant amount of fuel when in hydrofoil form, making them less practical for long-range operations.

  2. Maintenance and Complexity: Hydrofoils are complex vessels with intricate systems and components. This complexity can make maintenance and repairs more challenging and time-consuming.

  3. Stability and Seaworthiness: Hydrofoils can be sensitive to rough sea conditions, and their stability can be compromised in choppy waters. This can limit their operational capabilities in certain environments.

  4. Cost: The construction and maintenance costs associated with hydrofoils can be higher compared to conventional surface ships. This cost factor played a significant role in the Navy’s decision to abandon hydrofoils.

Are Hydrofoils Good or Bad for Boats?

The question of whether hydrofoils are good or bad for boats is subjective and depends on various factors. Hydrofoils offer several advantages, including increased speed, reduced drag, and improved fuel efficiency when operated in hydrofoil mode. These benefits make hydrofoils suitable for certain applications, such as recreational hydrofoil boarding and commercial ferry services.

However, hydrofoils also come with their own set of challenges, as mentioned earlier. The high fuel consumption, maintenance complexity, and limitations in stability and seaworthiness can make hydrofoils less practical for certain naval operations, especially those requiring long-range capabilities and resilience in adverse sea conditions.

FAQ

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Why are hydrofoils not used anymore?

Hydrofoils are not used by the US Navy anymore primarily due to their lack of cost-effectiveness for the Navy’s offensive missions. The high fuel consumption and maintenance complexity associated with hydrofoils, along with their limitations in stability and seaworthiness, made them less practical for the Navy’s evolving needs.

Read more about “How Do Hydrofoils Work on Boats? …”

Why did hydrofoils fail?

Hydrofoils did not necessarily fail as a concept or technology. They continue to be used in various civilian applications, including recreational hydrofoil boarding and commercial ferry services. However, in the context of the US Navy, hydrofoils were deemed less practical and cost-effective for the Navy’s offensive missions, leading to their abandonment.

What is the problem with hydrofoil boats?

The main problems associated with hydrofoil boats include high fuel consumption, maintenance complexity, limitations in stability and seaworthiness, and higher construction and maintenance costs compared to conventional surface ships. These factors contributed to the US Navy’s decision to abandon hydrofoils.

Read more about “… Why do boats not use hydrofoils?”

Conclusion

In conclusion, the US Navy abandoned hydrofoils primarily due to their lack of cost-effectiveness for the Navy’s offensive missions. While hydrofoils offered impressive speed and maneuverability, their high fuel consumption and maintenance complexity made them less practical for long-range operations. As the Navy’s needs evolved, they shifted their focus towards other types of vessels that offered a better balance of speed, range, and fuel efficiency.

Despite their abandonment by the US Navy, hydrofoils continue to be used in various civilian applications, including recreational hydrofoil boarding. The technology and concept of hydrofoils remain fascinating and continue to evolve, offering unique opportunities for speed enthusiasts and water sports enthusiasts alike.

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