Richard Branson's 'Underwater Plane' Is 1st of Its Kind

"Necker Nymph" will be anchored to Branson's luxury yacht in the Caribbean.

ByABC News
February 3, 2010, 1:35 PM

Feb. 4, 2010— -- Sir Richard Branson, the mogul whose reach already extends from music to mobile phones to air to space travel, has added one more frontier to his portfolio: the sea.

This week, Virgin Limited Edition, the luxury division of the Virgin Hotels Group, announced that the billionaire entrepreneur is purchasing a first-of-its-kind underwater airplane.

Though the vessel moves through the water, not the air, the company that created it says it uses the same principles of flight through air for underwater navigation, making it capable of "undersea flight."

The "aero submarine" -- Branson's is named the Necker Nymph -- can dive to a depth of about 130 feet below the water's surface, carrying two passengers and a pilot.

The three-person submersible will be delivered later this month to Branson's private Caribbean resort, Necker Island, and will be anchored to the deck of Branson's luxury catamaran, the Necker Belle.

For guests who spend $88,000 to rent the high-end yacht for one week, the Necker Nymph can be hired out for an equally princely sum -- $25,000 per week.

"It feels fantastic. It blows everyone's socks away," said Graham Hawkes, the engineer who designed and built the submersible. "There's something just magical about flight. Period. It may seem like an odd word to use underwater, but we don't have another word. If you experience it, you just can't describe it another way."

Hawkes' company, Hawkes Ocean Technologies, has built about 60 conventional submersibles, he said, including one used in James Cameron's 1989 movie "The Abyss."

But those conventional subs, Hawkes said, are heavy and sink in the water. Hoping to create a craft that would make deep-sea exploration easier, he's spent 15 years experimenting on a different approach.

Branson's sub, which the company calls DeepFlight Merlin, is one of only a handful that Hawkes has built and the first of its kind to hit the market, the company said.

"Our goal was to get to the bottom of the ocean, to get more freedom," he said. "We need to build better, more agile, capable machines to move in the ocean. If you're an engineer and you follow the mathematics, it turns out the mathematics are identical to moving in air."