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It’s the 75th anniversary of a spectacular technical gaff. In 1932, a British prototype vessel sank during military exercises. The vessel was a hybrid between an aircraft carrier and a submarine. The intent was to sneak into enemy territory and launch short range aerial attacks. But in hindsight, the flaw in the design was clear:
“It is believed the disaster happened because the vessel’s hangar doors were opened before it properly surfaced.”
In theory, could it still be possible to salvage the design? Modern aircraft doors open inward so that the pressure inside the plane keeps them sealed shut. Perhaps the reverse could have worked on the submarine, where the hangar door could not open outward against the pressure of the water. This wouldn’t protect the vessel in shallow water, unfortunately. Another approach would build mechanical interlocks on the door that only open when the engines are off or when the depth guage is within a tolerable range, preferably zero. But mechanical parts can wear, break or be damaged in combat.
It is a tragedy that 60 British sailors lost their lives that day. It was also inevitable. The history of technology is littered with projects which, like this one, should never have been attempted.