Each piece can be produced in under an hour, but speed isn’t the big benefit: it’s the cost. The one-piece hull is less expensive to produce – and repair – than hulls made of multiple pieces and materials. (Today, most hydroplanes are made from a combination of aluminum, GFRP, CFRP and graphite composites.) For national sponsorship, teams must have a minimum of two hulls on hand. Using these molds leads to faster repairs; in case of damage, a one-piece mold allows fabrication of the entire damaged area. And with minimal glue joints and less overall weight (a reduction of 50 to 60 percent compared to traditional boats, Cameron says), added benefits include a better overall strength and load paths.
“I feel the bigger the part, the better the load characteristics, the better the handling,” Cameron says. The massive parts of the Miss Spokane replica run roughly 31 x 13 feet. With few pieces, Cameron expects these boats to have better load transfers. “Part count is everything in composites. Let’s get the part count down, get the fasteners out of there and make it in one piece,” he says.
To test this theory, two racing teams have donated the use of their hydroplanes for the school to cast the molds that will form the basis of the vacuum-infused hulls. For Cameron, vacuum infusion is the means of making this project a cost-effective venture for boat owners and other racing enthusiasts. His early work with composites – including a replica of a P-51 Mustang aircraft – relied on autoclaves. After some convincing, Cameron turned to vacuum infusion processing as a far cheaper alternative, and he hasn’t looked back since.