Cameron offers two tips for working with vacuum infusion. First, proper planning prevents poor performance. Second, “It’s temperature, temperature, temperature and vacuum.” By that he means that keeping the workspace, mold and materials infusing at a steady 77 to 80 F, in combination with a heated airtight tool, helps to turn out consistently good parts.
For a mere $1,500, Cameron designed a sine wave oven that allows him to heat the composites on the bottom while a metal tool attached to the top of the oven creates the vacuum. Cameron works closely with composite engineers from Vectorply and uses unidirectional fiberglass from Vectorply and SAERTEX.
“I’ve come around to using the vinyl ester resins with an epoxy backbone,” Cameron says. “When it comes to infusion, I’ve not found a great epoxy infusion resin that will do big parts.” Cameron explains that the strength in most composites comes from the fiber itself. He’s now found that it’s possible to use a vinyl ester with an epoxy backbone and get the same allowable that he would with an epoxy on the structure.
Despite the seemingly finished nature of the molds, there’s room for flexibility with each boat. While hydroplanes a few decades back relied on an aluminum-clad bottom and Teflon paint to create a smooth surface, today’s racers feature slots on the bottom called fish scales. The molds allow for customization of these slots as well as various venting options.
There’s another option that Cameron is exploring – getting steel out of the roll cage. Each hydroplane is built with a steel cage around the cockpit to protect the driver if the boat flips, and Cameron would like to see these replaced with a composite product. He explains his reasoning with a comparison to the automobile industry: the full-body steel frames of the 1950s might have kept the car intact following an accident, but not necessarily the driver. Today’s quick-to-crumple cars are designed to redirect crash forces and better protect the occupants. Cameron expects that composites can, in this way, help better protect hydroplane racers, if costs can be minimized.
First, however, Cameron’s composite hydroplanes need to get off of the ground and into the water. He is in the process of assembling his vintage boat and working with interested owners to make use of his molds to create a modern turbine vehicle. Making these ultra-fast classic hulls available at a price point more speed-lovers can handle might be just what it takes to inject new interest into this thrilling sport.