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Businessweek Archives

Where No One's `Flown' Before

Developments to Watch


JUST BEFORE NOON ON OCT. 24 GRAHAM Hawkes is slated to pilot Deep Flight I on its maiden flight--under water. Deep Flight is a new breed of flying submarine. It sports upside-down wings that pull downwards so the sub can sail at up to 12 knots, or 14 mph.

Eight years and $1 million in the making at Hawkes Ocean Technologies in San Anselmo, Calif., the craft is really just a prototype for Deep Flight II, a one-man hydroplane that Hawkes intends to fly to the deepest spot on earth: the Marianas Trench, located 200 miles south of Guam. There, the sea floor lies 37,000 feet below the surface, where the water exerts an incredible pressure of 16,000 pounds per square inch. Humans have visited this place only once: The bathysphere Trieste spent 20 minutes there in 1960.

To withstand the pressure, Deep Flight II will be made from a new alumina ceramic developed by the U.S. Navy. The current Deep Flight is made from a glass-fiber-epoxy composite and can't go much below 3,000 feet. Hawkes, who has designed most of the subs built since 1970 for civilian research and industry, admits the new ceramic "is still experimental enough to make me a little nervous." But his biggest concern is raising $7 million to build the sub. Once that's in hand, the job should proceed swiftly, because the design data have already been captured on an Autocad system from Autodesk Inc.EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top

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IN PURSUIT OF A MORE comfortable airline seat, BCAM International Inc. in Melville, N.Y., put 30 people through a torture test. It mocked up the interior of an airliner and told the "passengers" to pretend they were on an eight-hour flight. There were even in-flight movies. Sensors in the seats recorded how they squirmed.

The result is a seat scheduled for an Oct. 24 unveiling by United Airlines. The seat, manufactured by B/E Aerospace Inc. in Wellington, Fla., features a lumbar support that can be set to move in and out and massage the small of the back. It offers a height adjustment, and the fold-down footrest has a position for children and short adults. The headrest has "wings" that can fold forward to brace the head during sleep. United will begin by putting the seats in the business-class section of planes that fly internationally.

BCAM, known until last year as Biomechanics Corp. of America, has bigger plans for its sensor technology. It hopes to put the sensors in actual production seats, not only laboratory test models. The sensors would detect the amount of pressure at various points, and a microprocessor would respond by automatically inflating or deflating corresponding air bladders inside the seat. Textron Inc., a supplier to car-seat makers, has installed prototypes in cars of five auto industry executives.EDITED BY OTIS PORT By Peter CoyReturn to top


THE FIRST DRUG TO CURTAIL THE SPREAD OF BRAIN damage resulting from strokes and head or spinal cord injuries has entered clinical tests at six hospitals in Israel. Its key ingredient is dexanabinol, a synthetic molecule based on the active agent in marijuana. Dexanabinol was discovered six years ago by Raphael Mechoullam, a researcher at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and developed by the Rehovot (Israel) research arm of Pharmos Corp. in Alachua, Fla.

Dexanabinol has two novel properties: It can cross the so-called blood-brain barrier that prevents foreign molecules from entering the brain. And once in, the drug appears to halt the brain-cell deterioration that follows a blow to the head or a stroke. In four years of animal testing, the drug produced "outstanding" results, says Michael Schickler, vice-president of Pharmos' Israel operations. Pharmos expects clinical tests to be completed by the end of 1997. If it works, dexanabinol could hit the market as soon as 2000.EDITED BY OTIS PORT By Neal SandlerReturn to top

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