Harry Volpi's Driver Decelerator [1969]

Safety Device Developed For Unlimited Racers

A new life support system for Unlimited drivers and other classes of water racers has been announced by Unlimited Vice-President J. Lee Schoenith.

Harry Volpi, chairman of the Unlimited and Gold Cup Technical and Safety Committee conducted a project of research and development which led to the new parachute safety system. The project was instituted as a result of a series of severe accidents in Unlimited racing during the 1968 season.

Research indicated that a driver involved in a hydro accident flies through the air for a short distance, laterally or vertically. The new system is designed so that a decelerator is released and force-inflated when a driver is thrown from his boat. The device slows the driver down and deposits him gently in the water after he has traveled either 84' laterally or 5½' vertically.

A lanyard arrangement connects driver to boat, providing a trigger mechanism, Volpi says. He worked with a number of firms, most of which worked on a volunteer basis: The Pioneer Parachute Co., which will produce the first units; University of Notre Dame Department of Aerospace Engineering; Naval Air Development Center; Goodyear Aerospace Corp., Raven Industries; All-American Engineering Co.; Joint Parachute Test Facility, Dept. of Defense; San Diego Aircraft Engineering Corp.; NASA Research Centre; Jalbert Aerology Laboratories, Inc.; U.S. Air Force Dynamics Laboratories; Irvin Industries; Civil Aeromedical Research Institute, FAA.

"We won't really know if it's failsafe unless we have a serious accident," said Volpi, "but if such an accident occurs, we will know that we have given a race driver the best possible chance of survival."

(Reprinted from Sea and Pacific Motor Boat, December 1969, pp.27, 115)