"Flipper" as the Terminator?

Bionic dolphin can swim with the fishes.

Bionic dolphin can swim with the fishes.

A fully submersible watercraft that mimics the look and abilities of the dolphin does something no other submersible vessel can — it "flies" underwater.

While a standard submersible takes on ballast to sink beneath the surface, the Dolphin uses its forward momentum and variable-pitch diving planes to "fly" beneath the surface. The distinction is like that between an airship (which uses lightweight gas to create lift) and an airplane (which uses forward momentum and its wings). Innespace Productions, the craft's builder, porpoisely designed the watercraft for aquatic demonstrations and has no plans to market it to the public.

The company claims no other submersible vessel operates without the use of ballast or attains such a level of maneuverability. The Dolphin can dive and jump completely out of the water. And in the event something goes wrong during a dive, the craft pops to the surface and self-rights.

Dives are limited to just a few feet below the surface because greater depths would submerge the snorkel which gives the engine its air supply. The craft uses air at 200 cfm (for comparison, a scuba tank holds only 70 cf.). The Dolphin can clip along at speeds up to 30 mph on the surface or 20 mph submerged.

The fuselage is made of fiberglass and Kevlar with a urethane foam core. A half-inch-thick F-16 fighter jet canopy keeps the pilot dry. Power is provided by a 110-hp Yamaha Waverunner engine, driven through a velvet drive transmission with a 2:1 gear reduction.

The latest model, which will be finished next year, has a larger (175-hp) motor that produces a surface speed of 40 mph.