36,000 Feet Under the Sea

The strange quest of San Anselmo's Graham Hawkes, who will dive a two-man submarine to the deepest point in the ocean. If someone gives him $7 million.

"It seemed obvious."
The crowd marches around the muddy shooting range, angling for better vantage points and grabbing bright-colored headphones for ear protection. The show is about to begin. The target: three posters of people on sticks, each with plastic water containers hanging off its sides, about 70 yards in the distance.

"We're just going to shoot the bad guys," Hawkes says.
Eric Hobson, a mechanical engineer who works for Hawkes, has been cast as Cop of the Future in this production. He is crouched behind a truck wearing a backpack full of electronic equipment. Loud squawking comes across the radio from someone inside the van. Eric picks up TRAP by two straps, runs out a few feet, plops it down, and runs back. Behind the safety of the truck, Eric puts his face into a viewfinder connected to his backpack and moves a miniature joystick to aim TRAP's gun at the stick people.

The gun is moving, locking on its target like a surveillance camera. TRAP sends out a small circle of light, which Hawkes hopes to be a signal to the "bad guys" that they're caught in the cross hairs and might want to surrender. It also buys time, since the human eye is naturally attracted to light, causing a kind of deer-in-the-headlights effect.

Today, though, the stick people are not giving up. Eric fires ... pop, pop, pop ... and the plastic water containers in the distance explode. A few quiet oohs and ahhs come from the crowd.

TRAP doesn't miss. It aims more accurately than a human. Hawkes determined that humans need about two seconds to aim and fire. His weapon fires more quickly than that. And TRAP can re-aim quickly enough to follow a moving target -- someone dragging a hostage, for instance.

"We think it's very cool," says Sgt. Don Sloan, an officer with the San Francisco Police Department, who was directing the action from the van. Although the SFPD hasn't needed to use a sniper in 15 years, there are many situations -- crowd surveillance for public appearances by dignitaries, for example -- when TRAP's capabilities could be useful.

"What I like is that the camera on it provides constant information," he says.

Sloan has been advising Hawkes on his creation for the past couple of months. He would like TRAP to have a higher-caliber weapon with a longer range (a .223 is only good for about 100 yards). And there is a deployment problem: Even if the police had a few of these things, where are they going to be when you need them?

"Ideally, you'd have one in the trunk of a car south of Market and another north of Market," he says, having obviously pondered this a bit.

The price tag on TRAP is $50,000, a steep price, even for big-city police departments. So federal law enforcement agencies and the U.S. military may be the most likely purchasers. (TRAP is not for sale to the public.)

Hawkes has demonstrated his mobile remote-control gun for the U.S. Marines and the Secret Service, among other agencies. The plan is for the gun-making company -- Precision Remotes Inc., a partnership with San Francisco investor Michael Hanley -- to take off, allowing Hawkes to leave day-to-day operations to others.

So he can take the money and build Deep Flight 2.
Because, in the world of Graham Hawkes, all roads lead to the bottom of the ocean.

It's no coincidence that Deep Flight flies through the water. Graham Sidney Hawkes started out wanting to design airplanes. "I would have liked to have been born earlier, so I could have built them [airplanes] before they were so advanced ... back when I could have made great engineering strides," he says.

But Hawkes was born 50 years ago in London, and the ocean beckoned. Armed with a new degree in mechanical engineering, Hawkes' first job involved the design of a small submersible for the British government's Special Boat Section, to protect divers in the North Sea. He had never worked on ocean craft and was quickly frustrated with what little he found to study.

"Underwater vehicles were crude and stupid and dumb," he says. "No one was really doing anything with it. So I got interested."

As a young engineer, Hawkes was so absorbed in this new field that he would occasionally hole up in a remote cottage (sometimes without electricity or a telephone) to focus on a particularly challenging project. Among other things, he created a revolutionary midwater diving system, later named WASP for its yellow-and-black coloration and hovering capability. Then he produced a mechanical arm that works on the same principle as a human arm -- controlled by tension, similar to that created by muscles. With the arm attached, WASP became MANTIS, a manned submersible that has been wildly successful. (So successful, in fact, that it jumped from life to art when Hawkes piloted the craft in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. But Hawkes is getting used to the life-to-art leap; he also engineered a film platform that IMAX used to make a ride that simulates swimming with dolphins, and he designed the escape sub for the movie Sphere.)

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