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50 Years of Engineering – 1978 – World water speed record - Ken Warby in the Spirit of Australia



To celebrate Fircroft’s 50th Anniversary, every week EngineeringPro is highlighting an engineering accomplishment made between the years 1970-2020. This week we’re looking at the 1978 world water speed record set by Ken Warby in the Spirit of Australia. 

(Image via Warby Motorsports).

The true test of any record is how long it stands undefeated. In 1978 Ken Warby set the world water speed record in a jet-powered hydroplane and secured his place in history. This record still stands to this day, despite the countless technological advances made since then, and no one’s even come close to beating it.

On the 8th October 1978 Warby famously reached a speed of 318mph in his hydroplane, Spirit of Australia, on Blowering Dam Lake in New South Wales. 

This was a highly dangerous exploit and one which attracted a significant amount of public attention. Not only did Warby pilot the vehicle, but he had also designed it and built it himself in his backyard. The vehicle was wooden, home-made and relatively inexpensive. It used a second-hand Westinghouse J34 jet engine which he had purchased at an auction from the Royal Australian Airforce. Warby’s remarkable story and his commitment to achieving his dream captured the popular imagination. 

(Image via Warby Motorsports).

As a child, Warby’s hero had been Donald Campbell, who famously set seven world water speed records between 1955 and 1967. The extreme danger involved in such pursuits was emphasised by Campbell’s death in 1967 during a further world record attempt at Coniston Water in the Lake District. 

Warby and his son David are developing a new boat, Spirit of Australia II, which is powered by a jet engine taken from a Fiat G.91 fighter plane. The Spirit of Australia II is currently undergoing extensive trials, with a new world record attempt planned for later this year. 

The Spirit of Australia is now an exhibit at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney. The world water speed record it set remains unbeaten to this day, more than forty years later. 


The engineering world of 1978
Other milestones from 1978 include:

The first global positioning satellite, the Rockwell International-built Navstar 1, is launched by the United States. 
Production of the first genetically-engineered synthetic "human" insulin by Arthur Riggs and Keiichi Itakura.
Charon, a satellite of Pluto, is discovered.

Read last week’s look back at 1977 and the launch of Voyagers 1 and 2. 


 Fircroft - 50 years of connecting people

Fircroft has been recruiting engineering and technical professionals for ambitious projects across the globe since 1970. Register with us today to find out how our 50 years of experience can help you take the next step in your career. 


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50 Years of Engineering – 1978 – World water speed record - Ken Warby in the Spirit of Australia - Time to read 3 min
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