Monday, August 13, 2007

Bernard Smith: An Amazing Life

Bernard Smith was born in 1910 in New York City. By age 22, he had dropped out of high school, working odd jobs and spending most of his time at the libraries and museums of the city.

One night, he attended a meeting of the American Rocket Society and while looking over one of their failed rockets, made some suggestions on how to improve the device. The president of the Society, Edward Pendray, handed him the pieces of the rocket and invited him to create the next version.

According to Smith, his motivation was simple. America was in the midst of the Great Depression, and "It was a lousy planet. The rocket ship was the only way to get off it."

After making major modifications to the original rocket design, including several weight-saving changes, the new rocket was ready to fly in early 1933. It wasn't entirely successful, but proved that the basic concepts were sound.

Bernard Smith never did graduate from high school, but he did earn a degree in Physics. In fact, after World War II he started his career working for the US Navy, eventually heading up the Weapons Development Department at the Naval Ordinance Test Station. Among the projects that he worked on or managed are the ASROC, Sidewinder and Shrike. He also spearheaded Project Pilot, which placed at least one small satellite into orbit via air-launched rockets in 1958.

So that's the "rocket" side of Bernard Smith. But there's more, for there's the "sailboat" side of Bernard Smith.

Smith also spent over 40 years pursuing his dream of creating the perfect sailboat. He tried many unconventional designs and met some notable successes. In fact, one of his early efforts, the Aerohydrofoil, could make 20 knots in a 12 knot wind. He also designed craft he called Monomarans, Fliptackers, and experimented with a concept called the Sailloon, which was a gas-filled sail that would help provide lift, and thus speed, to a sailboat.

Follow that link above for a fascinating look at the creations of a mind who saw radically different, and sometimes better, ways to accomplish his goals, both through the air and on the water.


Paul said...

You may be interested to learn that Bernard Smith passed away on 12 February 2010, just three months shy of what would have been his 100th birthday.

One of the online obituaries for Bernard, at;cp=0-163-29 , refers to him as being "sailing's true rocket scientist", which is quite an apt summation, really.

Paul Dunlop

rcahall said...

So who is now taking Bernard Smith's gauntlet and furthering the dream of the ultimate sailboat?

J Chin said...

Vestas Sailrocket 2, which is inspired by Bernard Smith's design, is the world's fastest sailboat (54 knots averaged over 500 meters, 61 knots peak). This boat is on-track to also set the outright sailing speed record before the end of this year; the record is currently held by a kite surfer at 55 knots. So Bernard Smith's dream of the ultimate sailboat lives on!

See for more information.

Dan Erlich said...

On November 28, 1012 Vestas Sailrocket travelled an average speed of 65.45 knots over 500 M to set the new world speed record for sailing and proving Bernard Smith's concept - over proving it actually. The peak speed was in excess of 67 knots. The very name of the boat was a derivation of who Bernard Smith was a sailor and a rocket scientist.