Ken Warby MBE‐ Spirit of Australia
Unbroken Outright Water Speed Record Holder since 1978
288.18 mph – 20 November 1977 Blowering Dam Reservoir, NSW, Australia
317.60 mph – 08 October 1978 Blowering Dam Reservoir, NSW, Australia
The Australian, Ken Warby is the only person ever to hold the water speed record that designed, built and drove his own boat to success. Spirit of Australia (SOA) is a three point jet hydroplane of an all wood construction; she was launched in 1974, due to a lack of funds she appeared incomplete minus an engine cowling, air intakes, or tail plane. Serious testing started and gradually Ken built up his speed finally breaking the Australian National Speed record. Presumably the record of 276.33 mph set on Lake Dumbleyung by Donald Campbell in 1964.
To go for the magic 300 mark SOA needed a longer stretch of water and Blowering Dam in New South Wales, was chosen. High speed trials continued and Ken approached the 200 mark. Finally he met Professor Tom Fink, one of aero dynamists that worked on Bluebird K7.
After the intransigent Campbell, Tom Fink found Ken to be easy going; he liked the design and probably appreciated Ken’s guts and determination to get on with a job that would be a handful for any team regardless of circumstances. Tom enthusiastically joined Ken for the world record bid and his participation led in no small way to the project’s success.
Under Tom Fink’s careful eye testing started on Blowering Dam in mid‐1977, with SOA reaching speeds in the region of 270 to 280 mph. At that moment the team did not know that the J‐34 jet was not giving full thrust. However Tom suggested removing 1, 5 ins. off the rudder to reduce drag. (The scene in the documentary recalling Ken’s triumph is brilliant when he cuts off the bottom of the rudder with a hack saw as Tom looks on).
There was enormous jubilation when Ken set a mark of 288 mph. Next stop the Magic 300.
World records are splendid things; they make big news, excite and turn people on, occasionally they agitate a sponsor’s wallet. More than often the team’s enthusiasm is so contagious that it can stimulate support from all quarters and in all ways.
Ken Warby wanted to be the first man to do 300 on water, enough to capture anybody’s imagination, including the Royal Australian Air Force. The Wagga Wagga RAAF Apprentice training base offered to overhaul one of his J‐34’s, an offer no man could refuse. When they got it on the bench the boys at Wagga Wagga could not believe that the engine could even run, let alone break a world’s water speed record.
Spirit of Australia was taken back to Blowering in 1978 with welcomed sponsorship from Speedo and a hot jet engine running at 100%.
This is the MAN with the record…
(Photo courtesy of Dave Warby)