Submarine taking shape in Lake Butler auto shop

Polar Bear

They call me Mr Sunshine
Verified Military
Aug 14, 2006
American ingenuity at work. Good to hear the little guy making a difference
Submarine taking shape in Lake Butler auto shop

By Gregory Piatt
The Florida Times-Union

(AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Don Burk)
LAKE BUTLER — Like many boys, Reynolds Marion dreamed of military seagoing vessels. For Marion, it was submarines.

When he was growing up in Virginia, Marion drew a picture of a submarine he was going to build one day.

Nobody believed him, not even his sister, who bet him $20 that he would never build it.

About four years ago, Marion consulted his wife and they shut down a successful auto collision repair shop. He then set out to pursue his boyhood dream.

"It's evolved over the years from several drawings to this," the 43-year-old said, standing next to the first prototype of the Marion Fathom Hyper-Sub.

Despite being a high school graduate and focusing on auto repairs all his adult life, Marion has researched what makes subs work for more than 30 years.

"I have been obsessed with submarines since I was 11, and I have spent thousands of hours studying sub designs," he said.

In a three-bay shop, just outside Lake Butler, Marion claims he's making history by building a 26-foot speedboat and submersible craft.

He and more than 100 investors expect to spend about $1.5 million on the prototype by the time it is first water-tested in April. After a sea trial and building a second prototype, Marion hopes to begin assembling the craft in two years.

The craft can be customized for military, homeland security and commercial applications, he said.

But first, Marion is competing against another mini-sub company in a Rand Corp. study, which could result in Pentagon funding to build it for the Navy SEALs and other Special Operations forces.

The analysis by Rand, a nonprofit institution that conducts research and analysis for government and private industry, is expected to be complete this spring, Marion said.

Besides the military, there are commercial uses for the sub in the oil, gas and tourist industries, Marion said.

The boat is built with all off-the-shelf parts and uses principles of physics never put in this combination on a submersible craft, he said. Those who have seen the boat know the principles and the parts and they say, "Why didn't I think of it?" Marion said.

Gene Mock of Lake Butler was installing doors on industrial buildings and fabricating fiberglass boat hulls in his spare time when Marion told him he was building a submarine. Mock was skeptical at first, but became a believer when the first shipments of steel were delivered to Marion's shop. Shortly after, he joined the project as its assembly supervisor.

"I am proud to be a part of this because this prototype is the world's first," Mock said.

Dave Smith, a retired Air Force test pilot and defense analyst with investment firms, called Marion, Mock and other experts directly building the sub the "Orville and Wilbur Wrights" of a new submersible craft.

Smith, a Jacksonville resident, was so impressed with the craft that he joined Marion's management team.

What's new about Marion's craft is that he has mated a double-hulled boat with a tubular pressure hull of a submarine, Smith said.

In a conventional submarine, most of its pressure hull, which keeps people safe underwater, rests below the waterline. On Marion's vessel, the pressure hull sits atop the double-hulled boat, which is in the water, Smith said.

The pressure hull creates a dry atmosphere for the craft's pilot and passengers, unlike other mini-subs used by the Navy — where pilot and passengers dressed in wetsuits ride on the sub in the open ocean, said Loye "Bill" Holton, a retired Navy SEAL, who is familiar with Marion's craft.

"This is the first one that keeps people dry," said Holton, who lives in Worthington Springs.

Furthermore, Marion's craft could provide the military with new ideas for the mini-sub platform, said David Taft, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla.

"A portable submarine that can be launched directly from a dock and can operate independently of a larger vessel opens a lot of possibilities for our armed forces," Taft wrote in an e-mail.

Marion said his sub will do for Special Operations troops what the "Huey" helicopter did for troops in the Vietnam War — provide a quick and affordable way to deliver waterborne troops in covert operations.

A Navy SEAL or other Special Operations team could be launched in this submarine from more than 100 miles away, arrive quickly on the surface at more than 45 mph, then submerge for a covert delivery of its personnel, Taft said.

What separates Marion's craft from other mini-subs is it doesn't require a support ship, a team of people tending the submersible and the thousands of dollars associated with operating a submersible at sea, Marion said.

This sub, with its rechargeable batteries and cargo and weapons-carrying ability, could operate on its own for up to 45 days, Marion said.

So far, the sub has been tested only in the shop, but he expects to water test it in Lake Butler in April. He said he will put the boat to a full-fledged sea trial some time this year.

But until the boat submerges and comes up from the deep successfully, Marion will continue to get strange looks from Lake Butler residents for closing his auto collision business and building the submersible.

"At the hardware store, they ask me in that — you know that type of tone — 'how's the submarine coming,"' Marion said. "I can't wait until it is tested in Lake Butler because then they will see it is for real. And then I can collect that $20 from my sister."