Donald Campbell


Donald Campbell : biography

21 March 1921 – 04 January 1961

Campbell’s body was finally located just over two months later and recovered from the lake on 28 May 2001, still wearing his blue nylon overalls.

Campbell was interred in Coniston cemetery on 12 September 2001 after his coffin was carried down the lake, and through the measured kilometre, on a launch, one last time. A funeral service was then held at St Andrew’s Church in Coniston, after an earlier, and positive DNA examination had been carried out. The funeral was attended by his widow Tonia, daughter Gina, other members of his family, members of his former team, and admirers. The funeral was overshadowed in the media due to coverage of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. Jean Wales (Donald Campbell’s sister) had, however, been against the recovery of her brother’s body out of respect for his stated wish that, in the event of something going wrong, "Skipper and boat stay together". When Donald Campbell was buried in Coniston cemetery on 12 September 2001 she did not attend the service. Steve Hogarth, lead singer for Marillion, was also present at the funeral and performed the song "Out of This World" solo.

Water Speed Records

Campbell began his speed record attempts in the summer of 1949, using his father’s old boat, Bluebird K4. His initial attempts that summer were unsuccessful, although he did come close to raising his father’s existing record. The team returned to Coniston Water, Lancashire in 1950 for further trials. Whilst there, they heard that an American, Stanley Sayers had raised the record from to , beyond K4’s capabilities without substantial modification. Over the winter 1950/51, Bluebird K4 was modified to make it a ‘prop-rider’ as opposed to her original immersed propeller configuration. This greatly reduced hydrodynamic drag as the third planing point would now be the propeller hub, meaning one of the two propeller blades was always out of the water at high speed. She now sported two cockpits, the second one being for Leo Villa. Bluebird K4 now had a chance of exceeding Sayers record and also enjoyed success as a circuit racer, winning the Oltranza Cup in Italy in the spring of that year. Returning to Coniston in September, they finally got Bluebird up to 170 mph after further trials, only to suffer a structural failure at which wrecked the boat. Sayers raised the record the following year to in Slo-Mo-Shun IV. Along with Donald Campbell, Britain had another potential contender for Water Speed Record honours – John Cobb. He had commissioned the world’s first purpose-built turbo jet Hydroplane, Crusader, with a target speed of over , and began trials on Loch Ness in autumn 1952. Cobb was killed later that year, when Crusader broke up, during attempt on the record. Campbell was devastated at Cobb’s loss, but his determination soon reasserted itself, and he resolved to build a new Bluebird boat to bring the WSR back to Britain.

In early 1953, Campbell began development of his own advanced all metal jet-powered Bluebird K7 hydroplane to challenge the record, by now held by the American prop rider hydroplane Slo-Mo-Shun IV.[1] Designed by Ken and Lew Norris, the K7 was a steel framed, aluminium bodied, three-point hydroplane with a Metropolitan-Vickers Beryl axial-flow turbojet engine, producing 3500 pound-force (16 kN) of thrust. Like Slo-Mo-Shun, but unlike Cobb’s tricycle Crusader, the three planing points were arranged with two forward, on outrigged sponson’s and one aft, in a "pickle-fork" layout, prompting Bluebird’s early comparison to a blue lobster. K7 was of very advanced design and construction, and its load bearing steel space frame ultra rigid and stressed to 25g (exceeding contemporary military jet aircraft). It had a design speed of 250 miles per hour (400 km/h) and remained the only successful jet-boat in the world until the late 1960s.

The designation "K7" was derived from its Lloyd’s unlimited rating registration. It was carried on a prominent white roundel on each sponson, underneath an infinity symbol. Bluebird K7 was the seventh boat registered at Lloyds in the ‘Unlimited’ series.