Art Arfons and His Green Monster [1967]
He'll Try to Roll Up a New Water Speed Record While Riding on Wheels at Over 300 MPH!

Art Arfons' Green Monster, 1967
Art Arfons' Green Monster, 1967
Art Arfons' Green Monster, 1967
Though still bearing the name "Cyclops" on the cockpit, under which it was raced us a land dragster, Arfon's new reconverted vehicle will be known as the "Green Monster" while pursuing the world's water speed record. The boat is designed to ride --or better, roll-over the surface of water on the edges of two 8:OOx 15 Firestone Slicks (shown in the insert at upper left) at speeds in excess of 150 mph. A third suspension point will be the tip of a stern rudder. Yet to be added to the hull is a fixed-pitch "wing" mounted directly over the cockpit to prevent the craft from flying.

Once above 150 mph," says Art Arfons, in propounding water speed's most revolutionary theory, "I intend to drive on water much as I've driven on the salt at Bonneville: on wheels. With my sponsons out of water, what I'll be rolling on-at speeds up to 300 mph-will be a couple of race car tires."

So saying, the 41-year old three-times land speed champion launched, in early January, his new jet-powered Green Monster, the boat he hopes will carry him, this season, past the late Donald Campbell's 276 mph world's speed mark.

To witness Green Monster's launching was to witness a theory put to practice. For behind Arfons' hopes to "drive on water" lies a complex phenomenon reduced to simple fact: at speeds above about 150 mph, water is hard as concrete.

"On water's concrete-hard surface," explains Art, "my jetboat's two tires projecting about 3-inches below the two sponson-like aluminum pontoons should act like rollers, eliminating much of the friction which, heretofore, has limited water speed."

"No," Art says, the two 8:00 x 15 Firestone racing "slicks", inflated to about 50 psi, won't be steerable. "We'll have a rudder in the water. But after lift-out — above 150 mph — I'd expect Green Monster to ride on three-point suspension: on its two upfront tires and stern rudder."

Initial trials, planned for early spring on Michigan's Hubbard Lake (which has also been jet-boater Les Staudacher's favored water course), should test Art's "drive on water" theory. And if things prove out?

"Then," Art says with quiet finality, "we'll be ready to head for Lake Mead and a go at the world's record, perhaps by mid-summer."

As water speed's newest and most unconventional challenger, Green Monster (which takes its name from Arfons' great jet car, demolished at Bonneville in a near 600 mph crackup last November) has already raised some eyebrows and some questions.

Paramount among them: it is a car or boat, or both?

Basically, Green Monster is a car (Art's record-breaking jet-dragster Cyclops installed with an 8000-lbs/thrust J-47 engine) mounted on two 26-ft. long aluminum pontoons. Cyclops' bare axles are fitted and bolted to steel plates which, in turn, are fixed to the pontoon-like sponsons. Four feet back from each float's nose, on their outboard side, is a single wheel well. In them, free-wheeling on spindles robbed from a 1955 Packard, are the tires on which Green Monster is designed to ride once it has gained "flying" speed. The 1 inch thick Timken steel rudder, hung from a pontoon cross member, is steerable from Cyclops' cockpit. Two drag chutes (similar to those used to stop the dragster when, on wheels, it set the quarter-mile sprint record) will brake the jetboat. Another holdover from land will be that Arfons trademark, the "non-flyable" wing, concepted to prevent the boat (as Art's cars) from taking off at titanic speed. Green Monster will mount a stubby, fixed-pitch wing (some 4-ft long and about 3-ft wide) directly over the cockpit.

Those are the basics. But Art's "drive on water" theory, the product of more than 2 years of careful calculations, goes far beyond such basics.

Strangely, it was at Bonneville, almost two years ago, that Art-his mind straddling land and water - first broached his jetcar-on-floats concept to me. It was obvious, even then, that Art had pretty firmly concluded that once he'd tied down the world's land speed record he'd aim for the double crown as well. And thus stake his place among land-water's legendary double-crowned speed greats: Sir Henry Segrave, Sir Malcolm Campbell, John Cobb and Donald Campbell.

I recall the evening vividly. I'd gone up to Bonneville to watch Art run the official mile in Green Monster, his J-79 powered jetcar. The date was Nov. 6, 1965. Three days before, on Nov. 3, Craig Breedlove, in his new Spirit of America-Sonic 1, had clocked 555.127mph to regain the world's speed title which Art and Green Monster had held since the previous year. The following day, Nov. 7, Art was scheduled to try again. Again he'd be at Green Monster's helm and again he'd be gunning to snatch back the record newly won by Breedlove.

The TV was blaring in Art's Wendover, Utah motel room. Art lay on one of the double beds, staring at the ceiling. There were just the two of us. The crew, ever-present until a few moments before, had left to get the car in shape for the run, scheduled for 11 a.m. next morning.

Cool as always before a big run, Art let his thoughts drift, oddly, to water instead of land.

"What I'm planning to do," he said aloud, more to himself than to me, "is to take Cyclops, that jet-powered dragster of mine, and put it on water. I don't see any reason to spend a lot of money on a real fancy boat when, power-wise at least, Cyclops has more than enough for the 300 mph I'll need to do on water."

"You're going after the water record, too?" I asked.

Art nodded soberly.

"Yes," he admitted, "I've been toying with the notion quite awhile now."

Art, the canny speed professional, isn't one simply to "toy" with an idea. Obviously he'd already firmed the decision in his own mind. But the transition, land to water, seemed to bother him.

"I've never been much for water," he admitted, allowing himself a grin. "Fact is, I've never even owned a boat. And the fastest I've gone on water was maybe 40 mph when the Coast Guard invited me aboard one of their patrol boats on Lake Mead."

"Still," he said, lapsing serious again, "we're talking speed. There's certainly a kinship, I'd say, between the kinds of speed we've been makin’ here on the Flats ...and the kind you'd need to score on water."

Whatever the kinship, it suffered — in terms of raw speed at least — by comparison. In the morning, Art would probably have to make 600 mph on one run at least to average out the better than 555 mph he'd need to regain the record from Breedlove. As a matter of fact, even then, in the fall of 1965, both Breedlove and Arfons had, one occasion or another, topped 600 mph, though never officially. Yet Campbell's water record stood at 276.34 mph, less than half the speed the Bonneville clan was making on nearly every run.

"I'm not downgrading the difference," Art said quickly. "But maybe, just maybe, the reason why 300 mph seems an all but unbeatable barrier on water is that the guys gunning for it have been thinking conventionally — especially in hull design."

"I've got something just a bit different in mind", Art said, pondering, "let me show you."

I handed him my note pad. Quickly, Art sketched the hybrid he had in mind.

Looking back at those notes — now nearly two years old — it's obvious that what Art had in mind then has become reality: a hybrid big-speed water contender which, if Art's calculations are correct, for the first time successfully mates a proven jet car with what amounts to a catamaran hull.

Nor is the fact that Art put his waterborne Green Monster together for something like $7,000 much of it from existing hardware, any reason to discount the hybrid as a serious contender for the world's water record.

Art has been confounding the experts for years. His Bonneville Green Monster was almost as cut-rate built (for about $15,000). Admittedly, his great land jet was never any great shakes on looks, though Art stoutly refused to agree it was an "ugly duckling" as some, less charitable, chided. Low though it was on budget and a plain-Jane on looks, Art's Bonneville Green Monster took to salt as perhaps no car before it. Three times it held the world's land speed record. On its first serious run, in October 1964, it broke all existing records wit a 434.02 mph roundtrip average. And, even when a venerable "has been" by some speed standards, it was still good enough to pace and beat Breedlove's second and far newer (and admittedly, more scientifically contrived land runner), Spirit of America-Sonic I. Green Monster, in fact, might well have snatched away Breedlove's land record had the Fates not decreed otherwise last November 17 when, within grasp of Spirit's 600.601 mph, Monster flipped, rolled, and came to rest nearly a mile down the track. Art walked away from that one. In so doing, he set a record of sorts: the only mortal to survive a near600 mph Bonneville crackup.

The car was a total loss. "Just junk," Art says with the deep remorse of one who built, drove and nearly died in one of the world's great land speed vehicles.

Right after the accident, offers came in from all over the country. They wanted Art — the headlined survivor — to tour the nation, and maybe stand beside the corpse — all that was left of Green Monster — as a symbol of man's most remarkable survival.

"But l couldn't do it," Art says. "I turned them all down. The crew and I cut up what was left of Monster. She's piled there now, outside my shop. Looking at that pile I choke up. 'there was a lot of me in that car ... an awful lot."

Yet many an Arfons innovation — including the stabilizing "no-fly" wing — has become a part of nearly every car that goes for broke, or even nearly so, on land. And Art, with a brand new J-79 jet engine, is readying now to build a new Bonneville car.

"Meantime," he explains, "it seemed right to go for water."

Thus, a few months ago, he began the put together of the craft which, if' his calculations are correct, should roll on super-hard water much as his cars have rolled to record speeds on Bonneville's hard-packed salt.

Art's choice of power — his own jet drag car Cyclops — was natural. Thrust by its J-47 jet engine, Cyclops holds the world's drag record having jjetted the quarter mile at 238 mph at Wingdale, N.Y. in 1963. Cyclops was the car Betty Skelton drove to a then (1965) land speed record for women — 277.62 mph Doing it, she hit a top of'315.72 mph. But Cyclops, With Art at the helm, has clone even better: 341.88 mph, without resort to afterburner.

"On water," Art says, "she has plenty of power to crack 300 mph."

Arfons' crew shop-crafted the the octahedral shaped, 26-ft long pontoon. from 3x10-ft sheets of .090 Alcoa aluminum. Pontoon bottoms are of 1/8th thick stock.

The pontoons — sponsons might be almost as correct-measure 3-ft across their bottoms (for a total 6-ft wetted bearing surface) and are cut, beneath with a 3-inch deep inverted V. Art in tends to pressure this invert space (between pontoon hull and water) will some 80 psi of compressed air bled, vi, a 1-inch diam. pipe, from the turbo engine's 12th compressor stage.

"I'm depending on this air cushion and on a quick thrust of afterburner to get me off the water quick, possibly by 50 mph," explains Art.

By the time Art has gunned to 80 or 90 mph, he figures the 7000-Ib jetboat should be up on the steps which, built into each sponson, begin about 4-inches ahead of the wheel wells. By 150 mph, he expects the pontoons to be wholly high and dry, and Green Monster to be riding three-suspensioned, on its two sponson-installed racing tires and the rudder.

Most of the pontoons' interior is given over to flotation-enough foamed-in-place polyurethane (15 gallons in each structure) to buoy 9000-lbs, fully a ton more than Green Monster's presently planned weight. Each sponson also carries a z0-gallon fuel tank. Together with two other 20-gallon tanks already installed in the car, Green Monster will have an 80-gallon kerosene supply.

Trial runs on Lake Hubbard may decree the addition of "spoilers" — small wing-shaped appendages — in front of the pontoons, these to create more nose lift during the relatively brief period when the wheels are in the water.

Arfons had planned all along to install a fixed-pitch wing over the cockpit, just as on his Bonneville car. Studying Campbell's ill-fated photos, he's more convinced than ever that no jetboat should try for speeds in the 300mph range without this anti-flight safeguard. Campbell, of course, went airborne.

"I know my lift," concedes Arfons. "I suppose I could hold things level up to about 350 mph. But I'm taking no chances. You might hit a ripple and throw both your calculations-and yourself into the air."

In design, Art figured that his 8-ft wide craft (built "road width" so it wouldn't have to be tipped on gunnel during transport) would draw about 10-inches (thus, dead in the water, about half of Green Monster's 18-inch high pontoons would be submerged). Launched, the craft drew 9-inches.

The rudder, though hung conventionally from the stern frame members and drag-linked to the jet car's steering wheel, departs somewhat from the usual in that its bottom edge is rather sharply pointed. This, to reduce water friction when the craft comes out of water and rides on tires and rudder.

At the heart of it all, of course, are the two Firestone racing tires (8:00x15 slicks) which, free-wheeling in their pontoon wheels and set about 4-ft back from the float tips, should both absorb the impact of any ripples and, once Green Monster is up, provide the craft with rollers on which to plane across that concrete-like slab of water.

"In theory, it ought to work," says Arfons, "but only a couple of high speed runs will tell."

On a typical run, Arfons would expect to accelerate fast with his afterburner. Perhaps at 50 mph, the hull would rise and plane on the pontoons' steps. Meantime, the tires-protruding 3-inches beneath the pontoons would absorb the tremendous shock of ripples and small waves. By 150 mph (perhaps only 2000-feet from go), Arfons would expect Green Monster to be riding wholly out of water — and literally rolling over the water's ever-hardening surface on its racing treads.

"If it works," says Art, "we may have come close to escaping the friction drags which, even for fast boats which seem to ride out of water, hold them back considerably. Beat water's friction and the sky could easily become the limit on water."

The theory had better work, if' for only one reason, grins Art. Most hydro hulls designed for the speed Arfons contemplates carry -inch thick plate on their bottoms to withstand the pounding. Green Monster's pontoon undersides are girded in only 1/8th aluminum. But, as. Arfons explains, "at anything like critical bottom speeds, I don't plan to be on pontoons — but, rather, on wheels."

Will it work? Can Arfons, in fact, "drive on water" much as he has three times driven on wheels to new land speed records?

"Frankly," grins Art, "I don't know. But we'll see soon enough."

Not all on the Arfons team share Art's confidence in this, certainly water speed's most revolutionary theory. Art's wife, June, a skeptic, has dubbed the craft the "Green Submarine." Ed Snyder, a long-time Arfons teammate, admits to some apprehension.

"This spring, on Hubbard Lake, we may well prove a point or two," concludes land speed's three time winner. Isis words exude the studied confidence of 'a man who has spent the better part of two decades putting innovation to practice...and into the record books.

(Reprinted from Hot Boat, April 1967, pp.26-31)

Hydroplane History Home Page
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010 .
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at
Leslie Field, 2001