The Powerboat

Blue Bird K4 was a powerboat commissioned in 1939 by Sir Malcolm Campbell, to rival the American in the fight for the world water speed record. The name K4 was derived from its Lloyd's unlimited rating, and carried on a circular badge on the forward hull.

K4 was built by Vosper & Company as a replacement to the BlueBird K3, which had set three other water speed records for Malcolm Campbell before the K4 was built. It also used the same Rolls-Royce R engine. Donald Campbell is seen in these images christening the K4 hydroplane with his father in 1939.

K4 was a 'three pointer' hydroplane. Conventional planing powerboats, such as Miss England or K3, have a single keel, with an indent or 'step' projecting from the bottom of the hull. At speed, the force on this step is enough to lift the bow upward, reducing the wetted area of the hull and thus the frictional drag.

On The Water


A 'three pointer' has a two distinctly separate floats fitted to the front, and a third point at the rear of the hull. When the boat increases in speed, most of the hull lifts out of the water and planes on these three contact points alone. These points being even smaller in area than the planing hull of a monohull hydroplane, they have even less drag. Having a broad spacing between the front planing points, the three-pointer is also more stable to small disturbances than a monohull.


However if the bow angle does lift higher than its safety margin, the aerodynamic forces (not the hydrodynamic forces of the water) on the broad forward area of the hull will cause it to 'kite' upwards, leading to a somersault and crash. This is what happened to both Slo-mo-shun and Bluebird K7.

Bluebird K7

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