Hydrofoil Pioneers...

The Intriguing Story of George Meinas

by Bob Johnston

(Last Update 11 Nov 00)

French Flag

Click Here for this article in French, "L’histoire rocambolesque de George Meinas," courtesy of Gérard Delerm

Now that the cold war is over and the Russians are being considered as a partner to NATO, a story about an interesting character can be told. This story involves a bit of international intrigue affecting both military and commercial interests. The principal of this intrigue is a man named George Meinas.

George was trained in espionage by the German Army prior to World War II. However, as the events of the war developed, there was a greater need for combat personnel than for secret agents. As a result Meinas was assigned to the Russian front. As the Russians began to advance on the German Army, George was badly wounded and was sent back to Germany for recovery. As a result of his wounds, he was declared unfit for further military duty. In seeking suitable war-time employment, he went to work for the Sachsenberg Shipyard in Dessau-Rosslau, Germany. This was the yard that was engaged in building the von Schertel hydrofoil designs for the German Navy.

George's wounds, not being completely healed, resulted in partial but temporary incapacitation. As such he was assigned to the engineering office as a technical draftsman. George Meinas was there when the VS-6, the hydrofoil minelayer, and the VS-8, the hydrofoil tank transporter, were building and testing.

At the conclusion of World War II, the Sachsenberg Shipyard was located in that part of Germany that was the Russian Zone. Several of the hydrofoil personnel were retained by the Russians to work on their hydrofoil program. George Meinas was captured after escaping to East Berlin and sent to a camp near Leningrad. There, hydrofoil hydrodynamic and research programs were conducted. During this time period the Russians developed a hydrofoil design manual. While George was not a key participant in these efforts, he was well aware of what was going on including the designing, building, and testing of hydrofoil models.

After careful planning and organizing, George Meinas and his family were able to escape the Russians and get to Western Germany bringing with him the Russian design manual. With no home or furnishings, he was granted refugee status and transported to Chile. In Chile he made the acquaintance of Helmut Kock. George Meinas and Helmut Kock teamed using Meinas's personal knowledge and the material he had in his possession. With this information and Helmut's boatbuilding capability, several hydrofoil models were built and tested.

In the meantime, as is true of most hydrofoilers, Meinas needed money to support their development effort. One of his assets was the Russian Hydrofoil Design Manual. This manual he offered for sale to the US Navy. The time frame was late 1953 when the Navy was engaged in evaluating the feasibility of the hydrofoil concept. When asked, the Navy's position was that they were interested in the manual. But the question became what was such material worth. Before that question could be answered, some knowledge of the content would have to be known.

George Meinas related his experiences in trying to negotiate a sale to the USA as follows: He refused to loan the manual for evaluation. At one point he and his secretary were invited to a fancy dinner at a Chilean hotel. He was requested to bring the manual with him to be displayed. The invitation was to have dinner and then go to a hotel room where the manual would be exhibited and discussions would take place regarding the sale. Meinas became suspicious of the proceedings and rather than bringing the manual, he stuffed his briefcase with newspapers. On top of the newspapers he placed a hand drawn cartoon of a little boy sticking out his tongue.

Upon arrival at the hotel the briefcase was checked and they proceeded to dinner. Everybody sat down together in a very friendly mood and ordered their meal. George and his secretary were encouraged to choose the most expensive food and wine. During the first course the host excused himself to go to the restroom. When he returned, he was in a foul mood. He urged everyone to speed up the dining process, did not order anymore wine, and canceled the plans for the afternoon meeting. Obviously he had peeked into the George's briefcase and had found the cartoon with the boy's tongue macking him!

Some time passed before friendly relations were re-established. After all agreed to conduct an evaluation on a business-like basis, Meinas was again invited to attend a meeting and to bring the manual with him. This time he did bring the manual with the intention of not letting it out of his eyesight. The manual was presented for perusal and to establish authenticity. Things were moving in a very friendly manner with drinks offered to all present. George accepted a drink and after the first sip he knew he was in trouble. The drink was loaded with knock-out drugs. When George revived he was alone in the room, had a terrible headache and the manual was gone.

That is how the Russian Hydrofoil Design Manual got to the United States. It was turned over to the US Navy for evaluation and to determine the value for payment to George Meinas. The manual was determined to be authentic with very little back-up information or data. The foil system described was essentially the system that later appeared on the commercial hydrofoil RAKETA. Much of the design technique relied on the surface effect for augmenting height stabilization. Essentially no test or trial information was contained in the manual. After a sincere effort was made by Navy personnel and several other experts in the field to establish a monetary value for payment, it was determined that the value was equivalent to a good textbook. This information was sent to Meinas and of course he was bitterly disappointed. Some years later when the George Meinas met and recognized the author of the evaluation letter, George expressed his disappointment in strong words and gestures!

Back in Chile, Helmut Kock and George continued to experiment with hydrofoils and developed a design for a hydrofoil supported sports boat. In 1955 the two of them decided to move to the United States to build and market a 16 foot, outboard powered, hydrofoil. They came to Miami, Florida and received monetary support from the local Lutheran Church. Miami Shipbuilding agreed to provide them, at no cost, space to build their prototype. The shipyard's personnel became quite impressed with the skill and effort the two of them displayed in building the hull and the shaping of the foils. Helmut Kock started with blocks of aluminum and, using primarily hand tools, changed these blocks into foil sections. While the yard personnel were instructed not interfere or become involved, it was hard not to help these two industrious builders with their project. Miami Shipbuilding did undertake the extension of the outboard engine and arranged space for them at the Miami Boat Show to display their hydrofoil.

As the time for the opening of the Boat Show came closer, several of the yard's mechanics and engineers volunteered their own time to help meet the deadline for entry into the Boat Show. They had become caught up in the Meinas/Kock perseverance and enthusiasm.

All entries had to be on the Boat Show floor by noon on the day preceding the opening of the show. As the opening date came closer there was quite a scramble to get the boat finished, painted and ready to display. Finally about midnight on the night before the boat had to be on the floor of the show, the 16 foot sports hydrofoil was completed. Everyone let out sighs of exhaustion and relief as the finishing touches were made to he paint job. As everyone stood admiring the finished result, George Meinas announced: "now we shall test the boat". All present were shocked.

No amount of persuasion or arguments could change his mind. It was strongly suggested that the testing be done after the show was over. But George persisted, stating that he would not show a boat that had not been tested. Finally the Shipyard reluctantly agreed to provide support for the test run. At about 4:00 AM, eight hours before the deadline of entry into the show, at the crack of dawn, the shipyard's tug left the yard for Biscayne Bay with the sparkling, new hydrofoil in tow.

Helmut and George had agreed that Meinas would be the test pilot. With a final check the hydrofoil was cut loose from the tug and the outboard started. After a short hullborne run, the boat took-off and flew beautifully. The cheers and congratulations rang out over the Bay. A number of take-offs and turns were made and the decision was made to return to the shipyard and on to the show. George chose to fly the boat back and took-off heading towards the Miami River and the Shipyard. As the hydrofoil was passing one of the small waste material islands at the entrance of the Miami River, and was in the foilborne mode, the boat took a hard turn and slammed into the island!

With heavy hearts, the crew pulled the boat off the island and towed it back to the shipyard. A survey showed that a steering cable fitting had failed. There was no apparent damage to the foils, and only the paint on the hull had been damaged. Back in the paint shop went the boat and clean-up and quick paint job were undertaken. The 16- footer arrived at the boat show looking quite new and unblemished at ten minutes to noon, just making the deadline!

Much interest was shown in the Meinas/Kock hydrofoil. Appointments were made for after the Boat Show for anyone desiring a ride or were interested in investing in the product line or in buying one of the boats. Several hundred appointment tickets were distributed during the show. Everyone who was involved thought the showing had been most successful.

When the show was over, George made the statement that for the show he did not want to display his latest concept of foil design. And now Helmut and George would modify the foils to that concept. The appointments for rides and further marketing would be put on hold. So back to work they went making changes to foils. When the changes were completed it was back to testing. Now the boat didn't fly as well as before the show. So a series of further modification were undertaken and tested with no material improvement in performance. The boat never performed as well again as it did on that eventful morning before the boat show opened. Not being able to meet their commitments for the appointed rides, and with time moving on, their backers and supporters began to loose patience. George's finances ran out, and another hydrofoil project came to a sad ending.

George Meinas disappeared after this and was not heard from again. As the years went by, it became known that the real design talent and hydrofoil know-how rested in Helmut Kock.

Footnote: This story has been put together from information gathered over many years from people who knew George Meinas in Germany, Russia, Chile and the United States. The author was a participant in several of the events described.

This Page Prepared and Maintained By...

International Hydrofoil Society



Go To Hydrofoil Pioneers Table of Contents

Go To Main Page