Richard Branson's newest toy: A flying submarine

Flying submarine? Well, sort of. The latest invention unveiled by the team at Virgin is an 8,000-pound, carbon-fiber sub – with wings. What will this flying submarine do for undersea exploration?

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    Explorer Chris Welsh, left, and Sir Richard Branson sit atop the Virgin Oceanic sub – already known online as the 'flying submarine.'
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Richard Branson – chair of the Virgin Group and consummate fan of amphibious vehicles – has already crossed the Pacific in a hot air balloon and hopped the English channel in something called a Gibbs Aquada. Next step: Piloting a sleek carbon-fiber "flying submarine" to the belly of the Mariana Trench, the lowest point in any of the world's oceans. Fun!

This week, Branson and the team at Virgin took the wraps off its Virgin Oceanic submarine – pictured above – an 18-foot machine which Branson says will "unlock the wonders of the oceans still unknown to humankind or science." The submarine, of course, does not actually fly. But it does have cool-looking wings, and in the demo videos, it wiggles through the sea like a plane arcs across the sky.

According to Virgin, the submarine was constructed from 8,000 pounds of carbon fiber and titanium; it is said to be the only piloted craft "in existence" to get to the very bottom of the ocean.

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"The one person sub has an operating depth of 37,000ft (7 miles) and is capable of operating for 24 hours unaided," Virgin reps write on the Oceanic submarine site. "Once fully descended, the submarine’s hydroplanes (the equivalent of wings for submarines) and thrusters will allow it to ‘fly’ up to 10km over the ocean floor whilst collecting video and data, something submersibles could only dream of."

Branson has said the submarine project will cost less than $10 million. And as Reuters notes, the "flying sub" could have plenty of non-scientific potential: Just as Virgin has promised to ferry very rich tourists to outer space, the company could eventually take a few brave souls to the very depths of the sea.

Video of the submarine below. In the meantime, to stay abreast of all the latest tech news – Branson-related or not – sign up for the free weekly Innovation newsletter, which is emailed out every Wednesday.

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