Britain wanted to build the world's largest aircraft carrier out of ice

Rapid gains in technology were made in World War II, and no idea seemed too outlandish. To wit: British inventor Geoffrey Pyke wanted to make the largest aircraft carrier ever seen — even by today's standards — crafted from his own original material composed largely of ice.

That material, Pykrete (see where the name comes from?) was born from Pyke's concern over there potentially not being enough steel to sustain Britain's war efforts against Nazi Germany. Pyke's Pykrete was a mixture that was 86% ice and 14% sawdust, making it far easier to produce in large quantities than steel. Being made mostly out of ice, it shared some similarities with it: like that fact that it melts. That said, it melts slower, it's more durable and it could be repaired while at sea using the same water the vessel floated in.

Pyke, at different times a war corespondent, teacher and an inventor, worked with the U.K.'s Combined Operations division, which was a mixed group of civilians operators and military personnel. His proposal to make a supercarrier out of Pykrete went so far as to have its own official military designation and specifications: the HMS Habbakuk was planned to be 2,000 feet long, 300 wide, 200 tall and weigh over two million tons, and built from forty-foot blocks of Pykrete.

It's mammoth size would allow it to carry upwards of 200 fighter planes or half that in bombers, and it'd have a crew complement of 3,700, all told. Compare that to a Nimitz-class supercarrier, today's largest and operated by the U.S. Navy: 1,092 feet long, 252 wide and weighing in at 100,000 tons, they typically carry around 90 aircraft or more and over 3,000 sailors.

A 60-foot-long prototype was made, though the HMS Habbakuk would go no further than that.

Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of MythBusters fame took a turn putting some homemade pykrete through the paces and seeing how it matches up against ice. See it here.

Editor's Note: the Habbakuk is more commonly referred to by the proper spelling, "Habakkuk," after the prophet of the same name in the Hebrew Bible. This article only uses the old spelling, "Habbakuk," when referring to the name of the planned vessel.

The War Illustrated and Cabinet Magazine and Project Habbakuk, via io9

Image via Flickr.

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