During WWII, with the very real possibility of a steel shortage, British inventor Geoffrey Pyke proposed something so crazy it might have worked— build aircraft carriers out of ice. Or more specifically, “Pykrete”, a combination of ice and sawdust.
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.
If you’re a fan of Mythbusters, you’ll remember that at one point, Jamie and Adam tried making their own Pykrete boats out of ice and newspaper, and it did actually sort of work. Until the ice melted.