Is it a low-flying airplane or a high-flying boat? You won’t be seeing one of these flying over the Kansas prairie, but if you need to travel over the high seas in the future, you may end up in one of Flightship Ground Effect’s wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) craft.
Actually it is a flying boat. According to the U.N.’s International Maritime Organization, “A WIG craft is a multimodal marine craft capable of operation in a mode where the craft is supported wholly in the air above water or some other surface, and not having constant contact with such a surface, through the use of an aerodynamic lifting force known as ground effect. Ground effect is generated during forward movement of the craft by the interaction between the lower surfaces of the craft’s wing (wings), hull or their respective parts and the water or other surface being traversed up to a maximum height above such a surface equal to 100 percent of the overall width of the WIG craft.”
After completing 4,000 nm of sea trials of its twin-prop/single-engine FS8 Dragon Commuter, Flightship Ground Effect of Cairns, Australia, has launched production of this eight-passenger/two-crew composite WIG craft at the NQEA shipbuilding facility in Australia. The first four FS8s are to be exported to the Maldives starting September this year and another 15 are earmarked for the Middle East, Mediterranean, South East Asia and several Pacific nations. The $700,000 FS8 was granted its certificate of class by Germanischer Lloyd in December 2001.
Through a gearbox, the FS8’s General Motors 450-hp automobile engine drives two four-blade, variable-pitch propellers to provide thrust. Wing span is 51 feet; overall length, 57.25 feet; mtow, 10,471 pounds; takeoff and landing speed, 55 knots; cruising speed, 86 knots; operating height, 9.8 feet; and range 300 nm.
By virtue of the craft’s design, sustainable free flight is not possible above ground effect. Under IMO legislation, ground-effect craft are recognized as marine vessels for construction, insurance, operator licensing and registration requirements. The purchase and operating costs are therefore considerably less than for traditional aircraft, while still being able to travel as fast as a light aircraft, according to Flightcraft. Under development is a twin-turboprop, 40-seat Flightship designated the FS40 Dragon Clipper.