A concept aircraft under development at Boeing's Phantom Works R&D unit, the massive Pelican would have a wingspan of more than 150 m, carry up to 1400 tons of cargo - that's equivalent to 17 M-1 main battle tanks - would need 76 tires to cater for the weight and be almost twice as big as the largest aircraft currently in existence, the Russian Antonov An-225. The potential applications for such a huge vehicle capable of high-speed, long-range flights goes well beyond military cargo and troop deployment. The Pelican could be used as an airborne platform for re-usable space-vehicles and could also enter the commercial worldwide freight market currently dominated by shipping.
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The aircraft would be designed to fly altitudes of only 20 feet above the sea in order to take advantage of the aerodynamic phenomenon called "ground effect" that reduces drag and greatly increases range and efficiency. The Pelican of the feathered variety employs this same technique.
The current giant of the skies - the An-225 plane was launched in 1988 as part of the Soviet Union's Buran space shuttle program. Only two of the aircraft were built and to give an indication of the scope of the Pelican concept, the 88.4 meter wingspan An-225 could carry a 250 ton payload - nearly five times less than is envisaged for the Pelican.View gallery - 2 images