Aircraft

Hybrid ESTOLAS aircraft combines aspects of a plane, helicopter, hovercraft and airship

Hybrid ESTOLAS aircraft combin...
The ESTOLAS combines features of a plane, helicopter, hovercraft and airship in one aircraft
The ESTOLAS combines features of a plane, helicopter, hovercraft and airship in one aircraft
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The ESTOLAS combines features of a plane, helicopter, hovercraft and airship in one aircraft
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The ESTOLAS combines features of a plane, helicopter, hovercraft and airship in one aircraft
The ESTOLAS features a disc-shaped main body that can be filled with helium to provide additional lift
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The ESTOLAS features a disc-shaped main body that can be filled with helium to provide additional lift
The ESTOLAS features a rotor in its body that provides additional lift
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The ESTOLAS features a rotor in its body that provides additional lift
A hovercraft-like skirt allows the ESTOLAS to takeoff and land on a variety of natural surfaces
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A hovercraft-like skirt allows the ESTOLAS to takeoff and land on a variety of natural surfaces
The ESTOLAS could be used to deliver aid to disaster areas
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The ESTOLAS could be used to deliver aid to disaster areas

As evidenced by ongoing efforts in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, getting aid and support personnel in and victims out of disaster-stricken areas is a major problem when infrastructure such as runways has been rendered unusable. A new aircraft concept combining features of an airship, plane, helicopter and hovercraft that is being developed as part of the European Commission's Extremely Short Take Off and Landing On any Surface (ESTOLAS) project could help address the problem.

The hybrid ESTOLAS aircraft features a short, squat design with propeller engines mounted at the rear of a disc-shaped main body that houses a rotor like a helicopter's. The aircraft is composed almost entirely of lightweight composite materials and the body and can also be filled with helium to further reduce the aircraft's weight and provide additional lifting power. This would allow it to take off and land at lower speeds on short runways and, if no conventional runways are available, it can use its air-cushioned skirt and wheel-skis to take off and land on any natural surface, such as fields, marshes, water or snow.

The project team is examining four different ESTOLAS sizes, including small, medium, heavy and superheavy with maximum payloads ranging from under 3 tonnes (3.3 tons) to over 400 tonnes (440 tons). Project Coordinator Alexander Gamaleyev of Riga Technical University in Latvia says the superheavy ESTOLAS model would be able to take off and land at distances of 175 m (574 ft), while the small version could do so within just 75 m (246 ft).

A hovercraft-like skirt allows the ESTOLAS to takeoff and land on a variety of natural surfaces
A hovercraft-like skirt allows the ESTOLAS to takeoff and land on a variety of natural surfaces

Load ratios would also be 1.5 to 2 times higher than conventional jet or propeller planes, with reduced fuel consumption giving the aircraft the ability to deliver cargo anywhere on Earth without refueling. Gamaleyev claims the hybrid aircraft's lower fuel consumption would put it on a par with rail transport in terms of cost, while the reduced CO2 emissions should make it the world's most ecologically efficient form of air transport.

In addition to disaster relief operations, the team envisages the ESTOLAS having a wide variety of applications, including defense, business, tourism and support for the building and operation of remote oil and gas fields. It also has the potential to offer cheaper and more efficient air transport between cities with existing runways and airfields and smaller towns lacking such facilities.

The ESTOLAS could be used to deliver aid to disaster areas
The ESTOLAS could be used to deliver aid to disaster areas

Now that the concept is complete, the team will move onto testing a demonstration model in a wind tube. This will be followed by radio-control flight tests before the 24-month project winds up in April of next year. The team will also examine a number of options to bring the concept to a commercial reality, including licensing the design, seeking venture capital, or establishing joint ventures with industry partners.

The video below shows the design of the ESTOLAS hybrid aircraft.

Source: ESTOLAS Project via New Scientist

rotatable ESTOLAS model

21 comments
Bill Robertson
Who will have it first? X-Men or S.H.I.E.L.D.
RJB
There does not appear to be much space for passengers/cargo.
bergamot69
I don't know much about aeroplane aerodynamics beyond basic schoolboy physics, but this doesn't look to me like it will fly well as a plane (rather than in helicopter mode). I'd be delighted to be proved wrong- there is a very real need for transport solutions such as this, as demonstrated by the awful tragedy in The Philippines.
Slowburn
I never thought I would say this but, I think a tilt-rotor would be simpler.
mommus
Those wings are too short to lift a thing like that into the air, the hovercraft part would cause enormous drag, both on account of its structure and when it's being used to lift the craft. IMHO, Extremely Short Take Off and Landing On any Surface = any helicopter with floats.
Robt
What a colossal waste of time and energy. If those (very heavy and complex) "enclosed helicopter rotors" were ditched in favour of a larger wing, they'd achieve the same STOL performance. As for the helium, the idea has been around for decades. The volume of gas required to have a subsantial effect on the weight carrying capability of the machine would require a great deal larger tank / enclosure than the one in the illustration.
duh3000
O.K. Are we over-thinking this one just a little ?
Griffin
I wish you were kidding- How much have they spent on "analyzing" this already? Helium is in low supply already- but that's ok... because there's no room for any of it here anyway! By the time you load up what little cargo you can, where are you going to put it? That's like filling a minivan with party balloons to make a flying car! Look up the Piasecki 97 on YouTube and see what happens with this sort of thing and PAY ATTENTION TO WHERE IT HAPPENED! Seriously,people- why not just get a Russian heavy lift helicopter? They also made something like a 727 with rotors on the wing tips- they went back to normal helicopters. The monstrous ekranoplans went the way of the dinosaur,too... Air-cushion vehicles do NOT do well in crosswinds or grades and are inherently unstable- what do you think this will do in a crosswind slide? Leverage is going to want to collapse the load side of the skirt, for starters... and even more unpleasant things will happen ,as the other side starts to lift. In conclusion, complexity will NEVER breed efficiency- keep it simple. I'm all about new ideas but complex mutants are not the way. A large gyro-copter with a tractor-prop up front (not in the rear) would do everything this does and better with only ONE engine/drivetrain, using C-130 style narrow landing gear and could land on any major highway or sufficiently-sized parking lot (allowing for vertical obstacles)- NO helium required. An electric pre-load system would suffice to get the main rotor up to motion. Look up the nuclear-powered bomber and Project Pluto/SLAM and see how much money&energy can be wasted on dangerous ideas before "top men" admit it isn't practical. Possible? Perhaps. Practical? Hell,no.
Nantha Nithiahnanthan
@ bergamot69, I was thinking the exact same thing and was going to write it. This thing is so un-aerodynamic, such stubby wings, etc that one wonders what it is actually out to accomplish. And that wingspan is actually a hindrance on land as its going to encounter lamp posts, trees, etc. The hovercraft is a fantastic machine. Adding some lift to it is a great idea but that can be accomplished in other ways. A much better way would be an airlift-able hovercraft that is aerodynamic and of light construction that can be delivered to site by aircraft (aeroplane or helicopter - airships don't do so well with typhoons and hurricanes).
Guy DeWardener
hel-i-cop-ter