Aircraft

Could the Airfish-8 finally get the Wing In Ground Effect Vehicle up and running?

Wigetworks' Airfish-8 is another incarnation of the ground effect vehicle hoping to find commercial success
Wigetworks' Airfish-8 is another incarnation of the ground effect vehicle hoping to find commercial success
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Wigetworks' Airfish-8 is another incarnation of the ground effect vehicle hoping to find commercial success
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Wigetworks' Airfish-8 is another incarnation of the ground effect vehicle hoping to find commercial success
Wigetworks Airfish-8: flies just above the surface of the water for quick, efficient and comfortable flight
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Wigetworks Airfish-8: flies just above the surface of the water for quick, efficient and comfortable flight
Wigetworks Airfish-8: seats 6-8 passengers plus 2 crew
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Wigetworks Airfish-8: seats 6-8 passengers plus 2 crew
Wigetworks Airfish-8: cockpit
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Wigetworks Airfish-8: cockpit
Wigetworks Airfish-8: easy to fly with minimal training
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Wigetworks Airfish-8: easy to fly with minimal training
Wigetworks Airfish-8: takes off and lands in the water
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Wigetworks Airfish-8: takes off and lands in the water
Wigetworks Airfish-8: takes up reasonably minimal space at the marina
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Wigetworks Airfish-8: takes up reasonably minimal space at the marina
Wigetworks Airfish-8: will certainly be at its best in fair weather and smooth seas
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Wigetworks Airfish-8: will certainly be at its best in fair weather and smooth seas
Wigetworks Airfish-8: accelerates through the water before lifting off
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Wigetworks Airfish-8: accelerates through the water before lifting off
Wigetworks Airfish-8: at rest, with boat
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Wigetworks Airfish-8: at rest, with boat
The Wigetworks Airfish-8 looks absolutely mesmerizing as it glides along above the water's surface
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The Wigetworks Airfish-8 looks absolutely mesmerizing as it glides along above the water's surface
Wigetworks Airfish-8: minimal room to bank makes the turning circle quite wide
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Wigetworks Airfish-8: minimal room to bank makes the turning circle quite wide
Twin Airfish in flight
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Twin Airfish in flight
Ground Effect Vehicles like the Airfish-8 have been around for many decades, but are yet to break through as a commercial success
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Ground Effect Vehicles like the Airfish-8 have been around for many decades, but are yet to break through as a commercial success
Wigetworks Airfish-8: looks like something out of Star Wars
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Wigetworks Airfish-8: looks like something out of Star Wars

A Singaporean company has resurrected a post-WW2 German design to commercialize a beautiful reverse-delta ground effect vehicle as a high-speed, high-efficiency ferry for six to eight passengers. The Airfish 8 hovers serenely between two and 23 ft (0.6 to 7 m) over the water and hits speeds of almost 120 mph (193 km/h).

The wing-in-ground effect is well understood at this point: when an aircraft is close to the ground, it operates significantly more efficiently than it does higher up. The additional air pressure underneath the aircraft at altitudes below half the wingspan adds extra lift, and you also get a corresponding reduction in lift-induced drag. The ground effect increases the closer you get to the surface, peaking at an altitude around 5 percent of the wingspan, where you can get a craft operating some 2.3 times as efficiently as if does in free air.

Numerous attempts have been made to capitalize on this effect for quick, efficient transport over water, but right now, the leading players appear to be Sea Wolf Express, which plans to begin a passenger ferry service between Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia, using a Russian-built Ground Effect Vehicle (GEV) in 2019, and Wigetworks Private Limited, operating out of Singapore.

Wigetworks Airfish-8: accelerates through the water before lifting off
Wigetworks Airfish-8: accelerates through the water before lifting off

The history of Wigetworks' Airfish GEVs is interesting, with the company now producing its own aircraft, based on designs, patents and prototypes it bought from AirFoil Development GmbH.

AirFoil Development's Fischer Flugmechanik subsidiary was a vehicle for the GEV designs of Dr. Alexander Martin Lippisch, who pioneered the reverse delta/T-tail configuration in the 1960s. At the time, the chief competition was Russian-built Ekranoplans, with multiple wings, but these couldn't handle rough seas, because they'd come out of ground effect at altitudes just 10 percent of their wingspan. Lippisch's reverse delta design could operate at altitudes as high as 50 percent of its wingspan, meaning his craft could either handle rougher seas, or be made significantly smaller and more convenient to use with existing marine facilities.

And so to the Airfish-8. This latest incarnation of the Lippisch design is 56.4 ft (17.2 m) long, with a reverse delta wingspan of 49.2 ft (15 m) and a carbon fiber reinforced plastic body to help keep weight down. It uses a 500-hp (373-kW) V8 car engine, running on regular unleaded fuel, to drive two mid-mounted pusher props in front of a large T-tail.

It seats six to eight passengers plus baggage and two crew, and it's simple enough to fly that pilots can get certified for the Airfish in less time than for a regular pilot's license. Range is around 345 mi (555 km) with a top speed just under 120 mph (200 km/h) and a cruising speed more like 92 mph (148 km/h).

Wigetworks Airfish-8: looks like something out of Star Wars
Wigetworks Airfish-8: looks like something out of Star Wars

With the ability to take advantage of ground effect up to 23 ft (7 m) above the water, the Airfish-8 is untroubled when cruising over choppy water. That doesn't mean it likes taking off in bad weather, though – in high winds it would need to take off directly into the wind, meaning the passengers would cop an absolute pounding as they hit the waves head-on before reaching liftoff speed.

In fact, takeoff and landing will likely be the Airfish's biggest weaknesses, because those are the times when it's got to act like a boat. As soon as it hits takeoff speed and rises out of the water, everyone's in for a smooth, fast and efficient ride on a machine that looks like something out of Star Wars. Seriously, in flight, this thing is just beautiful to watch.

Safety-wise, these kinds of GEVs are pretty good. In regular operation, it'll rarely go more than 10 ft (3 m) above sea level, so in the case of some sort of failure – unlikely in itself given the simple powertrain – you can just glide it to a more or less regular landing and float about waiting for emergency services.

It does have to deal with some above-average loadings on takeoff and landing, as well as the potential for a wingtip to dip below the water surface on a turn, but in general it can be considered above average in terms of safety for an aircraft. The turning radius isn't terrific, though, so in low visibility conditions there's always the chance of running into a boat, which wouldn't be very safe at all.

Ground Effect Vehicles like the Airfish-8 have been around for many decades, but are yet to break through as a commercial success
Ground Effect Vehicles like the Airfish-8 have been around for many decades, but are yet to break through as a commercial success

Still, you end up with something significantly faster and more efficient than pushing a boat through the water at speed, and more efficient and cooler to look at than a regular seaplane. It can also dock anywhere with a pier and a bunch of floating pontoons, without taking up a massively unwieldy space at the marina.

It's obviously only going to suit a limited number of use cases, but the Airfish looks absolutely mesmerizing in flight, and that alone might make it worth using as a high-speed, high-class ferry from the Singaporean mainland out to luxury island resorts in the region.

Check out a video below.

Source: Wigetworks

Airfish-8 wing-in-ground effect vehicle by Wigetworks

15 comments
Martin Hone
The Russians have been playing with these things for many years. Often called Caspian Sea Monsters. There was also an Aussie guy building them a few years ago
Nik
The reverse delta is very reminiscent of birdwing shapes. Perhaps the owl is the closest, with its own requirement of relatively slow, quiet flight. I lived in Singapore for two and a half years, and it has two monsoon seasons, and when it rains, it really rains! 15'' in ten hours one night! We had to access our transmitter station by rubber dingy the next day, as the tide was in and the sluice gates were closed, so the rainwater couldnt escape to the sea. The main Bukit Timha road was 3 feet deep in water, and it has an open monsoon drain the size of a canal between the two four lane highways, and had become one canal across all eight lane and the drain. So, I wonder how this craft will function when it is deluged by a downpour, as visibility in that situation is about 1 meter/yard. All vehicles on land have to stop. This craft will have to do the same, or risk a collision. When it is stationary in the sea, it will be almost invisible to approaching shipping, of which there is a significant amount, as Singapore is a major shipping crossroads. I dont see any of the usual shipping equipment, like mast lights, and radar. So it could be in serious danger, in those circumstances.
Grunt
Let's get one thing clear, it does not "hover serenely" at any height. It flies low-level in Ground Effect, yes, but hover, no! ;-))
jerryd
As a 45 yr proponent of ground effect craft, there are a few details they got wrong on purpose. While this form can work with VERY WELL trained pilots, it is not inherently stable and has a habit of sticking the wing pontoon into the water, killing a test pilot. I don't see anything changed in that regard and other than their pilots need little training lie. GEC lift changes as it gets closer to the water, the CoL moves aft on the wing 15%, thus the center of lift, , pitching it down, not good 6' off the water. And same sideways. So a pilot needs to be well trained and pay good attention to fly these. There are better designs to solve it but few have been built so far.
Username
Nik, no reason why it wouldn't have AIS.
ColinPearson
Why not take off and land on coastal runways rather than on water?
Malatrope
Use retractable hydrofoils to lift it out of the water earlier, reducing the pounding the passengers get on takeoff and landing.
paul314
I'm wondering about the business case. 6-8 passengers plus luggage at 100mph is pretty much just a really fast limo. OK, a really fast limo that doesn't get stuff in traffic under some conditions. If it were invisible to sensors I could imagine the military being interested in it.
Nik
Username; I've looked at the area, and there are literally thousands of ships, shown, but their positions are usually up to 3 mins delayed. This would also assume that all the ships are using the system, AND, that the crew are keeping a diligent check on all the local movements...... Maybe if the satellite tracking of storms is good, they would just not fly in those circumstances. You can look at the area, below. https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/home/centerx:104.0/centery:1.3/zoom:11
guzmanchinky
I dunno, looks dangerous to me. More so than an airplane of similar size for sure. Just one big wave/wake and boom.
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