High-speed train speeds, but without tracks or airliner emissions (part 2)

This is the second installment in a two-part series. You can find part 1 here.

Overcome These Problems

With the failure of giant KM Ekranoplan, the Soviet government cut funding for these vehicles, focusing instead on things they knew worked. Despite this, they managed to iron out some of the issues by focusing on smaller designs that could displace a hundred troops. The A-90 Orlyonok could not only perform in more conditions, but could fly a little higher when ground effect was not performing well. It could also land on beaches, increasing its usefulness for military operations.

There was also the VVA-14, another anti-submarine aircraft design that could have done everything from vertical take-off and landing to sea landings, beach landings and high-altitude flight. . This design turned out to be too complex and problematic to get through development, but it would have led to some truly amazing designs had it been successful. Here is a video about this plane and what they learned while trying to build it:

Further development of Ekranoplans came to a halt as the Soviet Union’s financial problems worsened and the Soviet leadership could not come to an agreement with Alexeyev. However, a final vehicle was built: the Lun class. It was designed to approach the coast and fire missiles, but like others it was never mass produced. The design had improved and could have been useful, but the collapse of the Soviet Union definitely put the idea on the back burner.

This has not stopped others from continuing the work, but the work since 1991 has been much slower. A few companies have built prototypes, others have built low volume vehicles for limited use. No GEVs have been mass produced and no large ones have been built since the 1980s. But, that is about to change.

An electrical renewal of ground effect vehicles

One of the main advantages of ground effect vehicles is their efficiency. Instead of having to move the whole craft and make it fly with the power of the engines, they operate near water and stand on a cushion of air. Unlike tires or water itself, air has much lower friction, so you don’t need as much energy to stand and move.

And really, energy efficiency is the number one issue holding back electric aviation. A battery simply cannot hold as much energy per unit weight as gasoline and jet fuel. To get enough range for long flights, you will only build a flying battery, with no space for passengers and cargo. Or, make room for passengers and cargo, and you can only do short hops. A more efficient ground effect vehicle solves this problem through efficiency.

The ground effect allows electrification, but electrification also allows the ground effect. One of the biggest problems with Soviet jet Ekranoplans was that the salty, humid air would destroy the turbines. Electric motors, on the other hand, don’t need to draw in air to operate. As long as the wiring is protected from corrosion, electric motors can travel the ocean all day without collapsing. The same should apply to beach sand and other contaminants, as the plane doesn’t eat where it poops like an Ekranoplan did.

So, Regent Craft took advantage of it all:

Not only does this mean that a form of electric aviation is now viable, but it also means that high-speed, emission-free travel can take place without having to build massive infrastructure. The water does not need any preparation to be flown over. When operating as a seaplane (during launch and landing), the Regent Seaglider can stop at existing docks. Charging stations will have to be installed, but that’s about it.

The Seaglider has a range of 180 miles, which doesn’t sound impressive, but when you consider that it does so at 180 MPH and doesn’t need an airport, dock, or runways, it is actually a great possible improvement for short-haul transport.

From San Diego to Los Angeles? The Seaglider flies 122 miles. No problem and you’ll be there in about 45 minutes. What about LA in San Francisco? A fleet of them could be put in place to make the trip complete in just a few hours, with a few stops to change planes in small coastal towns. Even a fleet of planes would still represent a small fraction of the construction costs of the California high-speed train.

The point isn’t to do something so grand in the beginning, however. Regent’s first customers will use the vehicles on short ferry trips, such as from Portsmouth, England, to Cherbourg, France. This Channel route would only take 40 minutes, despite being around 80 miles.

Saving people time without having to spend a lot of money on infrastructure or contributing to climate change is a very big deal. Inland roads should still be covered by high-speed trains or cleaner planes, but with many major cities on the coasts this could make a real difference.

Possible military applications of modern electric GEVs

The United States and a number of other major armies have not been in an interstate conflict for some time. After World War II, most conflicts took place between large states and small, or between nebulous and ill-defined states and adversaries (eg, the War on Terror). This left runways and other infrastructure largely safe during conflict, as it was far from conflict areas and very, very far from the reach of enemy combatants.

With rising tensions, especially between the United States and China, seaplanes suddenly become a big deal. Big opponents can send barrages of missiles that can dig big holes in runways, not only crippling fighter jets and bombers, but also freezing supply lines and troop movements. Being able to land on bodies of water essentially creates a missile-proof track that can be used to move supplies.

Image provided by US DOD. Public domain.

This is why the United States is ordering a special version of its existing C-130 aircraft with large pontoons attached, allowing it to land on water. It’s going to be a bit clunky, and it’s going to cost the aircraft some range and payload capacity, but the versatility it offers can make a big difference.

It’s not the same infrastructure problem that the civilian world faces, but it’s pretty close. Needing to move people and things without a bunch of fragile and expensive infrastructure, while also having to cut emissions, means high-efficiency ground-effect vehicles could present a very attractive option.

Electric versions still cannot move cargoes and soldiers to faraway destinations, so hybrid versions would likely be needed (but final electric propulsion will still be needed to avoid the fate of Soviet Ekranoplans). But the range and reliability, combined with a safe landing in the event of a propulsion failure, could make such a ground-effect hybrid vehicle very useful for the military.

A PHEV option could also be very convincing. Having its normal range (180 miles), but with a small range taken with a rotating range extender, the first craft to enter an area could arrive powered by fossil fuels, but be loaded with roll-up solar panels that could be quickly set up. By not having to depend on other boats to bring fuel and by getting at least some distance from the sun, military operations could be much less vulnerable to supply line problems and attacks.

In other words, high efficiency and renewable energies could make a big difference.

Image presented by Regent Craft.

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