A unique transportation technology that can offer fast travel durations at competitive prices is being developed in such countries as South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and China. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) classifies the technology as a boat, except that it resembles an aircraft due to its central fuselage and presence of wings. However, commercial aircraft wings are designed to generate a powerful vacuum effect on the top side at high forward speeds, when the aircraft lifts off into the sky. The aircraft look-alike generates zero vacuum effect on the top side of the wings at any speed.
The ‘wings’ of Wing-in-ground (WIG) effect vessels duplicate the aerodynamics of large, heavy birds that glide over greatly extended distances within a few centimetres of a water surface while expending minimal energy. WIG vessels can carry the same payload as conventional aircraft and consume between 35% and 50% the amount of fuel to travel at comparable speed. As the vessel accelerates, the wing undersides produce circulating airstreams between the wings and the surface below the wings that causes the vessel to ‘sail’ above the surface, up to an maximum elevation equivalent to the wingspan measurement.
In South Korea, the technology is known as a wingship and can lift off from or touchdown on a water surface, like a seaplane. One version of the wingship has a wingspan of 15-metres and can ‘fly-sail’ at an elevation of between 0.5-metre and 7.5-metres about the water surface. Another version of the technology can ‘jump’ to an elevation of 50-metres above water. While aircraft wings are short with much longer wingspans, wingship vessels typically have narrower wingspans with greatly extended length or ‘chord’ and can ‘sail-fly’ at elevations equivalent to 25% to 30% of the ‘chord’ measurement.
African Ocean Coastal Services:
The 50-seat wingship from South Korea is designed and built to maritime structural standards and is able to operate between ‘seawater’ runways. Along Africa’s east coast, the wingship would provide fast, competitively priced service between Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam, between Maputo and Sofala, Maputo and Durban, also between Cape Town and Knysna. Along Africa’s west coast, the technology could provide serve between Walvis Bay and Lüderitz, between Luanda and Lobito/Benguela, between Accra and Abidjan, Accra and Lagos, Lagos and Port Harcourt, also between Port Harcourt and Doula. Wingship vessels could also provide service between ocean coast and up a river.
WIG-vessels could provide service between Accra and ‘fly-sail’ up the Volta River, perhaps touching down on water so as to pass underneath bridges. Future ‘fly-sail’ transportation service may become possible between Port Harcourt and points along the Niger and Benue Rivers. Such service could also operate between Luanda and Matadi, with extended service to include Brazzaville/Kinshasa area. Research will need to examine ‘fly-sail’ service between Maputo and along the Limpopo River into south eastern Zimbabwe, also between Sofala along the Save River into Zimbabwe as well as along the Zambezi and Shire Rivers to Blantyre.
Wingship vessels could ‘fly-sail’ across many of Africa’s lakes, such as across Lake Victoria between Entebbe and Mwanza, also between Kisumu and any of Entebbe, Kampala, Mwanza or Bukoba. Such vessels could ‘fly-sail’ across Lake Tanzania between north eastern Zambia and Burundi, with possible service into Rwanda. Wingship vessels could ‘fly-sail’ across Lake Kariba as well as Cabora Bassa dam, also across Lake Malawi between Malawi’s northern and southern regions. Several rivers flow into or from Africa’s lakes, with potential for wingship service along such rivers, such as from Lake Tanzania into the Lukuga, Lualaba and Congo Rivers.
The Malagarasi River flows west into Tanzania and could be suitable for ‘fly-sail’ transportation services from inland Tanzanian locations to other African river and lake destinations. A tributary of that river originates close to Lake Victoria, inviting examination of prospects to connect tributaries to allow ‘fly-sail’ service between Lake Tanzania and Lake Victoria. Service between Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga appears possible, with the wingship vessel have to touch down on the river surface under bridges. Despite an African absence of high-speed railway lines and super-highways, competitively priced fast transportation could become possible in Africa.
The Nile and the Congo are amongst Africa’s great rivers and ‘fly-sail’ service along the Nile could operate between Cairo and Khartoum, with wingship vessels touching on water to navigate under bridges. Service may also be possible between Lake Edward and Khartoum. Small size wingship vessels such as the 12-passenger ‘Airfish’ could operate along many African rivers and their tributaries. At some locations, a runway may be needed due to seasonal rivers running dry. The evolving wingship technology allows for development of transportation links while saving many African governments the expense of building roads.
By Harry Valentine
Harry Valentine was born at Cape Town, South Africa and earned a degree in engineering from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada where he undertook post-graduate studies and research into transportation economics. He has worked in both the energy and transportation sectors and has published extensively on energy and transportation issues.