A flying ferry: Airfish 8

Sep 19, 2017 Technology

An intriguing marriage of plane and boat, the enigmatic Airfish 8 is touted as the next big thing in fast, convenient marine transport. Words by Lawrence Schäffler. Photos supplied.

With wings, twin props and a fuselage, the Airfish 8 looks more plane than boat, but in the mind of its inventor, it’s definitely a water-based craft that happens to fly – albeit only a few metres above the surface.

The vessel flies using a phenomenon known as ‘ground effect’ – which allows the Airfish 8 to ‘skim’ over the water like a bird, floating on a cushion of air. This Wing-in-Ground Effect (WIG) principle has featured prominently in the development of human flight.

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Boasting a 17m x 15m footprint, the Airfish 8 is designed to be operated by two crew and is able to carry six to eight passengers. It’s powered by a compact V8 engine running on 95-octane petrol. As it lands and takes off on water, it doesn’t require a runway or an airfield, making it perfect for places where planes and ferries can’t go.

The vessel is manufactured by Singapore-based company Wigetworks, and executive director Kenneth Tan says it could revolutionise the way people travel, particularly between islands where there are no existing ferry services.

“There are many islands which lack the funding to build runways for conventional aircraft. And distances between these islands are often too great for conventional ferry travel.”

In addition to the tourism sector where the Airfish 8 would be ideal for ferrying passengers to island resort destinations, it could also be used in the oil and gas, coastguard and maritime security sectors.

“It travels much faster than conventional boats or aircraft while using less power,” says Tan, “and provides a safe, fast and comfortable ride as well as an economical mode of transport.”

Ground effect?
Ground effect is used by large-bodied birds such as the albatross to conserve energy in flight.
The birds – and the Airfish 8 – fly close to the water riding on a cushion of high-pressure air between wings and the water’s surface.

Ground effect played major role in the development of human flight – initially by the Wright brothers – but it was also employed during WWII when bombers, low on fuel, were able to return safely to their bases by flying close to the ground.

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The two main R&D schools for WIG crafts originated in the former Soviet Union and Germany. The former’s school is known as the pioneer of Erkranoplans and the German school is named after a Dr Alexandria Lippisch, inventor of the forward Delta-wing design for Messerschmitt rocket-powered fighter aircraft such as the Me 163.

Rhein-Flugzeugbau GmbH (RFB) pioneered the WIG concept in Germany in the 1960s. Lippisch was then the principal engineer and designer of RFB. Together with Hanno Fischer, they championed the design and construction of several well-known WIG crafts such as the X-112, X-113 and X-114 for the German defence ministry.

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Fischer and his associate Klaus Matjasic subsequently designed and built the Airfish family of WIGs ( Airfish 1, Airfish 2, and Airfish 3) between the ‘70s and ‘80s. These are the predecessors to the Airfish 8. The Airfish 8 is the world’s first WIG vessel to be officially registered as merchant vessel with the Singapore Registry of Shipping.

Wigetworks is looking for suitable composite structure manufacturers/boatbuilders to establish third production line to help increase the production of Airfish 8 units to meet the projected customer demand.