Low-flying plane saves fuel

July 11, 2007

There are issues with air traffic control when a plane flies this close to the ground, but it could potentially be a commercial boon for travel over water.

Chinese scientists have developed a “wing-in-ground” (WIG) aircraft that can fly long distances just a few metres above the sea surface, state media reported on Wednesday.

The plane can fly as low as half a meter from the ground, hitting speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour (180 miles per hour), while also carrying up to 4 tonnes on takeoff.

WIG aircraft exploit a phenomenon known as the “ground effect”, which occurs as a plane flies close to the ground.

At a height roughly equivalent to twice the plane’s wingspan, trailing wing vortices that cause drag are disrupted by the ground. This allows the aircraft to travel much more quickly through the air and increases the lift experienced.

The China Daily reports that the Tongji University plane should consume one third as much fuel as standard planes of the same size, by harnessing the ground effect

During the Cold War, the Russian military also developed a giant WIG plane known as Ekranoplan.

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