The world is experiencing growth in global air traffic and in order to cater for the growing market, the aviation industry is seeking to expand major airports, allowing for the development of bigger, faster, and more efficient aircraft. However, concerns over environmental degradation and noise pollution pose a barrier to the expansion of many already heavily constrained major airports.
Imperial College of London researchers have the largest concept seaplane design. It would have the capacity to carry up to 2000 passengers at a time. This is compared to the world’s largest passenger airliner currently in operation, the Airbus A380, which can hold only to 800 passengers in a trip.
Researchers assessed the possibility of using highly advanced waterborne aircraft as an alternative to conventional planes for trans-Atlantic travel. The team showed that such a radical design could be feasible, although further design refinements would be needed.
Dr Errikos Levis, from the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial, said: “For many people the majestic seaplanes of the 1940s evoke a more romantic era in aviation history. However, when it came to efficiency and the sheer volume of people that they needed to carry, these planes couldn’t compete with the newer passenger aircraft coming on to the market in the 1950s and they quickly lost their appeal.
Dr Levis experimented with different seaplane configurations, studying their hull shapes and wing sizes, and concluded that the largest plane design was the most efficient in terms of fuel consumption and stability in rough seas. However, the fuel efficiency achieved still falls short compared with conventional aircraft of comparable size. With further modifications to the design of the hull shape and a reduction in the structural weight of the plane, Dr Levis suggests that a modified design may be able to compete with the fuel efficiencies of conventional aircraft.
The colossal size of the seaplane design could have another advantage say the team, enabling it to use environmentally friendly hydrogen fuel, which has no harmful emissions. Hydrogen fuel takes up four times the amount of space of traditional kerosene fuel and is currently impractical for conventional aircraft to store.
China building fifty passenger seaplanes now
China is building about 100 fifty passenger seaplanes. The first flight was initially forecast for 2015 but was postponed until 2016
China Aviation Industry General Aircraft has received 17 orders from domestic companies. One of the buyers will use it to carry tourists to reefs and islands in the South China Sea. The AG-600 will play an important role in forest fire control, maritime search and rescue, personnel and supply transport and law enforcement tasks at sea.
The plane can fly a round trip between Sanya in Hainan province and the shoal of Zengmu Ansha, the southernmost point of China’s territory, without refueling.
The AG-600 can carry 50 people during a maritime search and rescue mission. To extinguish forest fires, it can take on 12 metric tons of water from a lake or sea within 20 seconds and pour it on the fire.
The project was launched in September 2009. The aircraft’s debut flight is planned for the first half of next year, according to a statement by the company, a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corp of China.
Powered by four turboprop engines, it will be the world’s largest amphibious aircraft, surpassing Japan’s ShinMaywa US-2 and Russia’s Beriev Be-200
It will have a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 tons and an operational range of about 4,500 kilometers.
SOURCES – Imperial College of London, China Daily, Wikipedia