A Future for Winged Cruise Ships
The sightseeing segment of the tourism industry could provide a market for a mode of transportation that can travel along scenic coastlines at greater speed than a cruise ship and at lower ticket prices than sightseeing helicopters.
While passenger trains and tour buses can provide travelers with spectacular scenery, there are many scenic coastal areas that are inaccessible to them. There are several alternative candidate transportation technologies that the cruise industry could consider. Courtesy of companies such as Lockheed Martin, there have been recent new developments in helium-filled airship technology, with a hybrid frameless kite – airship that flies at low elevation being a possible option. Aircraft with wings that produce high lift at low-speed and at low elevation may be another cruise vessel option. Advances in frameless fabric kite design could actually allow for such technology to be installed across a boat to allow it to both sail on water and travel above seawater.
Several Asia-Pacific companies have developed winged boats that ride a few feet above seawater while traveling at the speed of a fast train. The recently unveiled Airfish-8 technology developed at Singapore and the Wing-Ship vessel developed in South Korea could serve as prototype working scale models of much larger versions of the technology. A winged cruise ship based on the Airfish-8 triangular or reverse-delta wing configuration could be built to a wingspan of 200 feet and lengthwise wing chord measurement of 360 feet.
The Hover-Wing company of Australia has developed a method to redirect some of the air stream from the propeller to go under the wings, to generate additional lift that helps the accelerating vessel to rise above the seawater. Hover-Wing claims that their vessel could ride 10 feet (three meters) above waves 13 feet (four meters) high. Previous testing has revealed that IMO Type-A wing-in-ground vessels could lift up to 45 percent of wingspan, meaning that a vessel with 100 foot wingspan could rise to 45 foot above seawater.
Wing-ships could travel along scenic coastlines as well as along wide, shallow rivers bordered by spectacular scenery. Tour operators could initially offer same-day return sightseeing trips using wing-in-ground technology or several daily return sightseeing trips along scenic waterways. Same day return sightseeing journeys could carry passengers through the scenic western Canadian channel located between British Columbia and Vancouver Island.
There are many other scenic coastlines and scenic waterways around the world where tour operators could use wing-in-ground vessels to carry visitors on sightseeing journeys. The short-distance tours could be precursors to developing multi-day tours involving much larger vessels.
A mega-size wing-in-ground passenger cruise vessel could occupy a unique market niche. It could undertake extended distance trans-oceanic voyages and travel smoothly above ocean surface and above waves, at greater speed than a cruise ship but slower than a commercial airliner. Trans-Pacific cruise voyages could combine slower daytime travel with faster overnight travel when guests would be asleep in suites. During a cruise of equal duration as a cruise ship, a wing-in-ground vessel could visit more ports-of-call at exotic locations. The cruise experience would be different to that offered aboard mega-size cruise ships.
Wing-in-ground passenger vessels could be built to much greater size and consume much less fuel than commercial airliners that travel at more than double the speed. Super-size wing-ships could offer some of the accommodations and amenities of a cruise ship, making travel over extreme distances more comfortable by combining daytime and overnight travel where passengers may sleep inside suites. There may be a market niche for such a transportation service that offers greater onboard comfort at competitive prices, perhaps even providing an oval-shaped corridor inside the perimeter of the vessel where passengers could walk.
Passengers could arrive at distant destinations and be less fatigued and less affected by changes in time zones. Mega-scale wing-in-ground technology could operate between coastal city pairs such as Sydney and Seattle, Cape Town and New York City or Mumbai and Vancouver. During the northern summer, wing-in-ground planes could travel via the Arctic Circle connecting Sydney, Busan, Shanghai, or Hong Kong to London (Thames River), Edinburgh or any of several Western European coastal cities. The Canadian Arctic route could connect Boston or New York City to Busan, Shanghai or Hong Kong.
People have traveled along motorways in open-top fashion in sports cars and tour buses with open roofs. Like gliders that use extra-large, high-lift wings to travel at low-speed, over-sized high-lift wings could allow wing-in-ground effect vessels to travel a few feet above calm water at the equivalent of motorway speeds. Designers could include open-top sections on vessels designed to travel above calm water at such speeds, perhaps using tilted windows to deflect the airstream to pass over the vessel and above the passengers located in the open-top sections.
Designers can adapt the wing design of wing in ground vessels to allow smooth travel above the most frequent heights of waves in many locations, allowing the technology to undertake multi-day trans-oceanic voyages or provide tourist scenic sightseeing service along spectacular coastlines. By traveling just above the water surface, wing-in-ground technology can better cope with waves and powerful coastal tidal currents. Operators of winged cruise vessels could use coastal seaplane runways for touch down and take off operation, or adapt the vehicle design to allow for operation to and from coastal airports in the Asia – Pacific, Mediterranean and Caribbean regions.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.