A new low-altitude Wing-In-Ground aircraft (WIG), especially suitable for maritime transportation, has been developed by scientists from Tongji University.
The plane can fly as low as 0.5 to 5 meters from the ground, hitting speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour. It has the capacity to bear weight of up to 4 tons on takeoff.
An artist's impression of the WIG aircraft.
"It's as safe as ships, although five or six times faster," said associate professor Xu Zhengyu, vice-president of the research team. "And it can carry much more weight than ordinary airplanes while costing half as much and using half as much fuel."
Xu said the plane could also be flown for military use and border control.
According to Li Jun, another member of the team: "Unlike slow-speed cargo ships and high-priced airplanes, it could become a first-rate vehicle for maritime transportation. And its low altitude can increase its safety factors. There won't be serious casualties even if it falls into the sea. Also, it could be a good vehicle for sightseeing among islands."
Tongji University is reportedly planning to develop a 50-seat WIG by 2013, with 200 prototypes capable of carrying 200 to 400 tons scheduled for 2016 or 2017.
Taking advantage of the aerodynamics of the ground effect, which adds extra lift when flying at very low altitudes, the aircraft can fly close to the water's surface. This cuts back at least one-third on fuel consumption, compared with standard airplanes of the same size, because the plane can benefit from air buoyancy.
The WIG has been listed as one of three types of aircraft given the green light in the general aviation field by the State Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defense, Xu said.
"However, the Civil Aviation Administration of China has yet to confirm aviation regulations at such low altitudes, which may become a problem," Li added.
"We have a long way to go before it is launched into operation, but WIG will have a bright future without doubt," Li said.