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Electric craft will ‘fly’ a few metres above the waves

17 August, 2022

A US company called Regent is pioneering a new category of electrically-powered vehicle called the seaglider that uses the ground effect to fly on a cushion of air a few metres above bodies of water. Regent says that the vehicle will dramatically cut the time and cost of moving people and goods between coastal locations.

With 40% of the world’s population living in coastal communities, it adds that the seagliders will be the first vehicles to offer safe, low-cost, high-speed, zero-emission transport for this segment. Regent says it already has orders from aviation and ferry customers for more than 325 seagliders, representing an order book worth $6bn.

“We are focused on bringing a revolutionary new vehicle to the transportation market with the potential to change how both people and freight move over the water,” says Regent’s co-founder and CTO, Mike Klinker.

The seaglider operates on or above water in one of three modes – floating when it is near docks, on hydrofoils at speeds of up to 40 knots as it enters or leaves ports, and flying above the waves at 160 kts while cruising. It will be powered by eight 120kW motors.

The seaglider is said to combine the high speed and comfort of an aeroplane with the low operating costs of an electric vehicle, and can use existing dock infrastructures. It is also 30dB quieter than a conventional plane or helicopter.

The seagliders differ from previous wing-in-ground (WIG) effect vehicles in three ways: their use of hydrofoils; their distributed electric propulsion; and their fly-by-wire controls. These allow safe operation in harbours, good wave tolerance, and a comfortable ride.

Regent’s Viceroy seaglider will “fly” on a cushion of air a few metres above the sea surface

Regent's flagship seaglider, the 12-passenger Viceroy, will service routes of up to 290km (180 miles) using existing battery technology, and up to 800km using next-generation batteries. Its operation as a WIG effect vehicle that rides above the water means that it can be tested and certified to maritime requirements, rather than aviation standards. This should allow it to obtain approval faster than electric aircraft, while maintaining similar levels of safety.

Regent has been performing trials using remotely-controlled scaled-down prototypes. Full-size prototypes are due to start trials next year. Commercial services are planned for 2025.

A New Zealand consortium has announced a $700m plan to buy 15 of the Viceroy aircraft and ten of the larger 100-seater Monarch seaglider that Regent is also developing. Two Hawaiian airlines are planning to bring the seagliders to the Pacific islands.

• Regent is developing the seagliders using Siemens’ Xcelerator design, engineering and development platform which uses digital twins to help the designers. “As our seagliders approach certification and full-scale commercial production, we need a robust, modern digital tools platform that supports the pace of our innovation cycles with the rigor to encompass a product as complex as ours,” says Regent CTO, Mike Klinker. “Siemens Xcelerator as a Service was a perfect fit for a digital-first start-up like ours.”

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Trials have already started on a 5.5m scale prototype of the airglider

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