Hurtling just a few feet above the sea at a speed comparable to airplanes, this huge flying hotel could have carried about 3,000 passengers at a speed of 460 miles per hour.
The Aerocon Wingship could have been a revolutionary way of travel – it eclipsed the world’s largest airliners by being twice the size of a jumbo jet.
With ambitious aircraft capable of carrying thousands of passengers and 1,500 tons of cargo, the 400-ton, 566-foot-long machine was a concept funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA).
Engineers predicted that mammoth planes could travel around 12,000 miles, powered by 20 rocket engines attached to wings near the plane’s nose.
But unlike planes, which fly thousands of feet in the air, the Aerocon would hover just above the surface of the water using a concept called ground effect – creating an air bubble beneath the craft.
It’s similar to a hovercraft – but allows the vehicles to travel much faster and with much more stability, potentially allowing for huge flying ships – just like the Aerocon Wingship.
The aircraft was designed to fly across the Atlantic between America and Europe.
But with its incredible range, it could also fly non-stop from the US to Japan, Australia, China or just about anywhere in the world.
It had a wingspan of 100 meters – almost as wide as a football field.
And it could carry 30 times the weight of a Boeing 747 and carry ship-level loads at airplane-level speeds while gliding up to 100 feet over the sea.
Most read in The Irish Sun
It was hoped the plane could be luxurious – possibly carrying sleeping quarters, bars and restaurants like a giant flying hotel or cruise ship.
The wing ship could also dock and open its rear doors like a roll-on roll-off ferry — potentially even allowing passengers to bring their cars with them.
The plane’s chief designer, Steven Hooker, dreamed of the wingship after seeing similar vehicles in the Soviet Union – like the Caspian Sea Monster.
The Beast was an experimental ground effect vehicle and could reach speeds of 311 mph, but only one was ever built after the Kremlin flew for the love of the plane.
However, Hooker thought he could do better – and dreamed up his wingship ten times larger than the sea monster.
This [tech] would be perfect for ferry or cruise ship role
He hoped that when his machine was launched in the 1990s, it could take people across the Atlantic from as little as £60 a ticket.
And because of the way the ground effect concept works, for Hooker it really was, the bigger the better.
“To build a big plane, I have to build a huge plane,” he told Popular Mechanics.
“You have to be really motivated, but if you take that step, it would pay off economically.”
However, the project had a staggering development cost of up to $600 million.
And the US military considered buying 13 of the planes, bringing the total cost to about $15 billion.
The Pentagon was very interested in the DARPA-funded project – they imagined that it could be an extremely fast troop carrier.
It was estimated that the vehicle could carry 32 helicopters, 20 tanks, 4 landing craft and around 2,000 soldiers.
Lt. Col. Michael F. Francis, program manager, said that LA times: “We have never built anything of this magnitude.”
The wingship could also be used as a giant flying hospital to be flown to disaster areas.
Hooker said: “The stern of the ship opens and the hospital could be driven in or out.
“The upper level would house the infirmary, and below that would be the operating room and other facilities.”
Ground effect vehicles enchanted designers – particularly in the Soviet Union – but it was a concept that never fully made it past the drawing board.
The Russians tried to build large winged ships, like the so-called “Caspian Sea Monster”.
But the continuing economic problems that eventually led to the death of the Soviet Union justified the plans.
And sadly, the truly massive Aerocon never got to fly the high seas either when DARPA scrapped the billion-dollar project in the 1990s.
Aerocon’s flying machine was classified as too high a “technical risk”.
But could the incredible machines ever return?
Tim Samedov, a graphic designer who produced incredible things 3D model of the Aerocon – as seen in this article, this is hoping while dreaming of flying aboard one of the ocean liners in the air.
He told The Sun Online: “[It] looks incredible and fantastic. I would like to ride on an ekranoplan. I think this is a very promising technology.
“I think that this [tech] would be perfect for ferry or cruise ship role.
“But as far as I know, several models of small ekranoplans are currently being tested. So I hope that Ekranoplans will evolve in the future.”
https://www.thesun.ie/tech/9250452/inside-flying-hotel-massive-boeing/ Inside a massive FLYING HOTEL, twice the size of a Boeing 737, capable of ferrying 3,000 passengers around the world at 460 miles per hour