Forget Supersonic—Let’s Make a Sea-Skimming Cargo Jet

Over the past few years, a lot of folks have started talking about the potential rebirth of supersonic travel—major companies, government agencies, and startups alike are striving to revive the age of the Concorde. I threw my own design out there, too: the conceptual, Mach 10-capable Skreemr jet.

But lack of speed isn’t the only problem that needs fixing in today’s aviation industry. Sometimes the issue is as simple—and stubborn—as the lack of a place to land. That’s why I’ve created the Pelagor, a conceptual, hybrid, ground effect seaplane designed to haul cargo short distances.

Charles Bombardier


A mechanical engineer and a member of the family whose aerospace and transportation company builds trains, planes, and more, Bombardier’s at his best when he ignores pesky things like budgets, timelines, and contemporary physics. Since 2013, he’s run a blog cataloging more than 200 concepts, each a fantastic, farfetched new way for people to travel through land, air, water, and space. His ideas are out there, but it’s Bombardier’s sort of creative thinking that keeps us moving forward.

The Pelagor would rely on a hybrid power system: a fuel-powered jet turbine and a pair of batteries powering 40 propellers (if that sounds nuts, just look at NASA’s LeapTECH project). Once aloft, it would function like a ground effect plane, flying just feet above the surface thanks to the combination of lift from the wings and limited drag.

Ground effect aircraft have never proliferated, but I think the approach would work for ferrying shipping containers short distances, chiefly to islands or remote spots with limited aviation infrastructure, like in the Canadian Arctic.

The Pelagor (from the ancient Greek pelagos, for sea) would carry one 40-foot container at a time, which a hydraulic winch would lift into its belly. And if the aircraft needed to rapidly cut weight to stay aloft, it could simply release the container into the water below. (Ideally, someone would come with up a lighter, watertight take on today’s containers, to make transport easier.)

The Pelagor’s actual design would of course depend on the complexities of aerodynamics, as well as practical realities like cost and efficiency. But it’s fun to rethink how humanity can move through the air—even if its not at the speed of sound.

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