FLYING ON TRACK
Clip-Air Concept – Multimodal & Modular
Island dwellers taking road trips are familiar with RoRos — roll-on-roll-off ships that allow vehicles to board. This seamlessness in transportation, where both driver and passengers remain in one and the same vehicle — even while traversing vastly different terrains — is the goal of Clip-Air. Designed by Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Clip-Air is a modular aircraft for people and cargo. The idea comes from shipping containers, which can be moved on different modes of transport, and are reusable. Clip-Air’s modularity is expressed in its airframe, meant to function independently. It acts as a support structure, complete with wings, engines, fuel, landing gear, and a flight deck — but no cabin. Instead, up to three capsules carrying people, freight, or additional fuel are attached side by side beneath the airframe. For commercial airlines, one possible application could be to separate cabin classes in different capsules. Flights can also be multi-purpose, with one pod carrying cargo, and another fitted out with VVIP interiors.
Just as a shipping container can be moved from a train to a ship, the Clip-Air capsule is capable of operating on roads and railways. Once it reaches an airfield or runway, it can manoeuvre underneath the Clip-Air airframe, ready to be attached and carried — all without passengers disembarking or cargo being transferred. To achieve such inter-modal versatility, EPFL plans to make each pod about 30 metres long, similar to the proportions of a train wagon. The maximum weight will be 30,000 kilograms, like that of an A320 fuselage.
PASSENGERS REMAIN IN THE SAME VEHICLE WHILE TRAVERSING DIFFERENT TERRAINS
It’s a radical departure from the way we fly today, and that doesn’t even include the fuel. EPFL is testing different ways to power the aircraft, including liquid hydrogen, which will require an entire capsule on its own for storage. With water as a by-product of hydrogen fuel, Clip-Air could thus become an environmentally friendly option for flight.
“Modularity would allow us to bring planes out of airports to the very centre of our cities, or even to industries,” says project manager Claudio Leonardi. The Clip-Air is currently an exploratory project, with a small drone prototype being built and with 40 or 50 years to go for full operational status using three capsules. This is reasonable, though, considering how disruptive such an invention may be. If EPFL’s vision takes off, airports could become a thing of the past. In the future, travellers could board at a garage or a train station and reach their destination without once stepping out of the pod.
Clip-Air is designed for multi-purpose flight, from carrying cargo to VVIP service