FLY­ING ON TRACK

Clip-Air Con­cept – Mul­ti­modal & Mod­u­lar

Jetgala - - CONTENT - by Char­maine Tay

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.

All images © EPFL / TRANSP-OR / LIV / ICOM

Clip-Air is de­signed for multi-pur­pose flight, from car­ry­ing cargo to VVIP ser­vice

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