Electric “seaglider” developer Regent Craft has produced a full-scale mock-up of its ”Viceroy” passenger-carrying prototype craft, which the company aims to begin flight testing in 2024.
The start-up also said on 14 April that it plans to expand its Rhode Island headquarters to include up to 55,740sq m (600,000sq ft) of new manufacturing and test facilities “to begin fulfilling $8 billion in commercial orders by mid-decade”.
“This mock-up – along with the announcement of our plans to build new state-of-the-art facilities – showcases our growth trajectory and our commitment to begin production as soon as possible,” says Regent co-founder and chief executive Billy Thalheimer. “The $8 billion in orders our company has already received from a variety of companies around the world reflect the need for fast, reliable and sustainable maritime transportation.”
The seagliders are to be manufactured in Rhode Island, with the new production facility reaching its full capacity “within the decade”, the company says. Regent also disclosed that Electric Power Systems and Magicall will supply the batteries and motors that will power the prototype’s all-electric distributed propulsion system.
Regent says its seagliders are “a new category of maritime vehicle that combine the high speed of an airplane with the low operating cost of a boat”. The craft will be able to cruise at 156kt (290km/h) with 156nm (290km) of range, operating exclusively over water and relying on existing dock infrastructure, according to Regent.
The design relies on the craft flying close enough to the surface of the ocean to benefit from ground effect, which is when a cushion of air forms between the craft’s wings and the surface below, providing lift and improving efficiency. Last year, Regent achieved ground-effect flight off the coast of Rhode Island with a sub-scale demonstrator of its “Viceroy” seaglider.
The mock-up design is based on several years of engineering development and “hundreds of test iterations with our sub-scale prototype”, Regent says. “We are on track to fly humans on board next year.”
The craft’s commercial future remains uncertain, however, as the US Federal Aviation Administration and US Coast Guard are working to define which agency will oversee the new class of vehicles.
Regent says it has a backlog of than 500 provisional and firm orders from customers around the world for its all-electric, zero-emissions conceptual craft. It has previously announced partnerships with Hawaii’s Mokulele Airlines, Southern Airways Express and US regional airline Mesa Air Group – which has committed to purchase 200 aircraft.
Having recently announced a partnership with Lockheed Martin, Regent is also considering possible military-logistics applications for its seaglider technology.
The company plans to deliver the first of its smaller Viceroy seagliders by the middle of this decade. Regent is developing another, larger craft called “Monarch” that is intended to carry 100 people and could enter service by 2028.
Southern Airways and Mokulele will take first delivery of the 12-passenger Viceroy when the in-development vehicle hits the market, Regent says.
Stan Little, chief executive of Southern Airways, says the airline has been waiting for the right zero-emissions craft for its commuter operations based in South Florida.
“It wasn’t until we saw the work being done by Regent that we decided to commit to a vehicle outside our current fleet,” Little says. “The seaglider is truly transformative, and Southern Airways is incredibly proud to be the launch customer through our Mokulele brand.”
Regent recently added to its board of directors former Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg and serial aviation entrepreneur David Neeleman, who is chief executive of start-up discount airline Breeze Airways. Neeleman has launched four other airlines, including JetBlue Airways and Brazil’s Azul, and co-founded Canada’s WestJet.