Lockheed Martin has started flight trials of a wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) craft which it is evaluating as a potential boat/air taxi. Other roles are also being considered.

Flarecraft will be manufactured by an unnamed US entrepreneur, funded through Lockheed Martin's Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems (NESS) business, says Robinson Harris, director business development and strategic planning at NESS. The US conglomerate will market the machine.

Flarecraft sea trials began late last month and a second vehicle is set for delivery to Lockheed Martin later this year. Trials could be completed early in the fourth quarter, says Harris, with service entry planned for 2002.

WIGs fly close to the water surface travelling on the air compressed beneath the aircraft; a typical cruise altitude is 6ft (1.8m). Although the Soviet Union worked on massive WIGs during the Cold War and work continues on the technology in Australia, Europe and the USA, no WIGs are thought to have entered widespread service.

Harris says Lockheed Martin is looking to use the Flarecraft for taxi work and as a private aircraft/boat as well as for special forces applications, carrying four passengers and a pilot. The vehicle has an outboard motor to start moving across the water, which is retracted once the pylon-mounted aero-engine is driving the Flarecraft forward.

The Flarecraft cruises at around 100kt (185km/h) and has a 560km (300nm) range. Harris says it will be certificated, licensed and insured as a boat as this is "several orders of magnitude" cheaper than the same processes for an aircraft.

Source: Flight International