Clip-on fuselage on rails could transform air travel

Researchers in Switzerland are working on an aerospace project that would put an end to time consuming trips to the airport.

Instead, researchers working on EPFL’s Clip-Air project propose a system that let’s airline passengers board a 30m long capsule at railway stations, which then travels via rail to the airport where it is then clipped to the underside of a waiting aircraft.

The specially designed flying wing aircraft would be able to carry up to three capsules designed to carry freight or 150 passengers each.

The Clip-Air project, in development at EPFL since 2009, is designed to provide a future air travel scenario that is more flexible, more efficient and less energy-consuming.

The project is clearly futuristic in its outlook but the scientists behind it are said to be working within credible constraints to maintain its technical feasibility.

‘We still have to break down several barriers but we do believe that it is worth [it] to work in such a concept, at odds with current aircraft technology and which can have a huge impact on society,’ said project leader Claudio Leonardi.

According to EPFL, theoretical studies show Clip-Air’s potential in terms of transportation capacity thanks to a more efficient and flexible fleet management, a more efficient loading rate, increased flexibility of supply and the possibility of no more empty flights. Further advantages would come from savings in maintenance, storage and management.

Clip-Air also aims to address current environmental concerns as wells as the objectives set by the ACARE (Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe) to reduce CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2020.

Clip-Air aircrafts’ conventional fuel consumption would be reduced since they can carry as many passengers as three A320s with half the engines. EPFL claim that flying with three modules under the same wing in a 4000km flight would be cheaper – in terms of fuel consumption – than three aircraft of the same capacity flying independently and with equal speed and altitude.

Clip-Air’s ambition also envisages other types of fuels. Several possibilities (liquid hydrogen, biofuels and conventional fuel) have been studied and have demonstrated the relevance of modular structures in terms of overall consumption.

Initial studies have shown that the project is feasible, even though there are still many challenges ahead.

‘The development of the concept requires performing more advanced aerodynamic simulations and testing a six meters long flying model powered by mini-reactors in order to continue to explore the concept’s flight performance and to demonstrate its overall feasibility,’ Leonardi said in a statement.

A 1.20m long model of the Clip-Air plane will be presented at the Normandy Aerospace stand at the Paris Air Show from 17 to 19 June 2013.