How pod planes could change travel forever

Hypersonics, electric propulsion, triple deckers -- think you've seen everything when it comes to new aircra...

Posted: Nov 7, 2018 4:23 PM
Updated: Nov 7, 2018 4:23 PM

Hypersonics, electric propulsion, triple deckers -- think you've seen everything when it comes to new aircraft concepts?

Well just hold on a second, here comes the pod plane.

Aircraft

Aviation and aerospace industry

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Air transportation

Transportation and warehousing

Technology

There are several independent initiatives exploring the feasibility of modular planes, which could transform the way people and cargo travel.

One of these revolutionary aircraft designs, called Clip-Air, has been created by Switzerland's Federal Polytechnic Institute.

Another is the Link & Fly concept, designed by AKKA Technologies, a European engineering services firm.

Futuristic and disruptive

While the concept might be boundary-pushing, the inspiration for Clip-Air is more mundane: the humble shipping container.

Despite, or perhaps because of, its simple design, the shipping container is one of the most disruptive inventions of the past century.

It allows cargo to be moved cheaply from one mode of transport to another and has facilitated the development of the complex supply chains all modern economies rely on.

Transfer from truck to giant cargo ship to freight train is seamless and the container can be used again and again, drastically reducing the cost of long-distance shipping.

That's the magic of inter-modal transport -- and it's something this futuristic and potentially game-changing concept hopes to emulate.

Intermodality is also at the core of the Link & Fly proposal.

In fact, AKKA Technologies is increasingly defining itself as a provider of integrated mobility solutions, blurring the difference between its automotive, rail and aerospace practices.

The key idea here, both in Clip-Air and Link & Fly, is that the aircraft is composed of two elements.

There's the flying component, including airframe, cockpit and engines.

Then there are the capsules, a number of detachable pods that can act as cabin or cargo hold, depending on the chosen configuration.

Both concept aircraft feature an arch-like airframe, with an elevated wing and the engines mounted on top. This makes it possible to place the cabin right underneath and attach and detach it easily.

Clip-Air, for example, is based on a flying-wing concept, reminiscent of a stealth bomber. Some may even find some similarities to the X-48, an experimental pilotless aircraft developed for NASA a decade ago.

Versatile design

A pair of long metal legs protruding from each side of the flying wing, and containing the landing wheels mechanism, keep the airframe high above the ground.

The height is to allow for capsules to be hung from the belly of the aircraft, not unlike the way warplanes carry bombs and missiles.

These capsules could be made to carry either passengers or cargo.

In fact, while Clip-Air's speed and range is expected to be on a par with that of modern midsized airliners, the beauty of the concept rests precisely upon the versatility provided by the capsules.

Link & Fly's concept presents a similar setup, with modules that can be adapted to simultaneously carry a wide range of cargo and passenger combinations.

This way, one single aircraft would be able to perform multiple roles.

The capsules can also be easily attached and detached from the airframe, making it possible for aircraft to achieve very quick rotations on the ground.

Claudio Leonardi, who manages the Clip-Air project at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Lausanne, says this'll allow operators to maximize use of the airframe, the most expensive component.

Seamless transfer

What's more, for passengers the boarding process could become a lot faster and less stressful as they'll be able to board capsules well before the flight -- goodbye to aisle jams.

And there's the whole multi-modal aspect of the concept.

As with shipping containers, Clip-Air capsules could be seamlessly transferred onto trucks and trains, opening up a world of possibilities, not only for freight operators but also for the airline industry.

For example, there may be a decoupling of who manages the airframe and passenger cabin. In the case of Clip-Air, those are likely to be multiple cabins, since up to three independent capsules could be attached to each aircraft.

Similar to what happens in the rail or shipping industry, some firms could specialize in the flying while others would focus on the passenger experience.

Passengers may even be able to choose from three different competitors, all flown by the same aircraft.

Operators could also market multi-modal itineraries that start or end well beyond the airport.

'Brilliant engineering'

Passengers might board a capsule at a local bus station and wake up in another city on the other side of the country, or planet, after a road, air and rail journey during which they didn't leave their seat.

So what are the chances of this ever happening?

Rather slim, according to Addison Schonland, founder of Airinsight, a consultancy providing market intelligence about the aviation industry.

"Although it may be brilliant from an engineering point of view, it is going to be very tough to make it work commercially," Schonland says.

"It would need to compete with proven and well-established technologies, and, frankly, it is dubious whether the market will be ready for such a radical new concept, even in the long term.

"In any case, if the concept is ever to take off, I would see it working for cargo first."

Neither is AKKA Technologies expecting its Link & Fly to go into production anytime soon.

Although the design is fully engineered, meaning every aspect has been designed with technological feasibility in mind, its main purpose is to demonstrate emerging technologies.

"Our role is not to manufacture the Link & Fly but to accompany OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturers] in the development of future, multi-modal transportation systems," says Maurice Ricci, founder and CEO of AKKA Technologies.

"Similar to what we have achieved with our electric autonomous vehicle Link & Go, rolled out in 2011, of which key technological bricks can be found in the most recent vehicles coming onto the market, the same might well be the case with the underlying technologies of the Link & Fly," says Ricci.

In the case of Clip-Air, researchers are well aware of the challenges ahead and that years of further research and tests are needed to validate the concept.

Leonardi, however, remains adamant about his ultimate goal to build an aircraft able to fly simultaneously three capsules with the capacity to carry 150 passengers each.

"We are using only technologies and materials that are already in use and well known to the industry," he says.

Clip-Air's researchers, who are also looking into the possibility of using biofuels or liquid hydrogen as alternative fuels, have already initiated some contacts with the aerospace industry.

Obtaining support from one of the major industry players would be a game-changer, and the team are hoping to hear from anyone interested.

In the meantime, Leonardi's crew is preparing to build a small-scale Clip-Air prototype: a 10-meter drone, that, regardless of the long-term outlook for modular aviation, is sure to capture the imagination of onlookers and aviation visionaries alike.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 155246

Reported Deaths: 4065
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion25151785
Lake13570355
St. Joseph9145161
Elkhart8759135
Allen8129228
Hamilton6117113
Vanderburgh576760
Tippecanoe369515
Hendricks3268133
Monroe325738
Porter313649
Johnson3105128
Clark293961
Delaware293274
Vigo260538
Madison235093
Cass224022
LaPorte222858
Warrick192965
Kosciusko182625
Floyd179167
Howard162466
Bartholomew141558
Dubois138626
Marshall137426
Wayne126930
Henry125429
Grant125339
Boone122250
Hancock118245
Noble115933
Jackson112915
Dearborn94928
Morgan93740
Lawrence87436
Daviess87133
Gibson87111
Clinton84716
Shelby81730
LaGrange80115
Harrison76224
Knox75610
Putnam72816
Posey7146
DeKalb71011
Fayette66618
Steuben6278
Miami6095
Jasper5945
White58515
Montgomery58322
Greene53337
Scott51813
Decatur50439
Adams4837
Whitley4556
Clay4467
Ripley4418
Sullivan43714
Wells4288
Wabash4119
Starke4077
Orange40425
Huntington3905
Spencer3906
Washington3753
Franklin37225
Jennings36713
Fulton3523
Randolph3529
Jefferson3415
Pike33018
Carroll32513
Perry31014
Jay3056
Fountain2943
Tipton27523
Vermillion2411
Parke2323
Newton22511
Rush2154
Blackford2093
Owen2051
Martin1990
Crawford1581
Pulaski1521
Brown1393
Ohio1297
Benton1100
Union1100
Switzerland920
Warren781
Unassigned0234

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 190430

Reported Deaths: 5161
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin31466640
Cuyahoga19706682
Hamilton16687343
Montgomery10377189
Lucas8285373
Butler8276129
Summit6689265
Warren420064
Stark3796181
Mahoning3709286
Marion338850
Pickaway301146
Delaware287227
Lorain272889
Fairfield264457
Licking257966
Wood249681
Clark249456
Clermont245938
Greene229242
Trumbull2270134
Allen213073
Columbiana212887
Miami199958
Lake193659
Medina185642
Portage162068
Mercer152128
Wayne140269
Ross139436
Richland132324
Tuscarawas129024
Athens12052
Erie115553
Darke114451
Madison105415
Hancock104725
Auglaize100616
Putnam97427
Lawrence93025
Shelby90914
Muskingum8884
Geauga85950
Scioto8599
Belmont78827
Union7583
Ashtabula72648
Sandusky71122
Huron70912
Preble62418
Holmes61710
Seneca60114
Ottawa58430
Fulton53711
Henry47317
Jefferson4694
Clinton46413
Defiance46013
Jackson4598
Crawford4528
Fayette4498
Highland4304
Logan4233
Ashland3986
Champaign3983
Knox38416
Brown3793
Perry36611
Washington35124
Morrow3442
Hardin33613
Williams3354
Coshocton32112
Guernsey3218
Pike3000
Wyandot29513
Gallia29113
Van Wert2633
Meigs21012
Adams2096
Paulding2012
Carroll2007
Hocking1979
Monroe16118
Noble1290
Vinton963
Harrison803
Morgan780
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Scattered Clouds
64° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 64°
Angola
Scattered Clouds
63° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 63°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
66° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 66°
Decatur
Broken Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 61°
Van Wert
Scattered Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 61°
Friday Afternoon Showers & Thunderstorms
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events