Pod planes could change trips forever – here's how


(CNN) – Hypersonics, electric propulsion, triple deckers – do you think you've seen everything when it comes to new aircraft concepts?

Well, hold only a second, here comes the pod plane.

There are many independent initiatives that explore the feasibility of modular aircraft, which could transform the way people travel and load.
Another is the Link & Fly concept, designed by AKKA Technologies, a European engineering company.

Futuristic and disruptive

While the idea may be marginal, the inspiration for Clip-Air is richer: the humble transport container.

However, or perhaps because of its simple design, the transport container is one of the most disorganized inventions of the past century.

It allows the freight to move freely from one mode to another and has facilitated the development of complex supply chains based on all modern economies.

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

This is the magic of intermodal transport – and this futuristic and potentially changing game hopes to emulate.

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

In fact, AKKA Technologies is increasingly establishing itself as a carrier of integrated mobility solutions, destroying the difference between its practices in the automotive, rail and aerospace industries.

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

There is the flying element, including the spindle, the cockpit and the engines.

Then there are the capsules, a number of removable lobes that can act as a cabin or load load, depending on the selected configuration.

Both aircraft feature an arched-type vehicle with a raised wing and top-mounted engines. This makes it possible to place the cabin right down and adjust it and disconnect it easily.

Clip-Air, for example, is based on a flying-wing concept, reminiscent of a stealth bombardment. Some may find similarities to the X-48, a pilot-free pilot plan that was developed for NASA a decade ago.

Flexible design

Clip-Air concepts

The Clip-Air units are designed to be transported by several vehicles.

EPFL / ENAC / TRANSP-OR

A pair of long metal legs protruding from each side of the flying blade and containing the landing gear mechanism keep the aircraft high above the ground.

The height is allowed to hang capsules from the abdomen of the aircraft, not as opposed to the way bombs and missiles bring bombs.

These capsules can be made either for passengers or for cargo.

In fact, while the speed and range of Clip-Air is expected to be the same as that of modern mid-range aircraft, the beauty of the idea is based precisely on the flexibility offered by the capsules.

The idea of ​​Link & Fly has a similar setting, with units that can be adapted to bring together a wide range of cargo and passenger combinations.

In this way, a single aircraft could perform multiple roles.

Capsules can also be easily attached and detached from the shaft, allowing the aircraft to achieve very fast spins on the ground.

Claudio Leonardi, who runs the Clip-Air project at Lausanne's Federal Polytechnic Institute, says this will allow operators to maximize aircraft use, the most expensive item.

Seamless transfer

Clip-Air concepts

Clip-Air: Up to three lobes can be moved side by side.

EPFL / ENAC / TRANSP-OR

In addition, for passengers, the boarding process could be much quicker and less stressful as it will be able to board in capsules long before flying – goodbye to jams.

And there is the whole multimodal side of the idea.

As with shipping containers, Clip-Air capsules could be transported smoothly into trucks and trains, opening up a world of potential not only for traders but also for the aviation industry.

For example, there may be disconnection of who manages the cabin of the aircraft and passengers. In the case of Clip Air, these are likely to be multiple cabins, as up to three separate capsules could be connected to each aircraft.

Similar to what is happening in the railway or shipping industry, some companies could specialize in the flight, while others will focus on passenger experience.

Passengers can still choose from three different competitors, all flying from the same aircraft.

Operators could also trade multiple routes that start or end far beyond the airport.

"Brilliant engineering"

Clip-Air concepts

Clip-Air designers make a prototype.

EPFL / ENAC / TRANSP-OR

Passengers can board a capsule at a local bus station and wake up in another city on the other side of the country or on the planet after a journey by road, air and rail, during which they did not leave their place .

What are the chances of this happening?

Rather thin, according to Addison Schonland, founder of Airinsight, a consultancy company providing information about the aerospace industry.

"Although it may be brilliant in technical terms, it will be very difficult to make it work commercially," says Schonland.

"It will have to compete with established and established technologies and, frankly, it is doubtful whether the market will be ready for such a radical new concept, even in the long run.

"In any case, if the concept is always to take off, I would see working for a load first."

Akka Link & Fly

Link & Fly: Probably not coming soon to the skies near you.

Courtesy of Akka Technologies

Neither AKKA Technologies expects Link & Fly to be released soon.

Although the design is fully designed, meaning that each aspect is designed with technological feasibility, its main purpose is to demonstrate emerging technologies.

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

"Similar to what we have achieved with the 2011 Electric Link & Go Electric Vehicle, which can be found in the latest technology vehicles on the market, the same could be true of its core technologies Link & Fly, "says Ricci.

In the case of Clip-Air, researchers are well aware of future challenges and need years of further research and testing to validate the concept.

Leonardi, however, remains indifferent to his ultimate goal of building an aircraft capable of simultaneously flying three capsules with the ability to carry 150 passengers each.

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

Clip-Air researchers, who are also considering the possibility of using biofuels or liquid hydrogen as alternative fuels, have already begun some contacts with the aerospace industry.

Getting support from one of the major players in the industry would be a game changer and the team hopes to hear from anyone interested.

Meanwhile, the Leonardi crew is preparing to build a small-scale Clip-Air prototype: a 10-meter-long aircraft, which, irrespective of the long-term prospects for modular aviation, will certainly capture the imagination of viewers and visionaries aviation.

Miquel Ros is an aviation historian and consultant. An economist from the background, worked for Flightglobal and Bloomberg. Today it covers the airline industry through Allplane.tv and cooperates with the luxury travel website Trovel and other online media.