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EPFL scientists design futuristic 'modular' plane

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EPFL scientists design futuristic 'modular' plane
Artist's impression of a Clip-Air plane. Image: EPFL
18:28 CEST+02:00
The model of a modular plane, with wings that can be attached to train carriages or other components, will be shown at the Paris Air Show next week, inventors from the Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne (EPFL) said on Monday.

The "Clip-Air" project is fresh off the drawing board and features a single flying wing that could be clipped onto for instance train "capsules" carrying passengers or cargo, the technical university said in a statement.

"More than a new type of flying device, its innovative concept could revolutionize the airports of the future," researchers said.

In a future of Clip-Air planes, people would be able to "go to the train station to take the plane," EPFL said.

"Board on a capsule to reach the airport by rail, and then - without leaving (their) seat – fly to another city," it said.

EPFL acknowledged that the project its researchers have worked on since 2009 remained "very futuristic," but its scientists were convinced it was technically feasible.

"We still have to break down several barriers but we do believe that it is worth (working on) such a concept, at odds with current aircraft technology and which can have a huge impact on society," project chief Claudio Leonardi said in the statement.

The model, to be showed for the first time at the Paris Air Show next week, will represent a flying wing which can hold up to three capsules, each with the capacity to carry 150 passengers.

In addition to allowing "more efficient and flexible fleet management," and allowing airlines to kiss the days of empty flights goodby, the engineers have also calculated that Clip-Air planes would be far more fuel efficient.

"Clip-Air aircrafts' conventional fuel consumption would be reduced since they can carry as many passengers as three A320 with half the engines," EPFL said, adding that the scientists were also looking into alternative, less polluting fuels for the planes.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the project was the potential to "revolutionize airport configuration," the Lausanne school said.

The capsules, measuring around 30 metres and weighing about 30 tonnes, would fit in airports the way they are built today, but would also be compatible with rail tracks, it said, meaning "the boarding of either cargo or passengers in the capsule could be done not only at airports but also directly in rail stations or production sites."

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