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Hybrid ESTOLAS aircraft combines aspects of a plane, helicopter, hovercraft and airship


November 14, 2013

The ESTOLAS combines features of a plane, helicopter, hovercraft and airship in one aircraft

The ESTOLAS combines features of a plane, helicopter, hovercraft and airship in one aircraft

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As evidenced by ongoing efforts in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, getting aid and support personnel in and victims out of disaster-stricken areas is a major problem when infrastructure such as runways has been rendered unusable. A new aircraft concept combining features of an airship, plane, helicopter and hovercraft that is being developed as part of the European Commission's Extremely Short Take Off and Landing On any Surface (ESTOLAS) project could help address the problem.

The hybrid ESTOLAS aircraft features a short, squat design with propeller engines mounted at the rear of a disc-shaped main body that houses a rotor like a helicopter's. The aircraft is composed almost entirely of lightweight composite materials and the body and can also be filled with helium to further reduce the aircraft's weight and provide additional lifting power. This would allow it to take off and land at lower speeds on short runways and, if no conventional runways are available, it can use its air-cushioned skirt and wheel-skis to take off and land on any natural surface, such as fields, marshes, water or snow.

The project team is examining four different ESTOLAS sizes, including small, medium, heavy and superheavy with maximum payloads ranging from under 3 tonnes (3.3 tons) to over 400 tonnes (440 tons). Project Coordinator Alexander Gamaleyev of Riga Technical University in Latvia says the superheavy ESTOLAS model would be able to take off and land at distances of 175 m (574 ft), while the small version could do so within just 75 m (246 ft).

Load ratios would also be 1.5 to 2 times higher than conventional jet or propeller planes, with reduced fuel consumption giving the aircraft the ability to deliver cargo anywhere on Earth without refueling. Gamaleyev claims the hybrid aircraft's lower fuel consumption would put it on a par with rail transport in terms of cost, while the reduced CO2 emissions should make it the world's most ecologically efficient form of air transport.

In addition to disaster relief operations, the team envisages the ESTOLAS having a wide variety of applications, including defense, business, tourism and support for the building and operation of remote oil and gas fields. It also has the potential to offer cheaper and more efficient air transport between cities with existing runways and airfields and smaller towns lacking such facilities.

Now that the concept is complete, the team will move onto testing a demonstration model in a wind tube. This will be followed by radio-control flight tests before the 24-month project winds up in April of next year. The team will also examine a number of options to bring the concept to a commercial reality, including licensing the design, seeking venture capital, or establishing joint ventures with industry partners.

The video below shows the design of the ESTOLAS hybrid aircraft.

Source: ESTOLAS Project via New Scientist

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Who will have it first? X-Men or S.H.I.E.L.D.

Bill Robertson

There does not appear to be much space for passengers/cargo.


I don't know much about aeroplane aerodynamics beyond basic schoolboy physics, but this doesn't look to me like it will fly well as a plane (rather than in helicopter mode).

I'd be delighted to be proved wrong- there is a very real need for transport solutions such as this, as demonstrated by the awful tragedy in The Philippines.


I never thought I would say this but, I think a tilt-rotor would be simpler.


Those wings are too short to lift a thing like that into the air, the hovercraft part would cause enormous drag, both on account of its structure and when it's being used to lift the craft.

IMHO, Extremely Short Take Off and Landing On any Surface = any helicopter with floats.


What a colossal waste of time and energy. If those (very heavy and complex) "enclosed helicopter rotors" were ditched in favour of a larger wing, they'd achieve the same STOL performance. As for the helium, the idea has been around for decades. The volume of gas required to have a subsantial effect on the weight carrying capability of the machine would require a great deal larger tank / enclosure than the one in the illustration.


O.K. Are we over-thinking this one just a little ?


I wish you were kidding- How much have they spent on "analyzing" this already?

Helium is in low supply already- but that's ok... because there's no room for any of it here anyway!

By the time you load up what little cargo you can, where are you going to put it?

That's like filling a minivan with party balloons to make a flying car!

Look up the Piasecki 97 on YouTube and see what happens with this sort of thing and PAY ATTENTION TO WHERE IT HAPPENED!

Seriously,people- why not just get a Russian heavy lift helicopter?

They also made something like a 727 with rotors on the wing tips- they went back to normal helicopters.

The monstrous ekranoplans went the way of the dinosaur,too...

Air-cushion vehicles do NOT do well in crosswinds or grades and are inherently unstable- what do you think this will do in a crosswind slide?

Leverage is going to want to collapse the load side of the skirt, for starters... and even more unpleasant things will happen ,as the other side starts to lift.

In conclusion, complexity will NEVER breed efficiency- keep it simple.

I'm all about new ideas but complex mutants are not the way.

A large gyro-copter with a tractor-prop up front (not in the rear) would do everything this does and better with only ONE engine/drivetrain, using C-130 style narrow landing gear and could land on any major highway or sufficiently-sized parking lot (allowing for vertical obstacles)- NO helium required.

An electric pre-load system would suffice to get the main rotor up to motion.

Look up the nuclear-powered bomber and Project Pluto/SLAM and see how much money&energy can be wasted on dangerous ideas before "top men" admit it isn't practical.

Possible? Perhaps. Practical? Hell,no.


@ bergamot69, I was thinking the exact same thing and was going to write it. This thing is so un-aerodynamic, such stubby wings, etc that one wonders what it is actually out to accomplish.

And that wingspan is actually a hindrance on land as its going to encounter lamp posts, trees, etc.

The hovercraft is a fantastic machine. Adding some lift to it is a great idea but that can be accomplished in other ways. A much better way would be an airlift-able hovercraft that is aerodynamic and of light construction that can be delivered to site by aircraft (aeroplane or helicopter - airships don't do so well with typhoons and hurricanes).

Nantha Nithiahnanthan


Guy DeWardener

my first thought was, somebody has been reading about flight in the science fiction '1632 universe' by Eric Flint. My next thought was that might be cool. then i looked at the pictures, and realized, the most disaster relief this thing was going to bring would be reporters to film it, and maybe a pound of tea or coffee to keep them going. Much better to put some inflatable/deflatable pontoons on an osprey tilt rotor. Yes the osprey had all sorts of trouble, but once the bugs worked out, it really has been able to do exactly what it was meant to do, be a helicopter with range and speed.


Don't forget, If you fill a standard ISO 40-foot container with pure helium, you'll decrease its empty weight by nearly 15 pounds.


I think a flying boat like the Saunders-Roe Princess www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOY6XNq-xlo should have been would do for most places given the likelihood of a large reservoir.


Robur the Conqueror, your ride is ready.

Gregg Eshelman

I favour airships dropping off cargo in disaster regions, the main problem with the philippines was a lack of helicopters, a single airship could have dopped off 100 metric tonnes of fuel and supplies for a mil-26 which could have been flown across the Pacific (20 tonne payload or 200 passengers) or 100 R44 helicopters with pilots, the R44 only costs $425,000 and weighs 657 kg (1450lbs). A hybrid airplane would cost lives with development costs alone, they would come decades in the future and the design compromise already has made it unsuitable for the role which has already been filled. The V-22 Osprey already does this job!


definitely not a new idea www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr_X1IfYeHw

Mihai Pruna

Always love seeing new aircraft designs, but yes this one is just a tad bit ridiculous. Like people have said above, the hovercraft skirt will cause enormous drag in the air, if the stubby wings can even lift it. Helium? ... no.

Anyone remember the Rotodyne?

Richard Auchus

A hybrid flying machine of this type was originally built and flown by Bill Frost, a Welshman, in 1985. You can read about it and see the patent he took out on it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Frost.

Dirk Scott

Positives: Looks a bit like thunderbird 2.

Negatives - complication, cost, lack of thunderbird 2 - class performance.


Ditto Thunderbird 2 http://thunderbirds.wikia.com/wiki/Thunderbird_2 Ok except for verticle landing & takeoff with rockets.

Carrier basec CH 47 Chinook with sling loads would outperform proposed silly idea & mine.

My idea - big ekranoplan that's mother to 3 remotely piloted amphibious tanks, each of the tanks with ability to push off it's cargo and then evacuate victims to ekranoplan.

Dave B13
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