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China develops water-skimming plane
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese scientists have developed a "Wing-In-Ground" (WIG) aircraft which can fly long distances just a few feet above the sea surface, state media said on Wednesday.
The plane can fly as low as half a meter (1 ft 7 ins) off the surface, hitting speeds of up to 300 km (180 miles) per hour and can carry up to 4 tonnes on takeoff.
"It's as safe as ships, although five or six times faster," associate professor Xu Zhengyu, vice-president of the research team at Tongji University in Shanghai, was quoted as saying.
"And it can carry much more weight than ordinary planes while costing half as much and using half as much fuel."
Wing In Ground effect refers to the reduction in drag experienced by an aircraft as it approaches a height approximately twice a wingspan's length off the ground or other level surface such as the sea.
Xu said the plane could be flown for military use and border control.
Tongji University planned to develop a 50-seat WIG by 2013, with 200 prototypes capable of carrying 200 to 400 tonnes scheduled for 2016 or 2017.
"Taking advantage of the aerodynamics of the ground effect, which adds extra lift when flying at very low altitudes, the aircraft can fly close to the water's surface," the China Daily said.
"This cuts back at least one third on fuel consumption, compared with standard planes of the same size, because the plane can benefit from air buoyancy."
The WIG has been listed as one of three types of aircraft given the green light in the general aviation field by the State Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defense, Xu was quoted as saying.
"However, the Civil Aviation Administration of China has yet to confirm aviation regulations at such low altitudes, which may become a problem," Xinhua said.
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