Back in 2013, we reported on a crazy airplane that could carry passengers and cargo in modular, detachable capsules. The Clip-Air plane was conceived by Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and engineers have spent several years developing the design – now the company is gearing up to build a small-scale Clip-Air prototype drone as a test vehicle.
The two-part Clip-Air craft is composed of the flying component (the airframe, cockpit, and engines) and the capsules, which are detachable pods that can be configured to carry passengers or cargo loads. The prototype will measure just 10 meters long, but it will help engineers test theories about the performance potential of the pod-like aircraft. Clip-Air’s concept sports an airframe based on a flying-wing design that sits high above the ground, leaving adequate clearance for up to three capsules to attach. Modular aircraft such as this would be incredibly versatile, and a single plane could be capable of carrying out multiple functions. For instance, a passenger module could be attached to an airframe and carry people from Point A to Point B. Then, additional cargo modules already full of goods could be attached for the return trip, or to fly on to Point C.
Another potential bonus to Clip-Air’s modular approach to transportation is the impact it could have on human travel. Because the modules can be carried by a wide variety of vehicles, including trains and trucks, and easily attached and detached from the airframe, it’s possible that passengers could board a Clip-Air capsule in one city and be carried by railway to another, attached to an airframe, and flown to their final destination, all without having to leave the cabin. Imagine that.
Images via Federal Polytechnic Institute