China has developed a high-speed “wingship” that can handle rough conditions in the South China Sea, according to a state-run newspaper.
The wingship – also known as a ground-effect vehicle or wing-in-ground-effect craft – is a near-ground gliding aircraft combined with an air-cushion vehicle. It can move over the surface of the sea using a propeller engine and gain support from the air with its wings.
The new Chinese vehicle can travel at up to 240km (150 miles) per hour, for six hours non-stop, Science and Technology Daily reported on Monday.
It can transport up to 12 passengers with a full take-off weight of 4.5 tonnes.
The report said the new vehicle, based on two earlier versions, had passed more than 30 sea trials and was specifically designed to deal with bad sea conditions in waters around China.
China has also been developing the world’s largest amphibious aircraft – the AG600 – which can take off and land on both land and water. Test flights have been carried out on prototypes since 2017.
Similar in size to a Boeing 737, it will be able to reach anywhere in the South China Sea from the southern island province of Hainan within four hours and take cargo or passengers between Chinese-controlled islands in the region.
But the much smaller wingship – which is essentially a superfast surface vessel – will be better able to adapt to difficult conditions than the amphibious plane, according to the report.
“Compared to amphibious aircraft or previous generations of wingships, this third generation of the ground-effect vehicle with high wave resistance has significantly levelled up in terms of sea worthiness,” Shi Yajun – a researcher with the China Ship Scientific Research Centre, which developed the wingship – was quoted as saying.
“That will effectively guarantee year-round availability and safety in rough seas.”
Shi said the vehicle could travel 20 times faster than an ordinary surface boat.
The wingship could be used for tasks such as sea rescues, as well as for search missions and to airdrop supplies on islands and beaches, according to the report.
It said the craft would be able to rapidly get to an accident site and stay close to the surface for long periods while precise search and identification was carried out using its on-board detection devices.
It would then be able to land in nearby waters and sail to the site, or glide over the target and accurately drop life-saving equipment and emergency supplies. The craft could also be used get people who are rescued to safety and to hospital.
Shi told the newspaper that the new ground-effect vehicle would be part of a fast transport network between Hainan and Chinese-controlled islands in the South China Sea, and it would also provide important support for the country’s maritime strategy.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea – claims that overlap with those of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Beijing started building artificial islands on reefs in the contested waters, and installing military facilities on them, in 2014. An international tribunal ruled in 2016 that there was no legal basis to China’s claims to the waterway, a ruling Beijing has rejected.
Source : SCMP