Wing-In-Ground Effect (WIG) “Flying Sub”

I mentioned my propless propulsion system back in 2012, and one of my students working on ROV designs asked about its origins. The basic design was originally created as a runabout service vehicle for the Upena floating “power grid” back in the 1990s.


I spent some time refining the design and in 2000, submitted the propless design as a Popular Science entry, expanding my original Geocities entry onto my personal website at (my later wife’s hosted site) in 2000 and updating it somewhat again in 2006 for another submission to the Popular Science competition.


The power grid’s needs for submersible inspection and service called for a small lightweight vehicle and the propless design seemed appropriate in case the service encountered dangling power generating cables and other entangling materials that could cause trouble for vehicles relying on traditional spinning props. WIGSubSideMy work with the Pneu-MagLev “hovertrain” design suggested the Wing-In-Gound Effect (WIG) could be extended to a lightweight framework to allow rapid travel to remote parts of the modular floating power grid, which could cover a large area of the ocean. By extending the buoyancy module framework with a semi-rigid lifting fabric surface, the required plenum for sustained support can be easily deployed at the water’s surface and contracted for slower movement fully under water. I also found in test that the same needs for an elevated tail aileron could be accommodated by the same system that extended and contracted the plenum foils.


The resulting “flying sub” was minimally restricted in submerged velocity due to the larger control surface area, but rearward modeling of the control surfaces was able to minimize this while maintaining function in WIG aerial operation.


A small vehicle with both aerial low-altitude WIG and submerged (even minimal) operational modes would seem to have other applications as well, as the test model was attached to an R/C submarine and deployed remotely during an event involving both surface and sub-surface scale model craft. The WIG operation was successful, but the lifting surfaces proved inadequate to allow true flight over the shoreline, resulting in a crash of the fragile test model in early 2008 and the conclusion of that design effort.

I provided my original designs to the students in my STEMulate Learning workshop, in case they decide to include any of these ideas in their current ROV designs, mentioning the original FS-1 “Flying Sub” from the old television show with a few links to images and videos for my students to give them build ideas.

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