Regent Craft has secured $9 million of seed funding for its 12-passenger seaglider concept and plans to fly a one-quarter scale prototype of the wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) vehicle by the end of 2021. Investors include Founders Fund, Boom Supersonic lead investor Caffeinated Capital, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Y Combinator, Thiel Capital, Relativity Space founder Jordan Noone, and Fitbit founder James Park. Regent says it collected $465 million in provisional orders for airlines and ferry companies during the first quarter of this year.
Specifications for the all-electric WIG vehicle show a range of 180 miles at a speed of 180 mph. The seaglider would operate in a variety of modes, allowing for safe operations across a diverse set of environments, according to Boston-based Regent.
After departing a dock, the vehicle would initially operate at low speeds (20 to 45 mph) on a hydrofoil as it leaves crowded city harbors. Upon reaching open water, the vehicle takes off and accelerates to high speeds (45 to 180 mph), staying within one wingspan of the water’s surface.
Similar to a hovercraft, seagliders fly on a dynamic air cushion created by pressurized air between the wings and the water. Ground effect and the operational efficiencies of always being a few feet away from a safe landing give seagliders double the range of an electric aircraft, says Regent.
Company co-founder and CEO Billy Thalheimer told FutureFlight that development schedules call for the first flight of the full-size vehicle, featuring a wingspan of some 60 feet, in late 2023 and entry into service in 2025. Longer-term plans include a 50-passenger vehicle whose wingspan would extend 110 feet.
As in the case of hovercraft, the seaglider would undergo regulatory scrutiny as a watercraft. But while a hovercraft uses its skirt to entrap pressurized air to help it stay aloft, the seaglider’s propellers push the air under the wing, which provides the needed lift.
“We’ll have a serious flap system there, and then we’ll be able to [force air] below the wing and redirect the flow from those propellers downward,” explained Thalheimer. “And that’s actually one of the things we think will make our takeoff procedure better. Large hydrofoil ferries take a lot of power to get up out of the water. So we’ll have not only the hydrodynamic lift from the foil pushing us up but also this incredible aerodynamic lift from the wings.”
Regent has begun engaging with the U.S. Coast Guard on the creation of a design basis agreement, which will set the rules under which the seaglider gets certified as a WIG vehicle by the International Maritime Organization. In fact, Thalheimer noted that Regent will use "FAA best practices" to certify the vehicle's propellers as part of its maritime certification.
“A safety code exists out there for us to certify to, but it's up to each member country to sort of adopt that rule set officially,” said Thalheimer. “So we're in conversations with the Coast Guard and we're saying we're going to use this international WIG rule set as the certification basis.”
From a design perspective, the seaglider’s hydrofoils will overcome wave height limitations at sea and boat traffic within crowded harbors encountered by seaplanes, which need to operate for takeoff and landing in dedicated waterways where boats don’t go.
“We can be very maneuverable,” said Thalheimer. “We can go around boats and we can do that in crowded harbors instead of taking off directly from the dock. So we’re a boat in the dock or in displacement mode on our hull. When we get away from the dock we very quickly pop up onto these hydrofoils. The foil is emerged in the water and we have these stilts that keep our hull three to five feet off the wave surface. So now we can sort of skirt through the harbor, get to that perimeter of the Harbor, where the waves are higher and there are not boats, we can take off there onto the wings.”
Thalheimer considers the market for the airplane as broad. Ideal operating environments include the east and west coasts of the U.S., across the English Channel, the North Sea, the Adriatic Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. Regent also views island chains around the world as target markets, in places such as Southeast Asia, Hawaii, and Japan.
“There are so many places in the world that are separated by water that are, in the near term, 50- to 150-mile routes; in the long-term, with future battery technology, we’re even looking at up to 500-mile routes.”
Thalheimer, along with several other members of the Regent team, including chief technology officer Mike Klinker, formerly worked for Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences. In recent years, Aurora has been working on a number of prospective eVTOL aircraft designs, and other alumni from the company have gravitated to startups in the same sector, such as Wisk Aero.