European shipping group Brittany Ferries today signed a letter of intent to start operating an unspecified number of a new sea glider being developed by U.S.-based Regent Craft. In a June 15 press release, the company said its all-electric vehicles will be able to carry between 50 and 150 passengers when they enter service by 2028.
That design is significantly larger than the 12-passenger concept recently unveiled by Regent when it announced $9 million of seed funding for its wing-in-ground-effect sea glider. The Boston-based company expects to fly a quarter-scale prototype by the end of 2021 and is aiming to get the full-size version into commercial service in 2025.
After departing from a standard dock and reaching open water, the sea glider would be able to operate at speeds of up to 180 mph, which is about six times faster than conventional ferries. Brittany Ferries says this could reduce journey times on its popular route between Cherbourg in France and Portsmouth in the UK to just 40 minutes.
Similar to a hovercraft, sea gliders 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 sea gliders double the range of an electric aircraft, according to 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. The higher-capacity sea glider would have a wingspan of around 110 feet.
As in the case of hovercraft, the sea glider would undergo regulatory scrutiny as a watercraft. But while a hovercraft uses its skirt to entrap pressurized air to help it stay aloft, the sea gliders propellers push the air under the wing, which provides the needed lift.