Outlandish aircraft concepts appear occasionally, often based on completely new, undeveloped technologies that realistically, would be unfeasible to develop for commercial applications. Practicality is where Switzerland’s Federal Polytechnic Institute’s modular ‘Clip-Air’ concept diverges from other designs, as its two-component design is based almost entirely on technologies from existing aircraft models.
In essence ‘Clip Air’ consists of a fixed-wing type aircraft with a 60 meter wingspan (think Boeing X-48B) and then up to three inter-modal ‘modules’ which resemble the fuselage of a narrowbody aircraft (like an A320) which clip into the lower section of the wing. The airframe contains the cockpit, engines, and fuel tanks, with passengers and cargo occupying the pods below. Protruding metal legs with wheels replace a landing gear, and keep the airframe high enough off the ground to accommodate the modules.
Clip-air envisions taking inter-modal transport to a new level for both passengers and air cargo. Like shipping containers which can be seamlessly transferred from sea, to ship, into an aircraft, etc, Clip-Air sees the same potential in fuselage modules. Boeing already moves large pieces of its 737 fuselages by rail from Wichita to Renton, why not affix them to a fix wing and send them off? Routes with imbalanced demand could see planes arriving with three modules, and departing with one or none, sending the empty containers back by rail.
The team involved in the project estimates a prototype carrying a single module could be developed within 10 to 15 years, while a three-capsule design would take 40 to 50.