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The Nunavik Arctic Express is a ground effect cargo plane concept inspired by the Russian Ekranoplan, who first flew over the Caspian Sea in 1966. (see video) It is claimed that this ground effect behemoth could carry twice the load of similar-sized aircrafts or use half the fuel.

A few years ago, I watched a few episodes of Ice Road Truckers on History Channel. It featured the activities of drivers who operate trucks on seasonal routes crossing frozen lakes and rivers in remote Arctic territories in Canada and Alaska. Needless to say, this job is dangerous, especially in fall or spring when the ice can cave in at any time, so I first started thinking about the Nunavik concept back then.

In 2010, the Arctic Ocean became a viable trade route when the Northwest Passage was opened. In the coming years, there will be more and more activity in the North and more demand for aircrafts capable of transporting cargo between villages, Arctic bases, mining and drilling operations. Governments will also need planes for border patrols, search and rescue, and military operations. This means that there might be a market for a new type of aircraft like the Nunavik.

The Nunavik Arctic Express would be rugged and built with the Arctic region in mind.  I would try to use as much composite material as possible to reduce weight (fuselage, wing, tail section, etc.) The boxy shape of the aircraft is similar to the Short 360; it was also designed with logistic in mind with large bay doors on each side that can be accessible with forklifts. The Nunavik would be equipped with two or four Pratt & Whitney PW100 turboprop engines with scimitar propellers constructed of composite materials.

The Nunavik is a ground effect vehicle so it would fly very close to the surface (tundra, ground, ice, water). The original Ekranoplan flew at 20 feet above the water at speeds in excess of 300mph. The Nunavik would fly at the same height, and its top speed would be determined by what its customer needs (The initial target is 200 mph) It would be possible to increase the size of the engine based on functionality and performance specifications. (Note that the PW100 engines covers a range between 1800hp and 5000hp)

Flying over 100mph at 20 feet above the ground is quite difficult, even for seasoned pilots, so the Nunavik would be designed to fly with an autopilot that would use radar and laser sensors. Flying route/corridors would be determined by authorities but there wouldn’t be any radar coverage (certainly not at this altitude and these latitudes). Flying would be a mix of instruments (IFR) and visual (VFR).

I know this concept has some drawbacks. First, it would probably be difficult to change heading (turn) rapidly due to the flying altitude. I would also consider adding the capability to take off directly from the water like a Bombardier CL-415. Taxiing is also something that needs to be engineered in the concept. In any case, if this type of aircraft can carry twice the cargo of similar-sized aircraft or use 50% less fuel, then it’s certainly worth studying it more closely!

I would like to thank Robin Ritter who created the amazing images of the Nunavik Arctic Express concept. Robin is based in Stuttgart, Germany. He studied at the HfG, and he has worked as an intern at Porsche and Eurocopter. Robin also created the renderings of the Antares concept.


  1. Interesting concept. I’ve done quite a bit of study on WIGE craft though for over water, not land/ice/snow.

    You need to give the wings more length fore and aft for more lift/hp-kw. You could even leave off the 2 rear engines if you did for increased eff, lower costs.

    300mph at ground level has too much drag for freight, at most 140 mph or so and only then flying over rivers/lakes, very flat tundra. Only transatlantic, long distance passenger would 300mph be worthwhile.

    Soon with GW when the tundra turns to mud such craft and hovercraft style ones might be the only ones to get though.

    • Hello Jerry,

      Thanks a lot for your comments, they are very helpful, I will revise the concept based on your input (and other comments) with Robin. I like the hovercraft idea too, I was talking about it on Sunday with a friend of mine. Let’s keep in touch, thanks again for your quick comment!

  2. I’ve been a WIGE fan for years and wondered when someone would again take up the concept seriously. This does indeed look like an SD3-30, which I used to fly many moons ago.

    In addition to arctic/tundra operations, I could see these being very effective coastal or river transports–say Boston to Portland (Maine), NYC to Albany or Baltimore, or on the Great Lakes.

    The Chinese developed a small over-water WIGE pax transport 10+ years ago but I don’t know whether that worked for them.

    The use of GPS & laser guided nav systems combined with DFCS (digital flight control systems would make this far more feasible, IMHO).

    Best wishes for success!

    –Mal Gormley
    (Author, Aviation Computing Systems, McGraw-Hill, 1997)

  3. I really like this concept. The WIG is very underappreciated, and this kind of use could be exactly the right role.

    I think giving it the ability to land on water is crucial. Skis are good, but limit the season and usefulness of the asset.

    I just wondered why the side cargo door. Given the fuselage design, I would have thought a rear ramp would be ideal, or does it have both?

    • Good idea for the rear ramp! I was thinking more about forklifts that could acess the side doors. I will work with Robin on a new version with two engines and bigger wing. Thanks for the feedback. (Mal / Ian / Steve / Jerry)

  4. I’m not sure you need longer wings. as suggested by jerry dycus. The longer the wings, the higher the altitude needed to maneuver. Having a flat underside of the fuselage will provide additional lift. How much will need to be determined, but you will have some. Jerry is right about eh speed, though. We are talking distances of about 620 miles max (1000 km), so a cruise speed in the 150 MPH range gets the cargo there in about 4 hours, or less. Ian Gavaghan’s idea of a rear loading ramp will give you a Ro-Ro capability, something mining and oil customers would like. Two or four engines should be decided as two different models, one a “heavy lift” and longer model (out to about 35m of cargo space). This may allow you to carry two 40′ long standard land/sea shipping containers (of restricted weight of about 10 tonnes each, including the shipping container). Landing sites near the customer’s locations will needed and the landing gear (wheels, skis, or pontoons) will need to be quickly changeable depending on where it is going to land. Extensive flight planning will be needed in mountainous areas to decide to go through valleys, or over the mountains due to the dangers of avalanches.
    But overall, this is a great concept. good luck, Charles.

  5. I am not an expert on these aircraft – but how often do you have VFR conditions? Mostly here around the Great Lakes we have low vis, blowing snow, low ceilings, winter fog, blizzard conditions (even in the summer this year?? :-) – even “good” days may be MVFR – circling approaches are a nightmare. Night is every worse. That speed that close to the ground – I would think only travel along a well marked GPS defined route would be safe – or over water. Sometimes legal VFR is “barely” and you are coming in at 90 kts along a short segment in a straight line close to the ground headed to the runway in a light plane. Would CFIT be avoidable? —-
    a northern Michigan all-season pilot

  6. Excellent concept. Extremely past due. Agree with wider chord and longer span especially when considering ground effect flying. 2 engines preferable however, techonolgy and your design certainly would allow each wing to have a vertical thrust electric fan to assist with lift during slow speeds. ( Take off, Landing and taxing)add slight vectoring of those fans and even better results.
    Any idea of how much we are looking at for empty weight and gross weight?
    I was raised in Puerto Rico. Cargo to the outlying islands with that kind of capacity and speed will certainly be a incentive for me to move back :-)
    Not to mention the oil rig prospect. Please obtain certification SOON !!!
    Best of Luck

  7. Good day cahrles,
    I too have done some studies on a proposed ekranoplan.I have worked with models etc for some 17 years to find out why the Soviet machines did not perform safely.I am certain that I know now.The replies are mostly positive the idea has merits,but beware of perpetuating the mistakes made by the early pioneers of that type of crafts.So far every one has copied the other in some form or other,and by doing that made the same mistakes.My NEW design goes in another direction ,if you are interested contact me direct.
    For your information,I build small aircrafts of a particular type and instruct on same.

      • HI Charles,
        The killer defect on the Ekranoplan was the pitch controls ,and the low wings.So far all the various models have not taken notice of that .lift your wings high and control from the front not the rear.I have tried both models and only the second one operated safely.Dihedral MUST be positive not anhedral as is the method used at present.It is hard to control the roll effect annd should not be used.
        Try my ideas you will make a good machine and safe too.

  8. I would talk to Beriev. It is their speciality. Try to reduce engines to 2ea, PW150A or GE38 for cost of operation. The wings could be over the body to fit big props like an ATR, you then have an uniter
    upted unpressurized body. There is no limit on span where you operate, so a light slender wing cold work fine. FedEx ordered something similar for land use but the B-17 style flying box never made it. Go for fly by wire so it will not be such a bumpy ride. Eventually someone want to make it to a big Cessna Caravan so make it ready for pressurization and flying at altitude when the requests come.

  9. Further comments cocerning the suggestion of a rear ramp. It would be a critical part of the concept, along with a floor strong enough to allow bulk loading. Oil equipment or for that matter general freight seldom fits neatly into a container. So a rear ramp will allow a greater utilization, think C130. Also allows the idea of sliding in a passenger module/pod.

  10. As to the Amphibian or Water/Land option: Design possibility for maintaining the interior cabin space, might be to design the Hull structure with more than one step, as an option that can be built and added to or removed in shop. If it could be field attachable – then it could add rapid change functionality, without drag penalties of a hull when not needed. Obviously this design function is easier to do in primary design phase, rather than post design phases.

    • Keeping the design simple and basic will cut down on development costs. It would also speed up that development. It only needs to fly at about 120-150 knots and high enough to clear tall trees, ridgelines, ice jams, and able to maneuver.

  11. I don’t know a lot about WIGE but what I remember is when I was taking flying lessons, of 2 wings of with equal span chord and airfoil configuration the wing mounted lowest in the air frame would hold the ground effect at lower speeds. Or am I mistaken..

  12. good concept but beware the pitfalls – get an aerodynamicist involved who understands GE and ditch the low mounted rear engines. Speak to the Germans and Russians – a reverse delta with Anhedral can avoid the nasty longitudinal pitch instability when transitioning in and out of GE. Turning not as big an issue as you might think. I’ve designed, built and flight and tunnel tested a power augmented ram WIGE back in 1991.

  13. Have you considered VSTOL? This would come in handy getting into and out of tight landidng zones/work sites that don’t have runways……………………Just a thought.

  14. Have you ever looked into the CL-84? Your layout is reminiscent of a design (tandem wings, both tilting, two engines each) favoured by a German company that Canadair approached with a view to partening for tilt-wing development. Perhaps you should consider having both wings tilt (ideal propeller diameter: chord ratio 2:1, and a half span slightly less than the prop radius (0.707R from prop hub to wing-tip, if I remember correctly). The dramatic lift produced by the propwash, and the need to tilt the wing to about 15 deg. for clearance would provide the lift yo need to rapidly get to ground effect cruise. It’s a shame that the 84 never found a market, in spite of the enthusiasm of the USN, the USMC, and the analysts at Wright-Patterson. Instead, they opted for the tilt-prop rotor – merely a somewhat faster helicopter, rather than and a/c with a 500+ knot potential, and a fantastic VSTOL capability. OK. I’m just a little prejudiced! I wish you could have seen it as i did: gun firing at Nicolet; aboard the Guadalcanal; circling the Pentagon; and performing a loaded STO, leaving the ground in about 30 feet to meet the Nato Stol definition of 500 feet to 50 feet. I’d better shut up. Keep up the good work.
    Maybe later I’ll get you to design a dedicated hybrid scooter/sidecar combo, with a 400 cc engine on the bike side and on-demand electric power to the sidecar wheel.

  15. I think some people are confused about what this is. I see coments about VTOL and flying at altitude which leads me to believe some dont understand that a WIGE will never go more than a short distance above the ground supporting it. It is not an aircraft, more like a boat. To that end I like the side entrance. In all likely hood this will operate over water for the most part. I would add the water take off and land option since that is the most likely available pathway for them. The arctic isntnt the only place it would be used either, think south america or africa on the rivers then add North America as passenger boats along the major rivers. The side door would allow loading/unloading along a dock. Unfortunately the ice in the far north isnt flat like people think. It cracks and shifts all over the place making it uneven. This can be dramatic and may cause issues for a WIGE vehicle

  16. HI Charles and all,

    I see that little progress has been made since my last comments.
    Do please make some models before you invest any money into a standard Wige.They are all faulty and will kill you.Get out of the Box .look at a variety of directions and find ,as I did , the raisons why the Russian and Iranian models are dangerous to operate.Charles I have sent you some material to look at and so far have yet to read your comments .I believe in the concept and would like to see some small models made as fast water taxis,small delivery or emergency vehicles.The original costs would not be too great and would prove the concept.Then and only then can you look at building larger Wiges.

  17. Dear Charles Bombardier, I just want to say thank you for putting up this wonderful site. I feel fortunate that you have chosen to share this information, and I have to say that these renderings by Robin Ritter are truly magnificent. Just beautiful, honestly has to be the most inspiring design I’ve seen in a very, very, long time.

    I am reminded of the wonderful Bell X-22, but the design here with the Nunavik Arctic Express is awe inspiring in it’s purposefulness. Obviously you’ve invested some considerable time in researching and testing and I believe you have created a masterpiece here. Just wonderful really.

    • Good question, do you know about the DeHavilland Sherpa? It looked liked this. Maybe the fuselage should have a rounder shape on the sides or angular forms. The other option is to find a more suitable landing strip (On ice its easier like on a frozen lake…) The whole concept needs some tweaking, I would like to do smaller sized one.

  18. Hey Charles,
    Great concept. I’ve been interested in ground effect vehicles for some time now. I have been working on a small to medium sized high speed Arctic patrol vehicle with military and medical applications in mind. I have played with several methods of achieving trust and even considered using lift generation to increase speed and reduce drag from ground contact. I am not so sure at this point about entering full ground effect with my concept as I would prefer not to limit the topography on which such a craft could set down and maneuver. Have you considered higher placement of the engines. I also have to agree that some degree of dihedral as opposed to anhedral on the wings may create more stability. Plus those two suggestions may have the added advantage of improving turning characteristics as there would be more clearance for both wing tips and props.