The Nunavik Arctic Express (NAX) 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 theNunavik 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).
What it’s used for
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.