What follows is a copy of the Paper presented at the Conference on WIGs held in early December 1997 by the Royal Institute of Naval Architects in London.


The Imminent Future Of Ultra-Fast Ferries Is Off The Water

Breakthrough Design Offers Better Efficiency & Maneuverability

Prepared for the International Conference on Air Cushion Vehicles and Wing-In-Surface-Effect Craft

The Royal Institution of Naval Architects
London, England, December 3rd to 5th, 1997 by

William J. Greene
WISEship, International



Continued coastal population growth and increasing demand for rapid, safe, and economical passenger and cargo transportation are fueling dramatic advances in marine transport technologies. Economics is a primary force in driving businesses to seek product and/or service advancements and implement modern solutions. The superior economics of ultra-fast Wing-In-Surface-Effect (WISE) Ferries will compel ferry operators to adopt these highly advantageous vessels for many medium-to-long range applications.

WISE-Vessels actually ‘fly’ on wings at low altitude where they also take advantage of the air-drag reduction provided by Surface Effect (or Ground Effect). After a water take-off, while in flight mode, they are physically off the water and above the waves, where they are free of the water-drag that consumes the most power and fuel on waterborne vessels. WISE-Vessels low fuel costs contributes to their overall efficiency providing lower ton-mile or passenger-mile rates, compared to any other vessels. This presentation illustrates the distinct advantages of this impending mode of marine transportation and introduces a improved approach to WISE-Ferries.

Significant economic advantages of WISE-Ferry operations include:

lower power requirements especially in very-high-speed operations
substantially lower fuel consumption, ~ 75% less, than comparable waterborne ferries
up to 50% more payload and 30% less fuel consumption compared to similar size airplanes
lower infrastructure requirements compared to aircraft and displacement vessels
Beyond the efficiency and economic benefits, WISE-Ferries are also very safe, fast, and comfortable.

Very Safe – WISE-Ferries are safer than conventional fast-ferries in many ways. They are not subject to constant pounding wave stresses. They are not as susceptible to running aground or hitting floating or submerged debris. Low altitude Surface Effect ‘flight’ is safer than free-flight at high altitude because of the tremendous stability of the Surface Effect air cushion.

Ultra-Fast – The operations speeds of WISE-Ferries are substantially higher than most waterborne vessels. These ultra-fast-ferries have cruise speeds comparable to similar size airplanes near sea level. Operation speeds range from 75 to 100+ knots for small two-seat WISE-Crafts to as much as 300+ knots for larger airliner-size WISE-Ferries.

Quite Comfortable – Once in Surface Effect ‘flight’, WISE-Ferries are much more comfortable than waterborne vessels because the waves and swells of the ocean are not impacting the vessels. Passengers will experience less ‘sea-sickness’ being off the water surface, traveling in smooth air.

Two more important advantages to WISE-Ferries are licensing and capital cost.

Licensing – Under a 1995 international convention, WISE-Vessels are regulated, licensed and certified by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and an individual country’s marine authority, not the International Civil Aviation Organization or other aviation authority. This drastically reduces the certification and production costs of WISE-Ferries. A normal captain’s license, not a pilot’s license, is required for commercial operations.

Cost – Capital costs to acquire ultra-fast WISE-Ferries are comparable to those of waterborne fast ferries on a per-passenger-seat basis. The WISE-Ferry speed and flexibility allow operators to consider using smaller-capacity less-costly vessels and providing better service with more frequent trips or more varied trips to meet the demand.

Due to these substantial advantages, and the recent availability of supporting technologies, WISE-Ferries are widely believed to be the imminent next-step in the high-speed, medium-to-long commercial marine transportation industry.

There are still some challenges to implementation of this emerging transportation medium. The WISE-Vessels built to date have required substantial power and fuel consumption due to long take-off distances. There is also the issue of new regulatory standards that must be created in a fair and equitable way in order for the technology to flourish. A new industry alliance is being formed to establish reasonable regulations.

The late Max Martin, in closing his presentation at the ninth High Speed Surface Craft Conference in Singapore in 1993, stated that it would not be far in the future before WISE-Ferries (WIGs) would be vying for part of the growing commercial fast-ferry market. He stated:

“Any talk about the future has to include a paragraph on WIGs. To those of you who have had any exposure to Wing In Ground Effect craft, the advantages of these vessels are totally clear.

The WIG represents the ultimate fast vessel. I have absolutely no doubt that by early in the next century they will be commonplace.

They are able to provide high speed, comfort and, above all else, efficiency that cannot be touched by any other form of high speed transportation. There is no doubt that, whatever else, the future lies with such craft.”



William Greene has been involved in the high-technology industrial solutions arena, with emphasis on strategic market development, systems sales, and management in a variety of industries. He has been a major contributor and primary participant in the implementation of several new technologies that proved to be significant breakthroughs in the state-of-the-art in the industry at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Metallurgical Engineering, Materials Science, and Economics.

Mr. Greene spent seven years in the aerospace and commercial aircraft production industry where he utilized his background to facilitate the implementation of processing robotics and factory automation systems that improved business competitiveness and quality of production. Through his performance in the industry, he became the national sales manager for a diversified factory automation systems provider and exceeded all established requirements for superior growth of the business.

Since 1990, he has worked as a strategic marketing specialist and began learning about the marine transportation and marine recreation industry in his resident state of Florida. After some initial evaluation of the project, he was invited to join WISEship, International as Vice President of Marketing in 1994 and the Board of Directors subsequently elected him President and Chief Operating Officer in 1995.



The vast majority of conventional ferry operations are servicing distance ranges of less than 10 nautical miles, usually across a river or bay in a congested metropolitan area. They typically operate at speeds of much less than 10 to 20 knots. While this is the vast majority of the existing ferry market, this is not the business or market we are addressing in this Conference.

Fast Ferries are defined as a category of passenger vessels carrying at least 25 people and traveling at least 25 knots. They may also include automobiles, trucks, cargo containers and other payloads. These vessels consist primarily of wave-piercing catamarans, and include various hovercrafts, hydrofoils, and some Surface-Effect-Ships making up the balance. As tracked by Fast Ferries International Magazine, there are well over 1200 qualifying fast ferry vessels in operations worldwide today. The market for these vessels is approximately US$450 million per year and is growing at a healthy rate due to the increasing demand for more efficient and faster marine transportation.

All of these fast-ferry vessels have several things in common:

Waterborne and operate in direct contact with the water surface
Propelled by water-thrust drives, propeller(s) or jet-drive(s) (except hovercraft)
High fuel consumption due to high power requirement to move hull(s) through the water
Certified by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) worldwide
Operated by a licensed captain, with license appropriate for the tonnage of the vessel
Capital cost is approximately $20,000+ per passenger seat, depending on style and amenities
Relatively fast speed of to 25 up to 50 knots, depending on waves or sea-state
Strictly waterborne loading, unloading, and storage
Passenger comfort subject to sea state
While fast ferries are useful, there are many limitations to strictly waterborne operations, primarily fuel cost and range. The imminent next step in high-speed marine transportation is off the water.



WISE-Vessels are designed to take-off from the water and land on the water, much like a sea-plane. Unlike a seaplane which can climb to high altitude, WISE-Ferries operate at low altitude, above the waves, on an air-cushion phenomenon known as Surface Effect.

They are not a new concept. Vehicles that utilize Wing-In-Ground-Effect (WIGE) or Wing-In-Surface-Effect (WISE) were first patented in Finland in 1935. They have been built around the world for over 40 years. More than thirty-seven different WISE-Vessel designs have been constructed, demonstrated and documented, ranging in size from single-seat trainers to massive cargo transports larger than Boeing 747s.

Most of the development work was performed in Russia for military applications, since the vessels were able to operate below radar tracking systems. Substantial work has also been done in Germany, CIS, Japan, China, Korea, USA, and Australia. Today, several companies around the world are working bring this technology market.



The primary concept involved with WISE-Vessels is Ground Effect, or Surface Effect as it is called when over water. This well understood phenomenon is a dense cushion of air that develops between a wing and the surface of the water when they are close together at low altitude. The easiest way to understand Surface Effect is to envision a pelican skimming along just above the waves without flapping its wings. These sea-birds can cruise for hours in this manner, riding smoothly and efficiently on the naturally occurring air-cushion of Surface Effect.

Every airplane or sea-plane flight goes through Surface Effect twice per flight: once during take-off and again during landing. Pilots tell us that if they are not careful they will ‘run out of runway’ due to the extra lift experienced on approach for landing an airplane. History is replete with well-documented stories about how Surface Effect saved a severely damaged aircraft coming back from battle, or how it allowed a successful heavy take-off from a coastal runway.

Surface Effect makes the apparent wing-span larger than actual wing size by reflecting the wingtip vortex, creating tremendous additional lift and substantially reduced drag. This allows increased payload and reduced power requirements, compared to normal flight. See Figure 1: How Surface Effect Works.

Advanced WISE-Vessels are designed to easily take-off and land on water and they have wings capable of maintaining low altitude flight to exploit the Surface Effect benefits and provide high cruise speeds with efficiency, safety, and return for the operators. WISE-Vessels are also referred to as Wing-In-Ground Effect, WIGs, wingships, and Ekranoplans.



Besides reduced operating costs, the most significant difference between fast ferries and ultra-fast WISE-Ferries is the speed itself. Ultra-fast cruise speeds of 80 to 300 knots, depending on vessel size, will allow greater ranges for commercial operations. The major range-limiting factor for slower ferries is the time that passengers are willing to stay on a ferry.

By dramatically increasing the speed, thereby reducing the transit time for a given route, WISE-Ferries will revolutionize the marine transport market. Their speed can multiply the application routes that can be served in an acceptable time period. Figure 2: Ferry Vessel Relative Speed Ranges is a graphic representation of the differences in the performance speeds between conventional ferries (displacement ferry boats), fast ferries, and ultra-fast WISE-Ferries.

Conventional travel modes currently include some fast transportation vehicles and supporting facilities.

Land vehicles provide reasonably safe and economical transportation at speeds of up to 80+ mph that can service the below 100 mile range in 1-2 hours where roads and bridges have been built and traffic congestion is not a limiting factor.

Airliners provide reasonably safe and economical transportation if there are adequate airport facilities at both ends of the flight, although airliner travel below ~300 miles is generally not practical physically or economically and it is often very inconvenient to use.

Marine fast-ferries, even with increased speed, serve very few ferry routes over ~25 miles distance, primarily because of passenger discomfort, unacceptable travel time, and high operations expense.

Some 30 years ago, marine transport experts identified this ‘marine transport gap’ in a distance range of ~30 to ~300 nautical miles. As shown in Figure 3: Ferry Operations Feasibility Range, WISE-Ferries fill this ‘marine transport gap’ that lies beyond what conventional ferries and fast-ferries can readily service in a timely manner, and below the distance that airliners can conveniently or economically service. In many cases, there is no direct competition to WISE-Ferries where they are most applicable.

Very large WISE-Ferries have been designed and demonstrated that are fully capable of very long distance service, including trans-oceanic with heavy payload capacity, as much as 2,000 passengers or 500,000 pounds (226,000 kilograms) of cargo. Larger WISE-Ferries will be more stable and even more efficient because of momentum and ability to better utilize Surface Effect with their larger wing areas. The market may eventually demand enormous vessels, but for the immediate future there is a very attractive business in smaller-size and medium capacity ultra-fast ferries that will most probably be addressed first. In evaluating WISE-Ferries for application, capital cost and utilization should encourage operators to consider smaller-capacity vessels than fast ferries because of the increased speed and flexibility in providing additional service to meet demand with more trips instead of larger capacities.

For an important comparison of the relative costs of operations among these various marine-transportation and air-transportation vehicles, see Figure 4: Speed vs. Relative Drag, Power & Cost. This chart shows graphically the advantages of WISE-Ferries compared to conventional ferries, fast ferries, sea-planes, speed boats, and airplanes. It also highlights the advantages of the Hoverplane from Wingship, Inc., which has the lowest drag at any speed of any vessel. These figures are readily translated into operations costs for commercial ton-mile or passenger-mile and form a basis for vessel selection for ferry operators. Figure 5: Required Power for Different Transport Modes shows the relative efficiencies of several different vehicles on land, sea, and air.

There have been over 37 different operational WISE-Vessels developed, produced, and ‘flown’ by over 17 companies over the last 40 years. In early 1997, the first commercial order for twenty 8-seat WISE-Ferries was placed by a Russian city that is surrounded by lakes. The time is at hand for the commercialization of this technology. For those with access to the Internet, there is a substantial accumulation of information regarding WIG/WISE principles, vehicle designs, performance parameters, links to leading companies, etc. at the “WIG Page” Website located at http://www.io.tudelft.nl/~twaio/edwin/html30/index.htm.



WISE-Ferries have not yet been widely commercialized, but things are changing. The optimum materials required for this kind of vessel, high-strength, low-weight composites, were developed in the aerospace industry, are still relatively expensive, and have only recently been available in the marine industry. Micro-computer technology for design optimization, fabrication management, and automation of vessel operations to facilitate reliable and easy captain controls, are also a relatively recent cost-effective development.



Evaluations of the WISE-Vessels demonstrated so far identified the primary disadvantage to be the large amount of power required to overcome the vessel’s water drag prior to getting the vessel airborne. Most WISE-Vessels have enormous power requirements to generate the thrust needed to overcome this substantial water drag and to build enough speed for the wings to lift the vessel off the water. Several designers have used extra engines, much more than needed for Surface Effect ‘flight’, often with thrust-diverters to force ram-air under the front of the wings to try to reduce the wetted-surface-drag. Even with this approach, the take-off distance is quite long, and at very high power and fuel consumption.



The Hoverplane hybrid-WISE-Ferry developed by Wingship, Inc. has a better solution for efficient take-off. This patented breakthrough design incorporates a hovercraft-effect with a catamaran-hulled vessel to produce an air-cushion while on the water surface. Even at very low speeds, there is nothing in the water. By utilizing this hovercraft-assist during take-off, the water-drag is practically eliminated, the power requirements for take-off are radically reduced, and the take-off distance is much shorter. Further benefits while on the water include: very shallow draft allowing wider use in shallow water areas, superior maneuvering capabilities at low speeds in harbors, vessel beaching capability, and the ability to lower the vessel onto floating docks for very stable loading, unloading, and storage. See Figure 6: The Hoverplane WISE-Ferry and Figure 7: The Hoverplane WISE-Craft for artists illustrations showing the designs of these vehicles.

Wingship, Inc. develops, produces, licenses, and markets the Hoverplane advanced WISE-Vessels under their patented designs. The Company is now building a demonstration craft which incorporates their optimum-efficiency hybrid approach to commercializing these vehicles.



In early 1995, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), not aviation authorities, was selected as the regulating body for WISE-Vessels. Confirmation that these vehicles are classified, certified, and sold as marine vessels, and regulated by marine authorities, has brought acceleration in the WISE-Ferry development activity worldwide. There are still many specific regulation details to formulate successfully.



Wingship, Inc. has supported and enthusiastically joined a new professional association of WISE-Vessel industry companies, which was first proposed in a technical conference held in Sydney, Australia. This association of leading development and producer companies intends to be integrally involved with the formulation and adoption of regulations that will control the emerging industry. Because the IMO is represented by a local authority in each country, the Coast Guard in the USA, each participating company can work within their own agency to stand for the global industry organization and to consistently promote their common purpose.

In addition to creating and modifying the legislation code to be implemented, there is the strong need for the professional association to promote the technology advantages by strategic marketing and public education. One objective is to approach application niches for WISE-Vessels which do not displace existing modes of transportation too early. Another objective is to maintain absolute credibility with the media and the public. This organization has much promise and merits the support of all industry leaders.



These proven technologies will continue to advance allowing WISE-Ferries to improve with continued development and to realize their potential for global transportation solutions as long as there is sufficient venture investment and subsequent commerce to fund the companies bringing product to market. All of the business indications confirm that there is strong demand for the service these marine vehicles can provide. This is a sound forecast of attractive returns, both for those forward-thinking investors who participate in this emerging industry, and for the aggressive operators who will provide the superior transportation services in this expanding marketplace.

Wingships are indeed coming soon to the open water near you! Max Martin’s predictions are imminently becoming reality in this exciting arena of the ultra-fast WISE-Ferry industry. Join with us as we implement our individual, company, and industry visions to make this highly-advantageous, “ultimate fast vessel” truly become “commonplace!” It’s well underway to be a fantastic ride.



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“Wing in ground effect craft”, Ship & Boat International, 1995
“WIGs – No longer a flight of fancy?”, Fast Ferry International, May 1996
“Neither Fish Nor Fowl”, Flying, July 1994
Product Literature from Flarecraft Corporation
Product Literature from Botec Engenieuraezierat
Website links from The WIG Page at http://www.io.tudelft.nl/~twaio/edwin/html30/index.htm
“The Boat You Can Fly on Water”, Popular Science, January 1997