Under development for about eight years, Cessna has now announced that it’s designing a plane that can float on water — and could possibly be in the air in 2022.
When airplanes used to cruise at 400 or 500 miles per hour, they were much more effective at crossing oceans than anything else. And during that time — back in the 1940s — only a small section of the hull was fixed on land.
But technology has progressed, and today’s airliners (most, at least) run to a mass of 20,000 pounds. And as it turns out, a large part of that weight is actually the machinery below. Most of the things needed to keep the plane operating while in flight need to stay tethered to the aircraft while it’s in the air, and are buried in the sea, tethering the plane to the ground.
Compare the lightweight design of today’s aircraft with that of the World War II era, and it’s clear why the weight of those devices needs to be under control. The result is that very few of the devices on the ship are adapted from their traditional water-based original, like lubricating fluid and internal fittings. There’s a problem with that, too: Everything is located in the water, and without a big enough surface area to absorb ocean water, it either is hard to stay afloat or doesn’t work at all.
The Cessna X3 aircraft is designed to buck the trend — it has all of the same parts as the land-based aircraft, including the new wing and the engines. But it has sea-age air intake, wings and a winglet that hangs off of the undercarriage of the plane.
Instead of being hydraulically powered, this new plane uses its own propulsion, with four propellers attached to vertical shafts that shoot out of its nacelles. These pitch out at nearly the same angle as a propeller, so that they radiate 150 times as much energy as the primary wing is capable of producing.
Cessna says that it’s in the “stealth mode” with this aircraft, so that it cannot be displayed in pictures at this time. But the company did unveil a prototype of the thing at Reno AirFest in 2014, and shown below you can see that it has a little pickup-and-go method of moving across the water — and that it can likely run for up to 5,000 miles on each tank of fuel.