Helium-filled planes take off.

New Scientist rises swiftly to break the news of hybrid aircraft that combine helicopters, planes, hovercrafts and blimps:

The peculiar aircraft is currently undergoing feasibility tests in the European Commission’s Extremely Short Take Off and Landing On any Surface (ESTOLAS) project.

Led by Alexander Gamaleyev at Riga Technical University in Latvia and Dimitris Drikakis at Cranfield University in the UK, the research team envisage a squat, propeller-powered aircraft made of ultralight carbon fibre. But instead of an airplane’s usual long, thin fuselage it will have a bloated central void that can be filled with helium gas to make the aircraft lighter.

In addition, the entire body of the plane will be wing-shaped, to provide extra lift while in motion. This means that it can take off and land at lower speed than a normal aircraft of similar size – and so use shorter runways, says Gamaleyev. And the void space can hold cargo as well as helium.

A horizontal rotor that sits on the underside of the plane can either spin to lift the vehicle, or be thrown in reverse to pull it down. The plane can even be converted into a hovercraft when on the ground, says Gamaleyev, by capturing the propeller wash in a skirt.

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