Wigetworks has invested much resources into the R&D of ground effect technology. Since 2010, active researchers from the company have tied up with the Mechanical Engineering Department of the National University of Singapore to work on several fundamental and hitherto poorly understood areas of ground effect and the WIG technology. In total, more than a dozen professors and researchers had been involved over a span of 6 years. Three key areas were specifically looked at.
The aerodynamics of ground effect flow and the flight dynamics/stability of WIGs were studied in depth, from an analytical modelling framework, supported by rigorous computational fluid dynamics (CFD) computation using state-of-the-art software. Some limited experimental effort has also been attempted. This research uncovered a significant amount of myth and misconception existing in the sketchy WIG literature and paved the way for a systematic evaluation and design for the improved stability and efficiency of WIG vehicles.
The holy grail of WIG research actually lies more on the hydrodynamic side of things. In particular, the significantly large hump drag present in any high speed planing hull is an impediment to the take-off ability of WIGs. Again, a fundamental approach was adopted, along with semi-empirical modelling, with massive CFD efforts expanded due to the unsteady nature of the flow. The numerical models are confirmed by a series of tow tank tests carried at the Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey. This research has led to marked improvement in the design of hull and sponson geometry that reduces the hump drag significantly. As a result, much dead weight can be avoided, resulting in higher payload. Hydrodynamic stability has also been carefully studied.
Structural integrity is an extremely important aspect of WIGs due to the high impact loading during take-off, landing and wing-tip strikes. Clearly, such an integrity requirement conflicts with weight penalty and as such must be carefully managed and optimized. Our choice of material is that of fibre-reinforced plastic, which has become increasingly popular in the aerospace and maritime industries, albeit it is still not very well understood as compared to that of metal. Its anisotropic structural property makes it trickier to analyse and calculate, and there are more failure criteria to consider. Rigorous finite element analyses were applied to the various main structural components of a WIG, with the ultimate objective of empty weight optimization while satisfying the many structural integrity constraints. Some aspects of aeroelasticity are also examined.
Choice of propulsion systems is another area that was studied in some detail. Other minor practical aspects of WIGs engineering, such as avionics, control systems, ergonomics have also been attended to. Wigetworks is adamant that an extensive R&D effort is imperative to satisfy our customers and to maintain the pole position in the nascent WIG industry.