Image of yellow seaplane

Electric flying boat aims to transform Norweigan commute

Image credit: SINTEF

The small electric seaplane designed by a Norwegian company is currently undergoing tests, with the aim of transforming passenger travelling.

Forget flying taxis and electric cars. Norway is instead betting on flying boats.

The seaplane - currently being tested in the towing tank at SINTEF, a Norweigan independent research organisation - is expected to be able to take off from Norway's Trondheim Fjord or Flesland Airport in Bergen and land in the Geiranger Fjord one hour later.

The plane has been designed by Norwegian startup Elfly, whose vision is to make electric flight available for passenger traffic as soon as possible. The project is a collaboration between Elfly, SINTEF, NTNU, Norwegian, OSM Aviation and Norsk Titan. It has also received financial support from the Research Council of Norway, with a view to getting a full-scale prototype in the air within the next three years.

“This will be a kind of battery-powered flying boat,” said Eric Lithun, CEO of Elfly. “The goal is to be able to provide flexible mobility in Norway, with zero emissions and significantly reduced noise pollution, and also develop new, sustainable business models.”

Yellow flying boat seen from the front

Yellow flying boat /SINTEF

Image credit: SINTEF

The seaplane design is inspired by a boat, with the most important part being the hull, which allows the aircraft to take off using little power. To allow it to fly, the propellers above the wings initially push the bow of the hull downwards in the water, before the plane gradually lifts as it gains speed.

The team is now testing a model of the hull to discover the optimal shape that will facilitate this process. 

“The challenge is to find the ultimate combination of aerodynamics and hydrodynamics,” said Kourosh Koushan, a SINTEF research scientist. "We are talking about zero-emission and an electric motor that only creates a faint buzzing sound."

The team is testing the hull by towing it at different angles and assessing how this affects the water resistance. The researchers can then use the resulting data to produce a simulation of the take-off phase and later compare the results to propose improvements to the hull. Elfly Group has now reached version four of the hull.

“This is a painstaking process of measurement that will result in new versions of the hull,” said Lithun.

If Elfy is successful, the aircraft of the future will be electric, environmentally friendly, quieter and able to fly shorter routes and from a larger number of locations. It will take off from and land on water, but will also have wheels, enabling it to operate from airfields.

Flying boat being towed

Flying boat being towed /SINTEF

Image credit: SINTEF

In Lithun’s opinion, the reason why seaplanes are not already widespread is that existing aircraft use internal combustion engines that suck in oxygen and saltwater, corroding the engine.

“This leads to sky-high maintenance costs in operation,” he said. “Changing to electric power eliminates this problem”.

The team plans to use the same plug already in use for electric boats, which is also the plug used for electric cars in the EU. Once completed, the seaplane will have room for nine passengers and be capable of flying 200km at 250km/h.

Eventually, Elfly itself will offer flights in the same way as other commercial operators, only with much shorter routes. The flight time from Bergen to Stavanger could last just 40 minutes, compared with four to the five hours it currently takes to make the journey by car.

“The goal is to have 15 or 20 aircraft in the air by 2030,” Lithun said. “My dream is that a person in New York can book a journey on a regular flight to Bergen in Norway and then travel on with our plane directly to Geiranger, further to Odda to see Trolltunga, followed by a quick trip to Lysefjorden and Prekestolen before landing at Sola Airport, Stavanger, to board a flight back to New York.”

In addition to passenger flights, the seaplanes may also be used for goods transport, ambulance services and premium flights, for which the entire aircraft could be chartered.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles