As the all-electric revolution takes hold in the aviation industry, Seagliders are the next form of transport with an eye to a future zero-carbon world, reports

U.S-based Regent are looking to construct flying boats of yonder, but with a twist which includes a green-friendly powertrain and a new name, Seagliders, offering the public fast, low-altitude flights in coastal communities like the Hawaiian Islands. Billy Thalheimer, co-Founder and CEO of Seaglider startup, Regent Craft, enthused, “It’s a space race all over again.”

Thalheimer co-Founded Regent, alongside Mike Klinker, after years spent as an aerospace program manager, business development leader and engineer that included working at Aurora Flight Sciences. He is experienced in leading all aspects of aircraft development from napkin sketches to detailed performance analysis and production, culminating in flight test and operations.

Billy Thalheimer

His experience also includes employment as an air vehicle conceptual design engineer, leading sizing and performance modelling for Boeing’s electric air taxi.

Thalheimer holds a BS and MS from MIT’s aerospace engineering program and continues to hold close relationships with this community. As a passionate aerospace nerd (his words), he spends free-time competing as an aerobatic pilot and participating in student outreach events.

In a nutshell, Thalheimer is a serious player.

Interview with Regent Founders, Billy Thalheimer and Mike Klinker:

Founded in December, 2020, Regent has already attracted Hawaiian carrier Mokulele Airlines and investment firm Pacific Current to create a Seaglider network in Hawaii.

The service is expected to begin by 2025 with a fleet of 12-passenger Viceroy Seagliders that will fly like pelicans, about 10 to 30 feet over the water, at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour. There is even talk of constructing a 100 seat version by 2028. The aim is to offer a cheaper, faster, cleaner alternative to existing ferries and regional air services.

The Seagliders are designed to operate in what’s called “ground effect.” This means when an aircraft flies close to land (or water), it experiences less drag and more lift.

Aircraft designers have experimented with “wing-in-ground” (WIG) effect vehicles for decades (the former Soviet Union’s Ekranoplan and Boeing’s Pelican concept were two examples), but the technology has been difficult to master in rough seas.

“New technical innovations will allow vehicles to glide more smoothly across the waves and make the technology more feasible,” continued Thalheimer.

Its retractable hydrofoils, for example, lift Regent’s aircraft out of the water to navigate the harbour on takeoff. Then a series of small propellers on the wings provides the lift for slow-speed takeoffs over a short distance.

This so-called “blown wing technology” is also incorporated into the design of new aircraft being developed by companies like Even DARPA, the Pentagon’s premiere research agency, is working on a WIG seaplane design to potentially replace the giant C-17 Globemaster cargo plane.

“While the Seaglider flies at low altitudes,”, said Thalheimer, “They’re expected to be regulated by maritime authorities, which may mean an easier path to commercialisation.”

He explains that operating the Seaglider is more like driving a boat than piloting an aircraft where its digital controls manage stability, altitude and the transitions between modes in and above the water.

Regent’s initial 12-passenger plane called Viceroy, will have a range of around 180 miles, based on existing technology, but as batteries improve, it’s expected future craft could go as far as 500 miles.

Another usage could be for coastguards around the world, replacing the present helicopters, or even military purposes like picking up pilots from downed aircraft.

While, Thalheimer has attracted USD28 million investment funding to date, more is required to bring the initial napkin sketch to actual commercial production. Regent is planning a full-scale prototype of the Seaglider by the end of 2023.

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(pics: Regent)