The Mobula is a jaw-dropping proposal for a massive, luxury
transport vehicle which blurs the line between a cruise
ship and a passenger aircraft.
The Mobula was designed by Chris Cooke, a 2009 graduate
of Coventry University's transport design program. The
concept was developed as his final year project.
During the research phase of the project Cooke looked
to nature for inspiration. And in fact the vehicle's name
is taken from a particular species of ray which can launch
itself out of the water several meters.
The basic premise for the Mobula is a phenomenon called
ground effect. Ground effect describes the rise in aerodynamic
lift and reduction in drag which occurs when an aircraft
flies in close proximity to the ground. The Mobula exploits
the high-lift, low-drag aspects of ground effect by safely
flying close to the surface of the sea. This transition
allows for a high top speed, large interior space, and
far more efficient fuel usage.
Vehicles like the Mobula go by several different names
and acronyms including; GEV (ground effect vehicle), WIG
(wing-in-ground-effect), flarecraft and sea-skimmer. But
perhaps the best known name is ekranoplan. Ekranoplans
have been in development since the cold war, and both
the USSR and US military's produced a number of vehicles
for both testing and potential deployment. Unfortunately,
despite the huge benefits offered by ekranoplans they
remain an unusual form of transport, and only a small
number of civilian and military ekranoplans are currently
in service. However the recent drive towards more environmentally
friendly modes of transport could help fuel ekranoplan
development in the future.
The exterior design of the Mobula was developed through
the notion of pure form and enters the realm of bio-design
- which lends itself perfectly to aerodynamic form. The
wing was developed in a wind tunnel to create the most
efficient shape for low altitude flying. The winglets
(flicked up area on each end of the wing) are smooth and
mimic a rays progression through the water, whilst
also increasing the wings overall efficiency. The windows
which run parallel to the ground and curve around the
rear of the vehicle are designed to mimic the appearance
of the rays gills. Located on the leading edge of the
wing is the cockpit to allow for maximum visibility.
When creating the Mobula, Cooke was careful not to just
draw a pretty shape. He spent much time working out the
practicalities of such an unusual vehicle and just how
it could operate. Every aspect of the design has been
taken into consideration including the 4 exterior hulls
that enable mobulas huge payload to gently float
on the surface of the water. When in the water the hulls
expand to match the weight of the craft, and deflate during
flight to minimise drag. Hydrofoils are deployed from
the bottom of the hulls during takeoff to minimise drag.
The interior of the Mobula has been configured to allow
for 1000 passengers based over 5 decks and in three separate
classes. The seating encourages comfort on long journeys
and incorporates a suspension system as seen in some trucks
to maximise passenger comfort during turbulence. Other
features include drink and snack vending in-between seats
during flights, TVs, in-chair storage and under
floor footrests to enable flatbed posture.
While the Mobula is a radical, futuristic and advanced
concept in terms of its design and the theory's behind
it, sadly its extreme complexity and the sheer cost of
developing the vehicle through to production mean that
it is almost guaranteed to remain a concept. However it
is great to see that professional designers are looking
to unique and alternative forms of transport to help solve
some of the worlds energy problems. And if similar vehicles
where in the future to provide regular, scheduled transport
back-and-forth across the the worlds oceans it would be
one of the most significant changes to mass transport
since the commercial jetliner.