back to article Airbus commissions three wind-powered ships to sail the Atlantic

Airbus has decided to commission three ships powered, in part, by the wind. The plane-maker on Thursday revealed it has “commissioned shipowner Louis Dreyfus Armateurs to build, own and operate these new, highly efficient vessels that will enter into service from 2026.” The ships will have conventional engines that run on …

  1. KittenHuffer Silver badge
    Boffin

    What happened to .....

    ..... the previous Airbus experiment to use wind for the same thing?

    Did they decide the Flettner rotors was a better solution? The issue I can see with the rotors is that they produce thrust at right angles to the wind direction only. So for crossing the Atlantic (East-West or West-East) they would make best use of winds coming from the North or South.

    Kites can be flown within the available wind window (according to the wind direction) and can provide thrust at an angle either side of the wind direction.

    I would have thought that the two technologies could be fitted. Into a head wind neither would be of use, in a cross wind both could be used, and in a tail wind the kite could be used.

    By choosing your route to maximise trailing winds you should be able to get the most out of both technologies.

    1. Lurko

      Re: What happened to .....

      Who knows what happened. My guess is that it's all a load of greenwashing.

      Whilst the Flettner concept is very clever, I have to observe that the artists impression looks tremendously unstable, and vessel itself looks like a derivative of car carriers (which have a pretty poor record for capsizing even without gluing several hundred-feet tall tubes on the lid).

      1. Paul Kinsler

        Re: My guess is that it's all a load of greenwashing.

        On the other hand, my guess would be that they are trying a range of moderately promising things out, to see what works best; and inevitably some don't work out as well as they hoped.

      2. jmch Silver badge

        Re: What happened to .....

        " the artists impression looks tremendously unstable"

        These ships carry a lot of weight below the waterline and are much more stable than they look. The Flettner rotor pipes would basically be hollow tubes, I don't think they would weigh much compared to the rest of the ship.

        1. Marty McFly Silver badge

          Re: What happened to .....

          It is not the weight, it is the thrust causing the propulsion. It is one big lever from the top of the rotor pipe to the water line where the friction occurs. I cannot believe such a ship would be functional without some noticeable measure of heel over.

      3. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: What happened to .....

        The car-carriers (the Ro-Ro roll on, roll over) variant is quite susceptible to taking water when the nose breaks off - which then sloshes around in the car deck, leading to listing and the ship keeling over.

        1. Lurko

          Re: What happened to .....

          I recall doing free surface liquid tests on model hulls in the naval architecture department of Portsmouth Poly (as was), but I wasn't so much thinking ro-ro, but proper car carriers, things like the Golden Ray, Modern Express, Hoegh Osaka, Al Salmy 6, DYFI Pacific, Cougar Ace, and a good few more.

          There's something inherent in the design of these ships, and whilst they can be sailed safely, they do appear unduly prone to capsizing - and I suspect it's both free surface liquid when things have started to go wrong, but also the relatively low density of their cargo. That means you can't shove all the weight low down in the ship, and explains the very boxy design. Even more so than most other vessels, ballasting and stability management are critical. I suspect that's probably going to be the same for large aircraft assemblies, hence the similar visual appearance.

          This wouldn't be the first modern Flettner rotor vessel, as E-ship 1 has been around for ten years or so and hasn't sunk, but regardless I wouldn't want to be on one of these proposed vessels in any sort of heavy weather. And the route from St Nazaire to Mobile offers plenty of exposure to the worst of the North Atlantic, as well as to tropical storms and hurricanes.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What happened to .....

        Who should I believe? Some rando on the internet, or a company that uses the air (and propulsion, of course) as a business?

        1. Lurko

          Re: What happened to .....

          "Who should I believe? Some rando on the internet, or a company that uses the air (and propulsion, of course) as a business?"

          You believe who you want, and if because essentially Airbus are big company you want to assume they make no mis-steps, then you feel free. Different opinions are what discussion forums are for.

          As for "they know about air" that's not been sufficient to stop just about every major airframe or engine maker having to be kept afloat at some point through state support. Boeing "know about air" and that didn't stop the lemon of the 737 Max killing people. McDonnell Douglas - 'nuff said. An airline's just gone bust because of the P&W engine problems of the A320neo, there's a range of complaints from different airlines about Airbus paint problems (which are rather more serious on an aircraft than on your car), etc etc.

          So maybe being a big company, and being usually good at making airframes or engines doesn't mean they're blessed with omniscience, but if you think they are then go ahead.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: What happened to .....

            "Who should I believe?

            Some rando on the internet, or a company that generates renders for press releases of projects that will never materialise beyond an annual report and the first search for "Airbus + environment"

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: What happened to .....

          Yet I would not be surprised if you believed some rando on social media who were exposing “the truth” or some “conspiracy”…

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What happened to .....

      "By choosing your route to maximise trailing winds you should be able to get the most out of both technologies."

      A couple of years ago we visited the Cutty Sark in London and it was fascinating tryinng out a "simulator" to follow the route it used to take to make the fastest journey from China to the UK - down round Australia to the southern ocean, round Cape Horn then up the eastern side of the south atlantic, crossing over to the western side of the north atlantic till it picked up the trade winds along the gulf stream - this was several days faster than what appeared to be more direct an shorter routes!

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: What happened to .....

        However, these ships will have diesel engines to provide power as well as the juice provided by the rotor sails, so they won't slow down by taking a shorter and more direct route. They'll just burn more fuel doing it.

        At which point you need to calculate if the cost saving of the more fuel efficient route is worth the cost of the wages of the people taking some weeks longer to get to the destination. It's not a new issue, if you have a look at SS Great Britain you'll note the presence of both sails and steam engines and pretty much the same issues existed back then.

        1. Lurko

          Re: What happened to .....

          " It's not a new issue, if you have a look at SS Great Britain you'll note the presence of both sails and steam engines and pretty much the same issues existed back then."

          Fabulous ship, fabulous innovation, although perhaps the people behind Airbus' plans might like to note that the Great Britain was never really profitable for her owners in her intended capacity. If I were Airbus, I'd spend my innovation budget on improving aircraft efficiency, because that will have a far better return than the SS Greenwash and counterparts.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: What happened to .....

            If I were Airbus, I'd spend my innovation budget on bribingincentivizing US politicians so I didn't have to build planes in Alabama to get them accepted in USA

            1. Lurko

              Re: What happened to .....

              Boeing know the system of rent-a-congressman far better than Airbus, and they're on home ground, so any attempt by Airbus to buy those sort of favours would be doomed to ultimate failure. That's why BMW build cars in the US, why the Rolls Royce Deutschland engines that will be used to re-engine the B52 fleet will be built in the US.

              1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                Re: What happened to .....

                And why Airbus got to buy the Bombardier competitor to the 737 for $1 after Boeing got it banned from the USA

    3. Xalran

      Re: What happened to .....

      It's gone commercial, even if Airbus wasn't involved in it.

      https://beyond-the-sea.com/en/

      I saw a news that the first ship just did it's first Atlantic crossing a few weeks ago...

    4. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: What happened to .....

      Would have r him ought some investment in cargo Airships would have been more up their alley, and useful for the future.

  2. AbnormalChunks

    BelugaXL

    The new BelugaXLs are in service, we regularly see them going over on their way to the Airbus UK factory near Chester. Airbus aren't binning off the older models either. They've been spun off to a new outsize cargo airline carter business as they've got comparatively low airframe hours for their age. Airbus are certificating the XLs for ETOPS so they'll be able to fly from Europe to the US as well.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: BelugaXL

      Perhaps Airbus should buy out АНТОНОВ (HQ: Kyle, Ukraine, and produce a version of the An-225, either using the incomplete set of parts Ahtohub have for a second An-225, or a new version based on an Airbus airframe.

    2. Random person

      Re: BelugaXL

      These ships are intended to transport airframes from France to Mobile Alabama the distance from Toulouse to Mobile Alabama is 7,672 km on a great circle route.

      "With a maximum payload of 51 tonnes, the BelugaXL has a range of 4,000 km (2,200 nm)." - https://aircraft.airbus.com/en/aircraft/freighters/belugaxl

      Your suggestion would require almost doubling the range of the BelugaXL

  3. jmch Silver badge
    Boffin

    Lift??

    "Magnus effect – a phenomenon that produces lift thanks to pressure differences on either side of a rotating object"

    The use of 'lift' in that sentence is a bit confusing since AFAIK lift is used to describe a vertical upward force. At first read I understood that somehow the force was to lift the ship out of the water to reduce drag. As I understand it with a quick googling (Hadn't heard about Magnus effect before), it produces a force that is perpendicular to both the airflow across it and the axis of rotation, so in the sentence quoted it would make more sense to use 'force' rather than 'lift'.

    Also, something I find odd... having the Flettner Rotors mounted vertically would produce motion in a horizontal plane perpendicular to the wind. So if the wind is coming directly from the left or the right would produce forward / backward motion depending on spin direction of the rotors. But that also means that there is zero force applied if the wind is directly from behind. Why not simply use a conventional sail that can generate forward motion from a larger range of wind angles?

    1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Re: Lift??

      Interesting research here https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/sailing-into-headwinds-using-transverse-axis-magnus-rotor

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lift??

      Why not simply use a conventional sail that can generate forward motion from a larger range of wind angles?

      This is a "simple" sailing rig. There are three masts.

      https://classicsailor.com/2019/11/the-fully-rigged-ship/

      Imagine that we take the foremast from that ship and transplant it to a modern container ship. Simply, if the wind is coming in at a 90 degree angle then nothing would happen other than pushing the ship in that direction.

      The sailing ship generates forward motion by the wind hitting the triangular sails hung between the masts which deflects some of the wind into the square sails which pushes the ship forwards despite going at right angles to the incoming wind direction. That's oversimplifying to the point of sailors will be getting pitchforks, but as far as lubbers are concerned it's a good enough explanation.

      If your wondering why you don't add those masts, then look at how high the masts are relative to the hull. That's about the size difference required for the tonnage of that sailing ship. Scaling it up is just impossible, and even if if it were possible you'd also be preventing the ship from carrying a deck cargo, and the sails and masts would be in the way for unloading. Additionally, a conventionally engined freighter would literally be there, back and on the way there again before you got there in the first place.

      If you think i'm joking or wrong then look up the Cutty Sark [sailing ship record breaking] sailing times from Shanghai to the UK (the record was a 107 days), and then look up a quote for a modern shipping container to go from Felixstowe to Shanghai. (42-53 days). Cutty Sark was fast because she was a thousand ton ship designed to be, sails added to a quarter million ton freighter is not going to match Cutty Sark's sailing performance so the sailing speed would be far worse.

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: Lift??

        One of the issues with sails and vertical rotors has been cited as the potential to capsize in strong winds. Given that sideload is directly related to both drag and power being extracted from the wind, one could question the overall efficiency of these Magnus-based systems. I would like to see modern (probably solid) sail versus vertical rotor versus Magnus system direct energy comparisons with similar sideloads ... most I see are "here is our boat with our system fitted which does xyz knots" examples, no like for like comparisons.

        There were three things against wind powered "square riggers" - lack of wind, being unable to sail close to the wind and the requirement for lots of sailors to "splice the main brace, oh arr!". The first makes engines a commercial necessity. The second is much better now due to sail design. The third could probably be fully automated with solid sail structures and a "talk like a pirate" app. All I need now is a couple of transport vessels and wads of cash to build a prototype.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Lift??

          >”The third could probably be fully automated with solid sail structures and a "talk like a pirate" app”

          If you can weave AI and possibly blockchain into it, there will probably be a queue of investors…

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Lift??

        But this ship is designed to carry a bunch of massive aerofoil 'sails'

        Simply mount the A320 wings vertically on deck on turntables and zoom across like an America Cup yacht

        1. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C
          Trollface

          Re: Lift??

          I know you didn't use the </sarc> coz it's sort of implied by being a commentard but...

          I'd love to know what the reduction in life expectancy would be for exposing aero wings to a marine (salt) environment for the week plus of an Atlantic crossing would be

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: Lift??

        You've missed the point that a square rigger's sail mechanics bear little resemblance to a modern sail which aren't "pushed" by the air pressure, instead they inflate and act like a wing to generate lift (forward thrust in this case).

      4. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Re: Lift??

        How many miniature "fully figged ships" do you see entered in the Americas Cup Races? There might just be better designs for sailing ships in the 21s century.

  4. Maximus Decimus Meridius
    Joke

    Armateurs?

    I rather have them designed and operated by professionals.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Armateurs?

      Had to read this trice, too.

    2. John Robson Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Armateurs?

      Like the Titanic, as opposed to the Ark?

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Armateurs?

      According to P&O, professionals are far too expensive…

  5. KarMann Silver badge
    Pirate

    The ships will most often travel from Saint-Nazaire, France, to an A320 assembly line in Mobile, Alabama.
    I'd rather hope that they'd travel just as often from Mobile to Saint-Nazaire, unless The Editors have something untoward planned for these ships.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Which does highlight the challenge of asymmetric trade. The majority of purpose specific freight ships end up empty or near empty on return voyages, so the cost and emissions per revenue mile are almost double those per ship mile.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        They just have to find a cargo for the return trip,

        something produced in Alabama that is in demand in France.

        1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
          Trollface

          "something produced in Alabama that is in demand in France"

          Pork rinds, methamphetamines, and racism?

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            You can't get meth in France ?

            1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
              IT Angle

              No idea if meth is made in France. Racism definitely is, but maybe they'll go for that special imported flavor, just like cigarettes.

  6. ScissorHands

    Is the Turbosail used on Jacques Cousteau's Alcyone too complicated? It looks a lot more efficient than these rotors, and it's French!

    1. Lars Silver badge
      Happy

      @ScissorHands

      "the Turbosail used on Jacques Cousteau's Alcyone"

      Is exactly the same Flettner sail or Rotor sail we write about here.

      I suppose they called it super sail to make it more selling and it seems to have worked with you quite well.

      https://www.cousteau.org/legacy/vessels/alcyone/

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotor_ship

      1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        The Turbosail is not a Flettner rotor. Both need wind to work, but the Flettner rotor is a rotating cylinder that works with the Magnus effect. And Cousteau's turbosail is an aerofoil (basically a solid sail) which has assisted pressure reduction on the suction surface to increase its efficiency.

  7. Randy Hudson

    If only there were some other way to get an airplane from Europe to North America...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Unfortunately then you would have to take it apart and assemble it in Alabama for Americans to buy it

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        That would be quicker though.

        Take the wings off, swap them with another airframe and then fit out the cabin.

        Would that count as enough final assembly for US politicians?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Or just remove the seats = The infamous Chicken Tax

  8. bertkaye

    the wonders of modern technology

    So, if you turned the rotors sideways, you can make the ship fly, harvest seagulls, depants Aquaman, and process herring filets.

    I am all in for this advanced concept.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Still Filthy Diesels

    Is it a coincidence that this majority French-owned company is using polluting diesel engines to prolong the life of their technology now most of the French (and German) car companies are having to abandon diesels?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Still Filthy Diesels

      Diesel engine in car < EV (assuming your power grid isn't all coal)

      2 stroke diesel engine in ship > bunker oil

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Still Filthy Diesels

        Almost anything is better than bunker oil

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Still Filthy Diesels

      Well given we intend to stop using diesel in cars, yet still want all the other products from oil, there is going to be a rather large amount of diesel looking for a market. The only question is what better and less pollution uses can bunker oil be found for bunker oil.

  10. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Only politics

    ... could make somebody work on a project like they so a large sub-assembly can be shipped around the world rather than produced adjacent to where it will be assembled into a finished aircraft. It's no problem to make bits and bobs that fit 20,000 to the container that get shipped in, but a fuselage? Bonkers. The whole aerospace sector does so much of this to be able to buy politicians that it's obscene.

  11. anothercynic Silver badge

    Just FYI for Simon et al

    The Beluga based on the A330 isn't 'planned'. It's already in service. It's called the BelugaXL.

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