Why Hydrofoils Never Became Popular

Hydrofoil technology has been used on passenger boats for many decades. However, despite the popularity of seaplanes over the years, it never took off in this industry. Here is a look at why this is the case.

Could there be a future for hydrofoils in the aviation industry? Photo: LISA Airplanes

Behind the process

Hydrofoil boats incorporate the use of hydrofoil to help them propel much faster on the surface. These units have a hull that is fitted underneath with shaped foils, which lift the hull clear of the water at speed.

There have been a handful of engineers that experimented with this technology on seaplanes over the years. However, none really fulfilled their mission.

When it comes to aircraft, a hydrofoil is a wing that would only effectively work while on water. However, all seaplanes already have wings that work while either on water or in the air. Therefore, it may not be so efficient as seaplanes spend most of the time in the air rather than taking off. It is the latter where hydrofoils would actually assist. Regardless, there are technical challenges when it comes to fulfilling the potential with hydrofoils.

Seaplanes are useful in several areas, such as remote islands. Photo: Getty Images

It’s not too late

There are companies that are providing modern solutions to aircraft with hydrofoil technology. Notably, LISA Airplanes have been highlighting the implementation of “Seafoils” with its AKOYA concept.

The firm is looking to place “ailerons” with the vehicle’s fuselage. These have a similar profile to the wing of an airplane and are also supported by the water to raise the fuselage. The procedure precisely involves eliminating the suction effect of the water on the material by producing lift due to the flow of the liquid over these wings as the aircraft increases its speed.

Altogether, this process means that the plane can be made without the traditional hull shape of amphibious models. Despite being relatively effective on the water’s surface, these standard units generate drag in flight, which negatively impacts the aircraft’s operations.

Flying boats were often the most effective type of aircraft during the first half of the 20th century. Photo: Getty

Ambitious projects

According to LISA Airplanes, Benoit Senellart, the CEO of the company, summarized the prospect of the project. He said that if boats can fly, there’s no reason why a plane cannot do the same the other way round.

Additionally, the company summarized its efforts with the following:

“The “Seafoils” are an excellent example of this LISA precept. On the racing boats, the hydrofoils are mobile and require complex maneuvers. LISA wished to eradicate difficult flight operations and opted for a configuration of fixed foils in an inverted “V.” This self-stabilizing configuration, which requires no maneuvers, was ideal for aviation applications, but unfortunately had never been tested.”

LISA Airplanes
LISA Airplanes are addressing the challenges of hydrofoils when it comes to aviation. Photo: LISA Airplanes

Altogether, we could be seeing modern hydrofoil aircraft across the seas. The upscaling of hydrofoils may not have been a priority for airlines and manufacturers in recent history due to the popularity of aircraft that take off on land rather than sea. However, there are some markets, such as island services, that could make fair use of this technology on their flying boats.

What are your thoughts about hydrofoils? Why do you think they didn’t become as popular as expected? Let us know what you think of them in the comment section.