‘Seaglider’ Concept Takes On Over-Water Travel Challenge, With a Twist


Regent, a New England-based company formed a few years ago by a pair of MIT graduates and aeronautical-industry refugees, is challenging conventions involving airplanes and high-speed boats. Can a winged vehicle capable of leaving the surface of the water still be classed as a watercraft and not an airplane? And what does that difference mean for its future prospects?

Regent self-describes as “the company pioneering electric seagliders for sustainable maritime transportation.” So, what exactly is a seaglider? How is it different from a hydrofoil, whose hull rises from the surface of the water onto thin lifting vanes attached to the underside?

A seaglider is a “wing-in-ground effect” vehicle, or “WIG,” according to Regent co-founder and CEO Billy Thalheimer. It takes the concept of a hydrofoil a step further (so to speak). Though it does have vanes and is designed to also operate as a hydrofoil at times, Regent’s electric-powered seaglider uses a gull-shaped high wing to lift the hull completely off the surface, but never higher than its wingspan. Using that cushion of air well known to pilots, the craft can attain speeds up to 160 knots and has a range of up to 160 statute miles—expected to expand to as far as 500 miles with improvements in battery technology. The current business plan calls for short-range, dock-to-dock service between cities a few hundred miles apart, such as Boston and New York, or Los Angeles and San Francisco. The company projects other possible maritime markets, including the Caribbean, Hawaii and the English Channel.

In 2021, Thalheimer and co-founder Mike Klinker published an engineering white paper titled “Opportunities for Electric Seagliders in the Future Sustainable Transportation Ecosystem.” Regent has since attracted interest from investors and business partners including Lockheed Martin, Japan Airlines, Mesa Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Mark Cuban Companies, among many others. The company claims $8 billion in preorders (albeit: terms not disclosed) for up to 500 seagliders.

Last September, Regent successfully test-flew a quarter-scale proof of concept pilotless prototype. This April, it revealed a full-size mockup of its proposed 12-passenger Viceroy model. That version is scheduled for manned flight next year, with service entry to follow “shortly.” Ultimate plans call for a 100-passenger version.

What might be its best attribute from the business perspective of developmental cost is the fact that a seaglider, billed as half the cost of an airplane, but six times as fast as a conventional ferry, never climbs out of ground effect, and is designed to travel exclusively over water. One of the greatest safety challenges of electric airplanes—running out of juice with nowhere to land—is not nearly as much of a hazard with a seaglider.

Thalheimer pointed out, “This is not aviation. Maritime captains will be in the cockpit. We’re being put through an extremely rigorous certification process. It just happens to be by the Coast Guard.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. Seglider is not a glider at all, but a new name is required for an old idea. The Ekranoplan was designed by Rostislav Alexeyev neayly 50 years ago…

  2. Seas are always calm in powerpoint and losing power into the back of a swell may not be as benign as hoped, kind of like thinking its better to lose power in a boat near shore in/near surf…call them “breakers” for a reason. Erosion/corrosion happens at lot faster at 6x speed and in aluminum vs steel in constant spray, much less slapping a rogue wavetop. Loading/unloading/beaching also a lot harder on aero structures than steel hulls when wave action has everything moving independently and the catering boat prangs the hull.

    Another opportunity to make a small fortune in aviation (out of a large one)…

  3. Remember when pressurization was thought to be an advantage allowing airliners to fly above the weather?

  4. “Thalheimer pointed out, “This is not aviation. Maritime captains will be in the cockpit”

    Hardly, it has wings and aircraft type controls, it’s an aircraft. Crop dusters don’t get very high either, but they’re airplanes too.
    FAA will make this clear.

  5. A solution looking for a problem. Best of luck with their Go-Fund-Me page. Honestly . . . I do love the dreamers.

  6. Sadly, there is one remaining hovercraft ferry in the world. The Portsmouth-to-Isle of Wight crossing is in relatively protected waters, the tidal flats make boats impractical, and there is sufficient demand for multiple daily crossings. One big advantage of a hovercraft is that it has a wide speed range by virtue of its contained air cushion, which a WIG does not.

    How is a seaglider any different from an underpowered ICON?

  7. International Maritime Organization (IMO) governs the space WIG craft operate in, IIRC 150 meters is the line between IMO and ICAO rules. There have been many attempts to commercialize WIG craft with several prototypes reaching the flying stage, however none have ever made it to production and in-service use. The technical data suggests WIG is only practical (maximum efficiency) at a very large scale. The commercial service problem is you will never get a maritime classification society, like DNV or Lloyds, to approve a WIG craft that carries 300-400 passengers, where WIG craft become economically feasible to operate. Without a classification society approval, you cannot get insurance for passenger operations. Don’t forget to add in the operating environment when you have Sea State 5-6 (3-6 meter seas) and high winds to deal with, it will not be a fun ride.

    It seems all you have to do is add “hybrid-electric” to something to get a lot of fools to rush in with lots of dollars. Regent has no secret sauce to make WIG successful where many have already failed. If anything, the power density penalty of hybrid electric vs a straight SAF fueled turboprop WIG makes it less likely to succeed. The Boeing Phantom Work’s Pelican WIG is an interesting example of something that might actually work.

  8. Almost anything can be made to work with the right mix of determination and practicality. The obvious potential of the WIG concept has never been fully explored IMO. I suspect it needs to be more of a cross between a Grumman Goose and landing barge with lower speed expectations to be successful.

  9. While there are some drag advantages, this is just more wasted funds. WIG works best at a chord or less above the sea, which in practice means anything that weight less than thousands of tonnes is unlike to be capable of blue water crossings. Should they actually get into service it will be repeat aviation’s experience of rules are written in blood.

  10. Ummm, Boston to New york?? How are they going to negotiate the Cape Cod Canal at 160kt??? I totally want to see that!

    Ok, so they go around it, but that would add considerably to the distance.

  11. I gotta join the chorus here. Flying is flying regardless of whether it’s in ground effect or not. Ya wouldn’t get me into one of these piloted by a non-pilot. Plus as other commenters have noted, the basic idea is sorta nuts. Bad weather, high seas, and the salt water environment. And…ta ta….unless these WIG’s operate in dedicated sea lanes, free of errant pleasure boats, the possibility of collisions seems another risk.
    Next idea!: Giant catapults! Just get into this little chair and this device will move you backwards a bit until….WHOOSH!!…a great feeling of acceleration will dazzle and amaze you as you are instantaneously transported to a huge flexible net which will absolutely ensure a soft landing at your destination! Powering the device will be a pollution free corps of high school athletes specially trained in tug-of-war sporting events who now work as a team ratcheting your luxury capsule into it’s energized state prior to your trip! Soft drinks servered AFTER your arrival!

  12. I think they are severely underestimating development and production costs. Anything that goes that fast close to the surface needs all kinds of safety devices to avoid obstacles and deal with high seas as well as wind. Ground effect works best when the surface is calm. Constantly fluctuating lift in swells and larger waves would make for a tense, uncomfortable ride. They might be able to compensate somewhat for the lift and wind variations with computer controls but that’s going to increase the cost and complexity. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea but they need to be realistic about the costs, development time and market demand.