But the Pentagon may not be the biggest market. The Boeing team's commercial-airplane colleagues have informally discussed the Pelican with commercial cargo operators. The airplane carries 10 times as much payload as any current craft-as many as 180 standard 8- by 8- by 20-foot containers -and is 10 times faster than a ship. Unlike a ship, it could deliver cargo directly between major cities, eliminating sea-to-land transfers. The idea of a vast oceanic fleet of flying container ships may seem outlandish, but so, in their day, did mass-market air travel, stealth aircraft and satellite TV. In the end, ground-effect flight may not just be for the birds.
Bill Sweetman is a contributing editor to Popular Science.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.