As is probably clear to regular readers of this blog, I’m a fan of craft built by Ape Piaggio. I played a (minor) role in the development of her Little Bee tender-style speed boat (which you can read about here), and for the last couple of weeks I’ve been acting as a test pilot / CTD (that’s “crash test dummy” for the uninitiated 🙂 ) for Ape’s newest vehicle: the still in development LS33W AirFish.
Based on the WigetWorks AF8-001, the AirFish is a ground effect vehicle. This is a type of craft designed to attain sustained flight over a level surface (usually water) by making use of ground effect, the aerodynamic interaction between the wings and the surface over which it is travelling. another term for this type of vehicle is wing-in-ground effect (WIG), and it is the terminology generally used when referring to the AirFish and its physical world progenitor.
I confess, when Ape first told me she was developing the AirFish, I wasn’t convinced. We have high-performance boats in SL; we have aircraft; we have hovercraft; is a WIG vehicle likely to be popular? Well, on the strengths of having been testing this vehicle and seeing first hand the way Ape is both accepting feedback to tweak and improve it, and adding new features along the way – I can say it’s a heck of a lot of fun!
I’m not going to go into specifics about the AirFish here – I’ll save that for an in-depth review when it goes on sale (which might not be for a little while yet, as there is still much work to be done). What I will say is that the AirFish offers a lot to both motor boat fans and flying enthusiasts. On the water, it handles like a conventional boat and can happily motor around using its impellers. In doing so, it’s pretty manoeuvrable but not particularly fast (on-the-water speed isn’t the point). However, switch to the two rear-facing propellers (driven in the AF8-001 by a conventional V8 car engine!), and the AirFish comes into its own – a fast, manoeuvrable craft able to pass over water and low-lying, relatively flat terrain at speed and with ease.
Once of the nice touches Ape has added – based on my own feedback, if I might toot my own horn a little – is a configurable set of flight controls. These allow pilots / driver to either use a standard “boat” layout to keyboard controls with the arrow keys / WASD for left/right and throttle up/down and vehicle pitch set via the PAGE keys. Or, for those used to flight controls, the arrow keys can be used for left / right and pitch up / down, with the PAGE keys used for adjusting the throttle.
Nor is the AirFish restricted to the water – a retractable undercarriage can be deployed to allow it climb up (and down) seaplane ramps, although it is not designed for trying to get airborne from a runway, and the AirFish is intentionally configured to prevent this: lowering the undercarriage locks it into its “taxi” mode.
I’ll have much more to say about the AirFish when it is officially released. In the meantime, those wishing to try a demonstration version can do so at the FoilBourne headquarters in-world, and as a further teaser, I’ll leave you with a short video of some of my trial runs testing the craft. Note that the vehicle finish and colours in both the images here and in the video are not representative of the production version’s finish or colours.
Note: this blog post and film produced and published with Ape’s approval.