Chinese scientists have reportedly developed a plane that flies less than two feet above the surface of the sea. With speeds of up to 300kph (186mph) the new plane, known as Wing In Ground, can carry up to four tonnes on take-off while using half as much fuel as a normal aircraft does. And the boffins behind the project are planning on developing a prototype that can shift 200 to 400 tonnes within a decade.

Associate Professor Xu Zhengyu is the vice-president of the research team at Shanghai's Tongji University. He claims the WIG is just as safe as ships, but can travel five or six times faster than a water-based craft.

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As well as the gigantic cargo planes, there are plans for a 50-seater version by 2013, and Xu did not rule out the possibilities of military and border control WIGs, as the State Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defence have green-lit the project.

The name of the aircraft refers to the reduction in drag experienced by an aircraft at a height of around two wingspans above the ground or any other level surface, such as water. The China Daily newspaper has explained it further. "Taking advantage of the aerodynamics of the ground effect, which adds extra lift when flying at very low altitudes, the aircraft can fly close to the water's surface," it said.

"This cuts back at least one third on fuel consumption, compared with standard planes of the same size, because the plane can benefit from air buoyancy."

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There is, however, one potential set-back. China's Civil Aviation Administration has yet to pronounce on flying at low altitudes - there are, as yet, no regulations. [Brisbane Times]