Aérotrains Will Blow You Away

Illustration for article titled Aérotrains Will Blow You Away

Ekranoplan, meet Aérotrain. Developed by the French in the sixties and seventies, the Aérotrain system was a solution to a problem many folk at the time taking on, improving speed and efficiency in the rail system. Maglev was impossibly expensive, and rail lines required high maintenance to keep them running smooth, so what is the next option? Hover trains. That's right, these babies flew down the smooth concrete track at up to 430 km/h. Only four prototypes were ever built (#2 is shown above) but each had its own unique way of hurtling through the countryside. (If you intend to make the jump, be warned, there's a video with French voiceover and Queen's The Show Must Go On, but hey, rockets!)

Prototype #1 was a proof of concept capable of carrying 4 people and powered by a 260 hp airplane engine with a 50 hp compressor to keep it afloat. Later on the train would be fitted with a freakin' rocket which propelled the machine to 303 km/h. Prototype #2 is a bit more interesting, featuring a set of Pratt & Whitney JT12 turboprop engines and a sleek aluminum skin, this variation topped the speed charts at 422 km/h.

Aérotrain Prototype #3 is a revulotionary shift at 25.6 meters long, 3.2 meters wide, 3.3 meters high, and capable of carrying 80 passengers. It was powered by twin Turboméca Turmo III E3 turbine engines through a ducted propeller with seven blades. A 14 turbo engine powered the air compressors. The run was successful, but just not fast enough, so the machine was upgraded with a Pratt & Whitney JT8 D11 turbofan. It subsequently broke the land speed record for railed vehicles at 430.4 km/h. Unfortunately that's about when funding ran out and the TGV was green lighted, but hell we'd prefer jet and rocket powered trains any day to the smooth comfort of a bullet train.

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@al_beaton: Dude, you're in my head. And even though there's plenty of room in there for you, GTF out.

Yes, it rides on rails, but c'mon - the Japanese Shinkansen - the Bullet Train - is poking along nearly 100mph (not kilometers, MILES) slower than the TGV at full chat. Maybe they should rename the Shinkansen the Daisy Air Rifle train.

Everything I may have said against the French aside (and there was never much), you've got to love a nation that brings such quirky consideration to what they build:

"Ze maglev, she is too expensive! What else is zere?"

"We could build a zuper-vite hovercraft, oui?"


Hell yes it was fast. Notice the conventionally-powered one is gaining on the camera plane.

"What kind of suspension should we put in zis tres petit tin can car?"

"Something zat will keep from breaking ze eggs ze poor peasant owner is taking to market."


And it works. It works great.