Modular, multirole aircraft?


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Dec 31, 2008
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There have been several threads about variations on the modular, removable fuselage theme--Fairchild XC-120 Packplane, Miles M.68 Boxcar, etc. The problem, of course, is that if the modular units are strong enough to be used for other roles, then weight goes up significantly. What makes a good aircraft definitely does not make a good cargo container, trailer or mobile home.

I noticed in an old article on the Miles M.57 Aerovan a sketch of one fitted out as flying operating room, which got me wondering. What if the modular units are stored at the airport and used to allow one aircraft to serve multiple, specialized roles? Or to allow a general-purpose aircraft to take on a specialized role on short notice? Depending on the size of the aircraft, you could easily imagine something like a modern Miles M.68 (but with fewer engines please) having different fuselage pods for multiple roles. Here are a few ideas, I am sure we could come up with many more:

  • Cargo with roller floor and tie-downs
  • Refrigerated cargo
  • Combi cargo/passenger, perhaps with a rear door for air drops or skydiving
  • Standard passenger (seats and luggage)
  • Luxury passenger (nicer accommodations, fewer seats)
  • Scenic view passenger (lots of seats, no luggage, big windows)
  • Light water bomber for firefighting
  • Air ambulance
  • Aerial spraying
  • Police surveillance
  • Maritime patrol
  • Aerial mapping

The advantages, of course, would be that customers that need to fill one of those specialized roles could put the aircraft to work with one of the general-purpose modules the rest of the time. On the other hand, you could also imagine an FBO that would rent out the specialized pods as needed. The main disadvantage would be a small reduction in payload--the weight of the "modularity" built into the design. There might be administrative hurdles as well--perhaps the aircraft and the pods would have to be registered separately to allow them to be mixed and matched at will.

What do you think? Problems, pitfalls? Does anyone know of unbuilt designs or built aircraft that tried this concept?



EDIT - The closest thing I have been able to find among contemporary aircraft is the removable, interchangeable fuselage pod on the Kamov 26/126/226 light helicopters.


  • Kamov KA-226AG module.jpg
    Kamov KA-226AG module.jpg
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Sep 24, 2007
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Seriously though good thread I love the concept, I will have to do some digging for projects like this and see if I cam contribute.


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Feb 20, 2007
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The largest production example that I can think of is the Sikorsky S-64 / CH-54A/B Skycrane.

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