What Are Unmanned Ground-Effect Vehicles (GEVs)?

Unmanned ground-effect vehicles (GEVs) are a fairly new type of craft introduced in the unmanned systems industry. Most unmanned GEVs currently built are only prototypes and have not yet had commercial success.

What are unmanned ground-effect vehicles (GEVs):

Unmanned ground-effect vehicles (GEVs), also called wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) vehicles, are fixed-wing drones which are hybrids between unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) that use the ground effect principle to fly quickly and efficiently over any flat fixed surface.

These types of craft sit in between aircraft and watercraft.

Take note that unmanned seaplanes are not considered unmanned GEVs and therefore will not be included in this article.

How Do Unmanned Ground-Effect Vehicles (GEVs) Work?

Unmanned ground-effect vehicles (GEVs) use ground effect which is the principle where a flying fixed-wing object experiences far less aerodynamic drag when flying close to any flat fixed surface (land, water, ice etc).

GEVs are a subcategory within fixed-wing drones.

Check out our full post that dives further into how fixed-wing UAVs work, the differences between fixed-wing and rotary-wing UAVs, fixed-wing drone applications, parts/components that make them up, advantages/disadvantages, powerplants used in them and some real examples:

Related Post: What Are Fixed-Wing Drones/UAVs? Everything You Need To Know

These types of drones generate lift using airfoils (wings) which act as a lifting surface to help generate lift once a certain airspeed is attained. They use propulsion systems that propel them to the required speed in order to takeoff and enter ground effect.

They maintain buoyancy (float) primarily using a watertight hull as a fuselage which is designed to reduce drag while moving through the water similar to unmanned seaplanes.

They use propulsion systems including powerplants such as engines, batteries, solar power and propulsion devices such as propellers to generate thrust.

Check out our full post where we dive into several powerplants and propulsion devices currently used in drones. For each power source, we expand on how they work, the different types, the advantages, disadvantages, and real-world examples of drones that use it.

Related Post: How Are Drones Powered? 6 Drone Energy Sources Explained

These types of drones are not typically designed to fly out of ground effect.

What Are The Types Of Unmanned Ground-Effect Vehicles (GEVs)?

There have been various rules and regulations that have been tested and implemented by several countries. However, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) have created a classification system to follow.

These types of vehicles can be classified both by how they’re operated and their wing configurations.

Types of unmanned GEVs according to how they’re used

This classification has been created by the IMO.

Here are the 3 ways unmanned GEVs are classified by how they’re used:

  • Any craft that is only allowed to operate within ground effect (Type A)
  • Any craft that operates within ground effect but is only allowed to briefly increase its altitude to a maximum height of 150m (490ft) above the surface (Type B)
  • Any craft that can operate within ground effect and also without an altitude limitation. These types of craft can exceed the 150m (490ft) limitation (Type C)

Types of unmanned GEVs according to wing configuration

Here are 3 types of unmanned GEVs according to wing configuration:

  • Straight wing
  • Reverse-delta wing
  • Tandem wings

The straight wing configuration refers to a GEV with short straight wings placed horizontally from the fuselage of the craft. They typically also have a large horizontal stabiliser/tailplane which is part of the tail assembly.

The reverse-delta wing configuration refers to a GEV with the reverse of a triangular planform meaning the base of the triangular wing will be at the nose of the craft and the tip at the tail.

The tandem wings configuration refers to a GEV with two wingplanes. These can be in the form of a canard (smaller foreplane placed at the nose of the craft), a biplane (two mainplanes stacked atop each other) or simply two mainplanes placed one in front of the other.

Check out our full post that dives into each type of fixed-wing drone/UAV. For each type, we explain what they are, how they work, their sub-types, what they’re used for, a benefit and drawback, and two examples of each:

Related Post: Types Of Fixed-Wing Drones/UAVs Explained (+Pictures)

What Are Unmanned Ground-Effect Vehicles (GEVs) Used For?

Here are 6 applications for unmanned ground-effect vehicles (GEVs):

  • Delivery of freight overseas
  • Water-based high-speed passenger transportation
  • Sea-bound (FPV) drone races
  • Military Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) missions
  • Maritime research
  • Maritime search and rescue operations

Check out our full post on several fixed-wing UAV applications where we explain what each is, how fixed-wing drones are used in them, how they’re beneficial typically over manned aircraft, and some real examples/concepts if there are any:

Related Post: 12 Awesome Fixed-Wing Drone/UAV Applications Explained

What Parts/Components Make Up Unmanned Ground-Effect Vehicles (GEVs)?

Unmanned GEVs are made up of several parts including a fuselage, wings, tail assembly/empennage, and landing gear/undercarriage.

The wings typically include control surfaces such as ailerons and devices for stability such as wing floats/sponsons. Floats/sponsons can also be attached to the fuselage.

A conventional tail assembly/empennage is made up of elevators and a fin acting vertically, and a rudder and tailplane which act horizontally.

The landing gear/undercarriage can be made up of retractable wheels (making them amphibious) which protrude out of the hull (fuselage) for land-based operation, skis for snow/ice operation, and even floats for water-based operation.

Typical components include a transmitter, receiver, servos, lights, inertial navigation system (INS), electronic speed controllers (ESCs), and flight controller.

These types of drones are fixed-wing vehicles, therefore they have most of the same parts and components.

We’ve gone into far more detail in our article where we explain what each part and component of a fixed-wing UAV is, how it works, the different sub-types of each component (if any), and some real examples:

Related Post: Main Fixed-Wing Drone/UAV Parts & Components Explained

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Unmanned Ground-Effect Vehicles (GEVs)?

There are several advantages and disadvantages of unmanned GEVs. We’ve split these up into two sections.

Unmanned ground-effect vehicle (GEV) advantages

Here are 4 unmanned ground-effect vehicle (GEV) advantages:

  • They’re much more efficient than conventional fixed-wing drones that fly at higher altitudes
  • They’re much faster than conventional fixed-wing drones of similar size
  • They typically have much higher payload capacities than conventional fixed-wing UAVs
  • They usually have much longer coverage/ranges in one trip before needing to be recharged or refueled compared to conventional fixed-wing drones

Unmanned ground-effect vehicle (GEV) disadvantages

Here are 4 unmanned ground-effect vehicle (GEV) disadvantages:

  • They can’t efficiently fly at high altitudes. Most can’t fly out of ground effect at all
  • Their uses are limited as most are bound to water-based applications
  • They are more prone to encountering hazards/obstacles flying so close to the ground which can be harder to avoid due to fast airspeeds
  • They can become unstable and difficult to control when trying to takeoff in rough weather conditions due to strong winds causing waves that negatively affect the craft

Check out our post that explains all fixed-wing UAV advantages and disadvantages:

Related Post: 11 Fixed-Wing Drone/UAV Advantages+Disadvantages Explained

What Are Some Examples Of Unmanned Ground-Effect Vehicles (GEVs)?

Seeing as these types of unmanned systems have not yet reached widespread use, there have only been some concepts and do-it-yourself (DIY) creations that have been made.

Here are 3 examples of unmanned GEVs:

Flying Wing conceptThe Flying Wing Company
Storm-600Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU)
Giant RC EkranoplanDIY design by Peter Sripol

If you’d like to discover who the best drone companies are in the world for the consumer, commercial and military drone markets and some fun facts about them, we have a full post on this topic below:

Related Post: Top Drone Companies/Manufacturers In The World [History, What They Offer, Popular Drones And More]


Although these types of fixed-wing drones are not as popular and known as others, they have the potential to leave a lasting positive impact on our society once more research and attention has been put into designing and manufacturing more of them.

As we’ve already mentioned, unmanned ground-effect vehicles (GEVs) are a subcategory of fixed-wing drones. We highly recommend you check out our main article here on what fixed-wing drones are to learn more.

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