Mothballed Aérotrain Prototypes are Models of Retro-Futuristic Elegance

aerotrain-experimental-02-stored-in-france (Image: Robin Brinaert – Facebook/website; Aérotrain 02 prototype)

Our January 2016 article – titled 11 Abandoned Monorails, Suspension Railways, Railplanes & Hovertrains – featured two abandoned Aérotrain tests tracks standing overgrown amid the gentle scenery of rural France. These long-disused test structures are the relics of an innovative transportation concept from Jean Bertin, dating back to the 1960s. Bertin’s efforts may have ultimately stalled, but as these haunting photographs from urban explorer Robin Brinaert reveal, several Aérotrain prototypes remain alive and well, hidden away in an expansive storage facility alongside a variety of other vintage tech.

historic-aerotrain-prototypes-from-the-1960s-and-1970s (Image: Robin Brinaert – Facebook/website; Aérotrain 01 prototype)

Developed in France between 1965 and 1977, the Aérotrain was a high-speed hovertrain concept designed to operate in a similar way to magnetic levitation vehicles. By replacing conventional railway tracks with a simple paved ‘guideway’ and doing away with steel wheels in favour of hovercraft lift pads, engineers aimed to eliminate rolling resistance, thereby reducing friction and allowing for superior speed and performance.

aerotrain-experimental-02-stored-in-france-3 (Image: Robin Brinaert – Facebook/website; the “cockpit” of Aérotrain 02)

The Aérotrain trials ran for 12 years, during which time five prototype vehicles and various test track infrastructure was built in France. Another short-lived test track was constructed in 1974 in Pueblo, Colorado for the UTACV prototype. Tests ran for just a year before being abandoned, though the facility remains in use with the Transportation Technology Center.

aerotrain-experimental-02-stored-in-france-2 (Image: Robin Brinaert – Facebook/website)

Despite its promise and the innovative nature of Bertin’s idea, the Aérotrain wasn’t to be. Blighted by a lack of funding and competition from more traditional high-speed transport solutions, the project ground to a halt in 1977 after the death of Bertin himself and the adoption of the TGV, which remains France’s intercity high-speed rail service.

aerotrain-experimental-02-stored-in-france-4 (Image: Robin Brinaert – Facebook/website)

Fast-forward to the present day and several mothballed prototypes have been photographed by urban explorer Robin Brinaert. Robin snapped the striking retro vehicles in a vast warehouse stocked with the gleaming technology of another age. At least two Aérotrain prototypes were stored in the building, marked as Aérotrain Experimental 01 and Aérotrain Experimental 02 respectively.

aerotrain-experimental-01-and-02-stored-in-france (Image: Robin Brinaert – Facebook/website)

Aérotrain 01 was a half-scale version of the planned production vehicle, equipped with a 260 horsepower aircraft engine that powered a three-bladed reversible-pitch propeller. This was reportedly replaced with a Turboméca Marboré jet engine, though the propeller is clearly visible in these photographs, suggesting the hovertrain may have been restored to its original state. Capable of carrying two crew and four passengers as it rode an air cushion formed by two 50 horsepower compressors, the Aérotrain prototype – like its counterpart 02 – was and remains an exhibition of retro-futuristic elegance.

Parked alongside, Aérotrain 02 – with its small Pratt & Whitney JT12 turbojet – wouldn’t look out of place in Luke Skywalker’s garage on Tatooine. The distinctive bare-metal prototype looks to be in perfect condition and incorporates a tandem two-seat cab that resembles the cockpit of a Cold War-era fighter jet.

Related: Retro Railways: Urban Explorers Discover Vintage Renault ABJ Railcars


About the author: Tom





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