In the 1970's when the first American satellite photos were taken of this vessel as it sat inland, it was believed to be a normal Jumbo jet sized aircraft under construction...but why was it sitting on a jetty next to water?
Below is a 2006 satellite image of the Ekranoplan, this is similar to the image that the military saw with their high tech spy satellite system back in the 1970's
When the vessel was later photographed sitting in water the questions started to fly " What is it ? " and " Why is a huge jumbo jet sized plane sitting in water? "
Of course what the Americans had unknowingly photographed was The Caspian Sea Monster, a 540 ton Ekranoplan. A plane that could skim across the surface of the sea at tremendous speed as seen in the actual Russian photo below..taken during sea trails.
The 540 ton Ekranoplan or Caspian Sea Monster as it was called, can travel over water in excess of 290 knots! This is a phenomenal speed for what is basically a sea going vessel.
Ekranoplan is a Russian word, it means 'screen craft' or 'skimmer'. It is not a plane nor is it a ship, its more like a mixture of both. The Ekranoplan travels along on a dynamic cushion of air that is generated by its forward movement, and with eight powerful turbofan jet engines it can reach a high rate of knots.
The computer generated image below gives an idea of what the Ekranoplan looks like when it picks up speed. The image is not a concept, it is a rendition of Russian sea trials that actually took place in the 1970's. The idea of an aircraft and a ship all rolled into one is quite novel to say the least and its one that the Russians pursued.
CGI Image by Bruce448
The Ekranoplan has similar characteristics of the common hovercraft, in that it flies just above the surface of the water as it moves. However, it will not hover whilst stationary but just sit and float in the water like a boat. Its a revolutionary way to travel over the oceans at high speed and the Russians thought of it first.
Below we can see an Ekranoplan as it rests in the harbor next to a Russian submarine at dock. Of course these two vessels could rendezvous right out at sea, one refuelling or rearming the other. Then whoosh...the Ekranoplan would be off and the submarine would dive, leaving no trace of their encounter.
These Ekranoplans are big and they are fast, they were kept secret from the west until the fall of communism in the early 1990's, when information about them was slowly revealed.
It can quite easily be envisaged a hundred of such craft zooming across the ocean, relatively undetected, flying underneath radar to invade a country.
Below is an Ekranoplan during sea trails, as it fires an ICBM - Inter Continental Ballistic Missile - at training targets a few miles away. The Ekranoplan is still travelling at high speed when it fires its missiles of course and daylight can be seen under its fuselage.
By the time the target country realized what was going on, it would have been too late. The front of the fuselage would have opened to allow soldiers, tanks, trucks, jeeps, and armored cars to deploy and invade.
Of course, the Ekranoplan itself was also armed with an array of powerful missiles that could be launched by the pilot as seen in the image above.
Below is another CGI of what the Ekranoplan would look like as it flies along just off the surface of the sea. The ships in the background adding some dimension to the image.
CGI Image by Bruce448
Below is an image of an armored car alighting from the cargo hold of an Ekranoplan. The front of the Ekranoplan opens on hydraulic hinges and the vehicles drive out in a matter of seconds.
Not forgetting that the Ekranoplan of course would have flown quite a way inland to allow the tanks to drive out.
You have to imagine several hundred of these craft, all flying at over 290 knots, all under radar in a mass invasion. We could then fully realise the element of surprise that they would have had.
Full of tanks, trucks, men and equipment, it would have presented quite a shock invasion force.
CGI image by Paul McDonell
Never underestimate the Russians, they are practical, innovative, resourceful and militaristically astute. This relatively simple craft that just uses a bit of leverage from the air around its short wings is something that the western powers had not fully researched, if at all.
You have to admit, its one hell of ship, fast, manoeuvrable, and heavily armed but maybe not so well protected. Unlike a warship that has armor plating, the Ekranoplan would be susceptible to enemy firepower, a couple of rocket or bazooka hits could seriously damage or render an Ekranoplan inoperable.
Below is an actual sea trail photo of the Ekranoplan as it rests in the water, it could stop like this to be refuelled or re-armed just as if it was a normal ship. The versatility of the Ekranoplan should not be underestimated or overlooked by western military forces as it has high potential.
Despite any short comings though, a very ambitious programme was launched in 1960 after the Ekranoplan successfully passed all flight tests. The KM or Caspian Sea Monster, a 540 ton machine was built and it was many years in advance of western technology and ideology.
Below is an image of the cockpit inside the Ekranoplan, it resembles the normal interior of any everyday jet plane...which is what it basically is of course...except that this thing flies only a few meters above sea level.
If a guy can fly a normal plane then he can fly this, so there is not special training requirement.
The reason why such a big craft was built was to test the fundamentals of this type of design, the tests worked and in 1967 a speed of 297 knots and a height of 36 feet was achieved, even though the maximum allowance was initially only 12 feet.
Eight of these KMs were built with different specifications. Below a huge KM Ekranoplan floats static in the water, waiting to be refuelled.
As the Ekranoplan picks up speed, the air is compressed under its short stabilizing wings until enough pressure produces lift and this supports the craft.
This is known as a " Wing-In-Ground " effect and these type of craft are referred to as WIG's, or WIG specification craft. With no water to hull friction, these vehicles can travel at tremendous speeds.
You have to imagine a craft the size of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet when regarding these Ekranoplan's, but they are bigger, have more power and travel just a few feet over the waters surface.
Infinitely faster than any sea going vessel ever devised the Ekranoplan would be a marvel to behold. The front view of the Ekranoplan is quite impressive, it looks sleek, aerodynamic and quite formidable as it quietly rests in the sea.
Unlike an airplane, the Ekranoplan can just stop and get refuelled or rearmed. It looks like the crew are having a party on the wings! This also helps to give some representation of its size and also how wide the wings are.
The turbo jet engines can be better appreciated for their size when a person is standing in close proximity to them. The red discs in the end of the turbo jets engines are there to protect them from any foreign bodies entering whilst they are not being used.
Below are two YouTube videos of the Ekranoplan and some great footage of it in flight. These videos were once ultra top secret Russian material but are now available for all to view.
Below is another video, as these YouTube videos have a habit of getting deleted, I don't know why as this is no longer " The BIG Secret "
The terrific speed that these craft can reach is partially due to the fact that there is no friction between the hull of the craft and the water. This of course is a factor that keeps normal ships at such a comparatively slow speed, as they must push themselves through the water and not over it.
SEA OR LAND
All Ekranoplan's are amphibious and will easily fly over land just as well as the sea, and at high speed, just as long as the surface is relatively flat. Ekranoplan's usually begin and end their journeys in the sea for the greatest convenience, but it doesn't really matter.
Below is shown a new experimental Ekranoplan, the twin turbofan Beriev A-40 Albatross, as it exits the sea and ascends up a jetty onto dry land. It can then of course cruise over land like a hovercraft and can return to the sea with impunity.
This new version also has an undercarriage and the gear is lowered to enable low speed taxiing over firm land. The front gear is just visible behind the wake.
Indeed the Ekranoplan is quite a versatile craft with strong military capabilities. Basically its a huge jet aircraft that swims like a ship and flies like a hovercraft...quite ingenious when you think about it!
WING IN GROUND EFFECT
The Wing-In-Ground effect program was started in earnest in 1960 at the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau in Russia, under maximum secrecy. At that time, the bureau was actually heavily engaged in the design and manufacture of hydrofoil ships.
Below, the Ekranoplan Beriev A-40 Albatross looks like it is floundering or has crashed into the sea, both accounts would of course be wrong. The craft is actually powering up after sitting idle on the sea and will soon be zooming along at high speed.
The Russians now designate this new model as an amphibious aircraft as it can fly at higher altitude than the standard Ekranoplan...30,000 feet higher!
Yes I did say 30,000 feet higher and below is the proof, no it isn't Photoshopped...this new Ekranoplan can fly like a conventional aircraft.
We must never underestimate Russian engineering, they are not behind in technology but very much advanced with it.
As stated, the plane is amphibious, indeed it does not need a runway, it can land in the sea and then act like a ship...as it uses WIG, wing in ground effect technology. Technology that the west is still far behind on in theory and in practise!
The first WIG was a three ton ship called the SM-1, it was hard to manoeuvre, unstable and needed an extremely high take off speed. However the first experimental Ekranoplan, seen below, could reach speeds in excess of 290 knots, stating that speed was not really an issue. The speed was more than enough to achieve the WIG effect, so they stayed with the basic design.
Rostislav Alexiev was the chief designer of these vehicles at the CHDB and he realized that a large rear T-wing was the answer to the vessels stability problems.
Once a T-wing was installed on a Ekranoplan in 1962, the stability problem had been resolved and the craft could reach very high speeds under great control.
The last Ekranoplan from the former Soviet Union was the four hundred ton LUN. It was built in 1987 with 100% military application in mind as a missile launcher and troop carrying ship.
It was equipped with six large missiles on top of the fuselage, and could carry main battle tanks and trucks in its large cargo hold. It must also must be reiterated here that it would not have been detected by radar, as it would have travelled under the radars waves. As I understand now though, modern radar now has the ability to scan vessels on the surface of the sea.
Reaching speeds of up to 300 knots is still unprecedented for what is basically a water based vessel. No enemy ships could ever have had the slightest chance of intercepting this vehicle by any means due to this high speed of travel. They could perhaps only fire rockets at it.
Eight NK87 turbofan engines give ample power as the Ekranoplan seen below accelerates across the ocean at terrific speed, notice also that it is bristling with long range ballistic missiles. The large dome on the back is a radar unit and hence it scans the sea and air for enemy vessels.
At the time when the Soviet Union fell apart there was a second LUN under construction, it was about ninety percent finished when the military funding ceased.
This was because of the Soviet Unions poor financial situation and also the end of the cold war. Later the eventual collapse of communism was enough to create further financial upheavals in much of their ragged economy.
The versatile Ekranoplan can achieve a good clearance above the waves. It can fly the same height over ground too, as long as its not too hilly.
Most countries have now built prototypes of the Ekranoplan design as it has very useful application both in the military and commercial fields. As yet no commercial flights have been instigated but there are reports that a lot of private ventures are being developed, mostly in the U.S.A.
The Ekranoplan is hundreds of time safer than conventional aircraft because it cannot exactly crash if it has engine failure. Also any terrorist bombs in a commercial Ekranoplan would only blow a big hole in its side and kill a few passengers.
The whole craft itself would not disintegrate as the Ekranoplan is not pressurized. Below is a possible concept that we may see in the future...
Photo by Ken Duffy
Overall the Ekranoplan would be a fantastic way to travel, it would not be as fast as an airplane but the safety factor could override that issue.
WIG IN THE U.S.A
Boeing in Seattle U.S.A have shown an interest in the WIG concept and have discussed producing an experimental prototype. To build a huge WIG craft with military needs in mind for a long range heavy transport craft must be quite appealing to those employed in national security.
Named The Pelican, the five hundred feet wing span craft it is proposed would carry 2,800,000 lbs of freight. The ride height would be established at around twenty feet off the ground but a ceiling altitude of 20,000 feet is being considered, as in conventional aircraft.
The Pelican it is envisaged would operate from a runway with seventy six retractable wheels, although the dual concept of a water landing craft is on the agenda.
The wings on the Pelican are tilted downwards for the best WIG efficiency. The craft would be powered by four huge powerful turboprop engines. With an envisaged double cargo deck, one to carry at least fifteen main battle tanks and the upper to accommodate a thousand troops. With a maximum takeoff weight up to 3,000 tons, the Pelican would have a wing area of more than an acre.
Image below, The Pelican shown to scale with a Boeing 747 Jumbo jet.
The Pelican is an interesting proposition, to be as big as the Caspian Sea Monster if not bigger. The idea to move large heavy loads by WIG craft with a relatively small wingspan is appealing to military minds.
Boeing claims that a craft like the Pelican could be capable of a 10,000 mile range fully loaded with over 700 tons of tanks, troops and military equipment.
The latest news is that the Chinese are investing capital in the development of a prototype in-land waterways craft known as the Hubei Type One.
Chinese Hubei TY-1
Ekranoplan's may indeed be the ocean liners of the future as they are very safe and very fast. I for one will be watching out for any new developments with this fantastic idea from Russia.
This is a must see...just click on this link Dilapidated Ekranoplan to see over eighty very interesting and rare photos of a now very dilapidated, abandoned and rotting Ekranoplan. Such is modern throw-away technology.
Its a great pity that this technology isn't looked into further, as an Ekranoplan would indeed be a fabulous, fast, fun and very safe way for commercial travel. Submarines could also present a viably commercial way to travel, but as it is, only military application is associated with these marvellous methods of travel!
Page created 2002. Reposted July 23rd 2005. Updated January 2nd 2013