THE EKЯANOPLAN

A fascinating read about an extraordinary concept.

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The Яussian Connection.

In the 1970's when the first American satellite photos were taken of this vessel as it sat inland it was believed  that it was a normal Jumbo jet sized aircraft under construction, and when the vessel was later photographed sitting in water the questions started to fly  "what is it ? "

 

Photo: The 'Caspian Sea Monster' it moves over water at over 500 knots and weighs over 540 tons !

Ekranoplan is a Russian word it means 'screen craft' or 'skimmer'. It is not a plane nor is it a ship, moreover its a mixture of both. The craft moves along on a dynamic cushion of air that is generated by its forward movement. It has similar characteristics of the common hovercraft in that it flies just above the surface as it moves. It will not however, hover while stationary but sit in the water.

These craft are big and fast and were kept secret from the west until the fall of communism in the early 1990's. It can quite easily be envisaged a hundred of such craft zooming across the ocean relatively undetected underneath  radar to invade a country. And by the time that country realised what was going on it would have been too late.

 

First steps. 

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, it was many years in advance of western technology. 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 500 Knots and a height of 20 meters was achieved even though the maximum allowance was initially only 3 meters.

Eight of these KMs were built with different specifications.

A huge Ekranoplan rests in the water as it is refueled.

An Ekronoplan going through speed trials on the Caspian Sea.

As the Ekranoplan picks up speed the air is compressed under its short stabilizing wings until the pressure is enough to produce lift and this supports the craft. This is know as a Wing-In-Ground effect and these type of craft are referred to as WIG's, or WIG specification.

Are these things big?...you kiddin ?

Below is a Russian  video of the Ekranoplan's development and some great footage of it in flight.

This video was once ultra top secret Russian material but is now available for all to view, courtesy of 'YouTube'.  The commentary is in its original format...Russian.

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, in that they must push themselves through the water.

Airborne, the huge Ekranoplan picks up speed.

All Ekranoplans are amphibious and will easily fly over land or sea at high speed, just as long as the surface is relatively flat. Ekranoplans usually begin and end their journeys in the sea for the greatest convenience, but it doesnt really matter.

An Ekranoplan starts to warm up ready for maneuvers

A Wing-In-Ground effect vehicles programme was started in earnest in 1960 at the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau in Russia under maximum secrecy. At that time the bureau was heavily engaged in the design and manufacture of hydrofoil ships. The first WIG was a three ton ship called the SM-1, it was hard to maneuver, unstable and needed an extremely high take off speed.

Rostislav Alexiev was the chief designer of these vehicles at the CHDB and he realised that a large rear t-wing was the answer to the vessels stability problems. Once installed on a Ekranoplan in 1962 the stability problem had been resolved and the ships could reach very high speeds.

Latest Developments.

The last Ekranoplan from the former Soviet Union was the LUN. It weighed 400 tons and was built in 1987 with 100% military application as a missile launcher / troop ship. It carried six large missiles on top of the fuselage, and could carry tanks and trucks in its large cargo hold. Also it must be said here that it would not have been detected by radar as it would have traveled under the radars waves.

 It could reach speeds of up to 550 knots which is unprecedented for what is basically a water based vessel. No enemy ships would have had the slightest chance of intercepting this vehicle by any means due to this high speed of travel.

The Eight NK87 turbofan engines give ample power.

At the time when the Soviet Union fell apart there was a second Lun under construction. It was about 90 percent finished when the military funding stopped, because of the financial situation and the end of the cold war and later the eventual collapse of communism.

The Ekranoplan can achieve a good clearance above the waves.

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 USA.

The Boeing Pelican. WIG Concept aircraft.

Boeing in Seattle USA have shown an interest in the WIG idea and have disscussed a concept to build a huge WIG craft with military needs in mind for a long range heavy transport craft.  Named 'The Pelican' the 500ft wing span craft it is proposed would carry 2,800,000 lbs of freight. The rided height would be established at around 20 feet off the ground but a ceiling altitude of 20,000 feet is being considered as in conventional aircraft.

 below is an artists impression of the Pelican.

The Pelican it is envisaged would operate from a runway with 76 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 envisgaed 2 cargo decks, one for at least 15 main battle tanks and the upper for 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, shown to scale with a 747 



The Pelican is an interesting proposition. As big as the Caspian Sea Monster if not bigger.  The idea to move large heavy loads by 'aircraft' with a relatively small wingspan is appealing to militarty minds.  Boeing claims that a craft like the Pelican would be capable of a 10,000 mile range fully loaded with over 700 tons of tanks, troops and equipment.

 

The latest news is that the Chinese are investing capital in the development of an in-land waterways craft known as the Hubei Type One.

Chinese Hubei TY-1

Ekranoplans may indeed be the Ocean liners of the future as they are very safe and fast. I for one will be watching out for any new developments with this fantastic idea from Russia.

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