Ekranoplan: It’s Metal

So, volcanic ash might delay my wife’s visit tomorrow.

If the Russians had won the Cold War, maybe we would have had these to scoot about in (under the ash, of course).


Global Aircraft:

The Lun-class Ekranoplan floatplane was one of the most distinct designs to emerge from the Cold War. The aircraft was designed around the idea known as “wing-in-ground” effect, which basically allowed for an increased weight aircraft to utilized the low-altitude lift over water for increased range and better fuel economy. In essence, the aircraft would skim the surface of the water after achieving take off and utilize this lift for the duration of the flight. This effect can be commonly observed in seabirds flying low, scouting for prey. The bird seems to effortlessly skim across the surface of the body of water without the need to flap its wings for some time. This same idea was brought to bear in the Lun-class flying boat, of which only one was ever produced and operated with the Soviet Navy. The primary goal of the Ekranoplan design was to submit a system that could operate under radar by staying close to the surface of the earth, where “clutter” signatures were more apparent.

Make no mistake – the Ekranoplan was a large aircraft for its time. The design was an achievement by Rostislav Evgenievich Alexeev but was by no means a new concept. Wing-in-ground (WIG) effect aircraft were being tested as early as the 1930’s, most notably by the German firm of Dornier. The Ekranoplan was unique in that it A) was a successful design attempt that was used operationally and B) it relied on turbojet power, something not afforded the systems of earlier attempts.

The Ekranoplan entered service with the Soviet Navy in 1987 with the designation of MD-160, operating in the Black Sea. The system was powered by no fewer than 8 turbojet engines mounted on a variable forward canard system (four per side) that would be controlled by the pilot during take off and could be leveled during flight. The fuselage was designed with the boat hull-style look common to many World War Two flying boat aircraft. Wings were mounted low at fuselage center and a V-shape high tail section rounded out the design components. The cockpit was fitted just forward of the wing roots and the entire system was crewed by fifteen personnel.


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