Russian “Ecranoplanes”

russian ekranoplane or ekranoplan 1

An “ekranoplan” literally “screen plane” is a vehicle resembling an aircraft, but operating solely on the principle of ground effect. Ground effect vehicles (GEV) fly above any flat surface, with the height above ground dependent upon the size of the vehicle.

During the Cold War, ekranoplans were sighted for years on the Caspian Sea as huge, fast-moving objects. The name Caspian Sea Monster was given by U.S. intelligence operatives who had discovered the huge vehicle, which looked like an airplane with the outer halves of the wings removed. After the end of the Cold War, the “monster” was revealed to be one of several Russian military designs meant to fly only a few meters above water, saving energy and staying below enemy radar.

The KM, as the Caspian Sea Monster was known in the top secret Soviet military development program, was over 100 m long (330 ft), weighed 540 tonnes fully loaded, and could travel over 400 km/h (250 mi/h), mere meters above the surface of the water.

The important design principle is that wing lift is reduced as operating altitude of the ekranoplan is increased (see ground effect). Thus it is dynamically stable in the vertical dimension. Once moving at speed, the ekranoplan was no longer in contact with the water, and could move over ice, snow, or level land with equal ease.

These craft were originally developed by the Soviet Union as very high-speed (several hundred km/hour) military transports, and were mostly based on the shores of the Caspian Sea and Black Sea. The largest could transport over 100 tonnes of cargo. The development of ekranoplans was supported by Dmitri Ustinov, Minister of Defence of USSR. About 120 ekranoplans (A-90 Orlyonok class) were initially planned to enter military service in the Soviet Navy. The figure was later reduced to less than thirty vehicles, planned to be deployed mainly for the Black and the Baltic Soviet navies. Marshal Ustinov died in 1985, and the new Minister of Defence Marshal Sokolov effectively ceased the funding for the program. The only three operational A-90 Orlyonok ekranoplans built (with renewed hull design) and one Lun-class ekranoplan remained at a naval base near Kaspiysk.

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This is “Caspian Monster”.

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russian ekranoplane or ekranoplan 5

They could fire missiles…

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…and could go above the ground as well, coming on the shore from the sea without slowing down…

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…as well as carrying some tanks…

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…and act in cooperation with traditional fleet.

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The all photos above were made during the Soviet Era, when the Soviet state had money and desire to experiment with this strange ekranoplanes. These days almost none of the left in working condition.

On these photos made by Russian blogger Bu33er you can see the one of the last ekranoplans “Orlyonok” being transported by the tow-boat across the Volga river to one of the entertainment parks of Moscow, where it would be probably installed as another monument for never to be returned Soviet times and achievements.

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russian ekranoplane or ekranoplan 12

And special thanks goes to English Russia discussion board.

30 thoughts on “Russian “Ecranoplanes””

    • i agree, it wouldnt really disrupt the water and scare them away until maybe you landed, haha

      and you could get about 90 miles out to sea, where i live in the gulf of mexico, in about 20 min i bet

      this was actually really interesting, id like to see more of this kind of stuff here

    • i came when i saw it fly; how does it turn though? when its airborn, doesn’t it act like a plane ? so to tturn woulds it hit the water with on of the wings? and also , as an assault vehicle its great, no question there, but how can it leave the sandy surface (beach) on its own?

      • Turns like an airplane, it does not hit the water with it’s wings during turning because it can rise and fly higher to turn and it’s turning radius is greater (similar to a ship)

        The main advantage is payload and fuel and it can function fully on wild seas but it sacrifices fuel to do so

  1. I think it would be cool if this project was implemented in international travel. Probably the same amount of catastrophes, but people would think it’s safer. 😉

  2. I don’t get it– it seems this doesn’t really have any advantages over a regular seaplane. It’s just a very fast boat, that looks like a plane. And I wonder how well the “ground effect” works on choppy seas.

    • yeye, thats what i was about to say too – it would probably not be safe to fly this thing in an oceanic storm as waves get pretty high.

      so the only alternative is to use this on short distances (so it has time to run away to safety in case of storm coming) and closed waters (where no swell gets through)

    • It does have advantages. This plane was a topic in Popular Mechanics magazine many years ago. While it can not go as high as a regular sea plane, it can carry a much heavier load and use less fuel in the process. Similar proposals and studys of the concept have abounded in the US, but none have been built.

  3. yes, and less vulnerable to both guided veapon and weather.
    ASAP, more cost-effective and have longer rnages, than both airplanes and ships[!!!] if large enough.

  4. It would be best if these low-flying planes have water for landing. Somebody said once: ‘if you can walk away it was a good landing, but if they can still use the plane it was a great landing.’ There have been smaller ‘flying-boat’ aircraft that had wheels they could lower, but it makes a simple thing very complicated. How many tons of landing-gear would you need (counting the changes to the hull), to land one of those pretty beasts on a rough airfield and not bend it?

    **BUT** there is good news. Runway-maintenance on land can be costly. Runway-maintenance for a flying boat is cheap.

    WE have routes here in the West that were well-served by flying boats. But you can’t fly one to Denver (one hopes) and find water to land it. So our Rocket Surgeons decided the flying boat is worthless because it can’t be used everywhere.

    Russians (and other former-Soviets), I hope you kick some butt and save this project. I betcha WHERE it worked it was cost-effective. Today they can test things in a computer and predict the consequences of big waves, sharp turns and all that stuff–never bending a plane or killing a crew to find out. Today there are WAY better engines. Don’t give up on this one. Best regards.

  5. I remember this project being talked about on TV.

    The Sea Monster, with 8 airplane turbo engines, did very well. It could fly above 3-5m waves (if I remember right) without slowing down, so don’t think it was limited by waves.

    The problem is that the Sea Monster had a crash at high speed with all the pilots, test pilots and engineers on board (about 50-100 ppl died), so the project was closed. What remains now is just a joke (I’m surprised *something* lived through the crazy 90s).

    But it’s true that if resurrected, this project would totally rock, where it can work (military delivery, delivery of citizen goods where no other means of transporation exist except ships, etc). In some places, it could replace hoverboats. I totally see a modification to propell and land from snow/ice, for example.

  6. i came when i saw it fly; how does it turn though? when its airborn, doesn’t it act like a plane ? so to tturn woulds it hit the water with on of the wings? and also , as an assault vehicle its great, no question there, but how can it leave the sandy surface (beach) on its own?

  7. I think the fundamental problem with ekronoplans was that they continued to use the same aerodynamics that regular aircraft use. One wing for lift, center of gravity forward of the balance point, and use rear stabilizer to counter the weight of the nose. You have two forces working against each other to create stability in the air but, the ekronoplan is in a somewhat different environment.

    The correct model would have been Langley’s Aerodrome from the 1890’s! Two wings for lift with a wing in the front and back. That created lift on four corners, like legs on a table. The center of gravity was in the middle! You have all forces working together and creating a naturally stable platform to take advantage of ground effect.

    Langley’s Aerodrome failed because of faulty construction technique and lack of experience. The fundamental concept is absolutely sound and would work for a next generation ekronoplan.

  8. Our US Navy had sea planes for years. Today, there are none. Helicopters have been a substitution for many tasks and they have the advantage of the ability to land hard surfaces. Seaplanes have a docking problem in even slightly chopy seas. Imagine unloading cargo from that Russian monster. It would not be easy. A modern version of the PBY Catalena would make me happy. I just liked the aircraft.

  9. Liked a lot the post on Ecranoplanes. As I have an engineering, non commercial website, If you have a link to videos of these incredible vehicles, I would like to add to my site.


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