First off we have to thank forum member Malc for pointing us toward these most bizarre of vehicles. It seems we’re on a bit of a Russian kick as of late, but for some time, the Ruskies had the market cornered on weird.
The actual name for these things were Ekranoplans, and they were a strange hybrid between a ship and an airplane. They were among the largest and most powerful vehicles to ever take “flight” even though they never climbed more than a few feet above the water.
Designed in the early ‘60s and first actually flown in 1966, these vehicles use the aviation principle of ground effect. By our understanding, the reason that these massive beasts could ever get off the ground and stay up was due to the fact that they stayed so close to the ground. The extreme low altitude actually provides extra lift for the wings because they are maintaining a theoretical pillow of air underneath. It must have worked, as the largest of these crafts weighed 550 tons.
Versions of these vehicles were built through the ‘60s and ‘70s with several crashing and sinking. One of those that sunk, the 550-ton model, was so heavy that the Russian military had nothing strong enough to lift it so it still sits at the bottom of the Caspian Sea. That particular plane was built in 1972 and definitely did not suffer from a lack of power, as it had eight massive turbines mounted forward on the fuselage as well as two extra helper turbines on the tail for take off. Fuel economy was apparently not a consideration.
Believe it or not, the Russians were still horsing around with these things all the way into the ‘90s with the last one having been built in 1987. That one, the most advanced ever created, was built with the intention of being an anti-submarine weapon and was outfitted with some gigundo missiles on its back. It was 400 tons and entered service in the Russian Navy Black Sea Fleet. This one sported a set of eight turbines, each producing 28,000 pounds of thrust. It didn’t have the helper motors on the tail but it did have a modified hull to allow it to plane up and take off easier. We’re not sure how fast they flew or what the intended purpose was actually going to be as their massive size, weight, and inability to fly at any sort of altitude limited them to where they could be used. We may be wrong but it seems as though taking one of these big guys out into the open ocean where there are major swells would lead to disaster.
When the bottom fell out for Russia in the ‘90s so did the Ekranoplans. The remaining vehicles are drydocked or have been disassembled.
These babies DEFINE the word freak. Here they are in action. If this doesn’t blow your mind, you probably worked at Area 51.