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Soviet ekranoplan (Caspian Sea Monster), Caspian Sea, Russia

July 14th, 2006 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

An ekranoplan (Russian: экранопла́н, literally "screen plane") is a vehicle resembling an aircraft, but operating solely on the principle of ground effect. Ground effect vehicles (GEV) fly just 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, weighed 540 tonnes fully loaded, and could travel over 400 km/h, mere meters above the surface of the water. Another model was the Lun-class. The Ekranoplan has a lifting power of 1000 tons, one of the biggest lifting powers in the world.

The important design principle is that the wing lift reduces the further above the surface the ekranoplan "flies" (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 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 30 units, 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 units built (with renewed hull design) and one Lun-class ekranoplan remained at a naval base near Kaspiysk.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, commercial development has occurred mostly in the United States and Germany.

Ekranoplans were featured in the Joe Buff novel Seas of Crisis, as well as Hideo Kojima's game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

A Ground effect vehicle is vehicle that takes advantage of the aerodynamic principle of ground effect (or Wing-in-ground). The initialism GEV is commonly used in reference to this term. GEVs were originally called Ekranoplans, after the original vehicles created by the then Soviet Union; this name is now used to describe the now Russian designed vehicles and their variants, with GEV being used as the more generic term for this class of vehicle .

The development of the ekranoplans slowed towards the end of the Soviet Union. However some development is still ongoing into the vehicle. Other GEVs are being currently developed such as the Boeing Pelican , and the French supported 'Aéroptère' (also being referred to as a 'wingboat') built by the company Focus 21.

(Source: Wikipedia)

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