Postcard from Ekranoplan

In the 1960's a CIA analyst saw something odd in an image from one of the American reconnaissance satellites. It was big, looked like an aircraft but was low over the water of the Caspian Sea and travelling fast. So, the "Caspian Sea Monster" was born.

The reality was as strange as the photo suggested. The CIA were looking at a test run of the Lun Ekranoplan, the first of a new kind of vehicle. Neither boat nor aircraft, but an amalgamation of the two. Built for the Russian military, it was designed to use ground effect to fly very fast and very low with a huge payload. It had 6 jet engines near the nose, short but very deep wings and flew at wave height. One design had 6 cruise missiles, another an all-up weight of 600 tons and capable of carrying 900 troops. Because it flew over the waves rather than through them, it could move over the beach as easily as water and deliver troops inland.

Alternatively, at 450 kph and less than 5m above the water, with mach-3 anti-shipping missiles it could cause havoc for a US fleet.

So what happened? One of the 2 prototypes crashed, the Soviet Union ran out of money and the project was cancelled. The remaining prototype is sad and rusting in a dry dock on the Caspian Sea, just another forgotten super weapon. Every now and again, the technology resurfaces in the commercial sphere, but so far, nothing more than another small prototype.

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