ekranoplan: world’s strangest airplane

and probably the ugliest as well.

KM Ekranoplan

I’m giving this the Squid tag, and Technorati can just sue me, because this has the central core of Squiddiness, the Platonic Ideal of a Squid-like quality, and that is that regardless how loathesome this thing may be you cannot possibly look away, nor think any thought but “KEWL” while you’re looking at it. It’s just frickin’ cool!

Besides which, it is a Sea Monster. Read on…

KM Ekranoplan, front view

Technically speaking this is not an airplane. It’s a WIG (wing in ground, although you shouldn’t put it there cuz it really slows you down) or GEV (ground effect vehicle, which makes a helluva lot more sense, particularly if you already know what the ground effect is, and if you don’t, read on). Them military folks love their TLMs, don’t they?

Planes, as you may already know, have big wings because they need a lot of lift to get off the ground and start flying around and suchlike, which is mostly what planes do, although sometimes they just sit on the taxiway getting de-iced and making people impatient.

But if you’re not really going to fly per se, you don’t really need wings per se. What Orville and Wilber or, in this case Ivan and Sergei probably, discovered was that if you fly very, very close to the ground you can compress the air beneath the wings and get far more lift out of it, substantially reducing the amount of square wingage you need to get off the ground. Which brings us to the Caspian Sea Monster.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and couldn’t even if it wanted to, as back in the Fifties CS Lewis‘ publisher wasn’t publishing editions of the Chronicles of Narnia in the US, because of a copyright treaty dispute. So, no. Forget it.

anybody got a handy Russian/English translator?

One afternoon in the Sixties a bunch of Americans were sitting around the spy department, looking at some spy photos taken over Russia, and there on the surface of the Caspian Sea they saw the butt-ugliest thingamabobby they’d ever laid eyes on. It was so big and bizarre they dubbed it the Caspian Sea Monster. It looked kinda like a plane, with sawn off wings, but it was wildly out of scale; the damn thing was enormous. It was a monster.

It was, to be precise, 100 metres long, about 540 tons in weight, and was equipped with an alarmingly thorough cadre of ten jet engines. It was obviously meant to go somewhere, fast. Strangely, followup photographs never seemed to show the damn thing in flight, just skimming along the tops of the waves, and by that I mean an altitude of, say, three to ten feet. If it happened to be flying over the sea on a choppy day it would have been like driving through snowbanks until they got up to speed.

One wonders what the poor sturgeons thought of this humungous tin can, ripping over their heads at 350 mph. Can’t have been good for the caviar crop, I’m thinking. A placid sturgeon is a productive sturgeon. I’m pretty sure I saw that on a Social Realist poster somewhere, or if not then I just made it up.

One or the other, for sure, though.

Eventually the program wound down, although not without inadvertently producing some of the Caspian Sea‘s finest new reefs first. Attempts to raise sunken Sea Monsters were abandoned because of the weight and the fact that the Glomar Explorer was already booked for that weekend. There is a diversity of opinion about why the Russians ceased production, but best guesses include: there was a nasty crash in 1975/1980 and the Russians lost heart; the sea water rusted the hell out of the damn things; the Cold War ended and capitalism has no need for such toys; it wasn’t really big enough in the first place; what do you mean ceased production?

Apparently Boeing is working on an updated, and equally ridiculous-looking, iteration of the WIG/GEV/Sea Monster genus, called the Pelican. Don’t hold your breath for this one: the production announcement has been indefinitely delayed since 2002.

Boeing Pelican

This is a turboprop-driven military transport with a 500 ft wingspan and is designed to carry 1300 tons of cargo over a distance of up to 10,000 nautical miles.

At an altitude of 20 ft.

Windsurfers are advised to be prepared to duck.

Source material is found:


David Zondy.com

The Unknown Aviator

The Russian Aviation Page

and at The Register, although they’ll bleed you dry for pageviews with the story on four damn pages.

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24 thoughts on “ekranoplan: world’s strangest airplane

  1. This is wicked cool. Though I still think the most freakish aircraft ever–if we don’t count DIY jet-packs, home-built flying cars etc, is the highly Canadian Avrocar.

    I’d also nominate the “Flying Flapjack“, built to test the original concept of disc-shaped aircraft.

    I also liked the X-87 Flapjack Perhaps Frontier Editor built one?

  2. No, I’ve been toying with social bookmarking links instead of googling. Also been sabotaging fire alarms, but that’s another story.

    And the disk flyer thingy; in the story it says the inventor also invented a rubber band powered version. Read the article.

  3. Sorry for my lateness – been getting ready for a job and hopefully school in a month

    Seen this in model form about 10 year sago – Revell Germany issued it in something like 1/200 scale and it was still a styrene overcast.

    As for flying discs . . . where to begin?

    Vought successfully tried its V-173 in the late 30’s-early 40’s with an ovoid planform and semi-articulated propellers. The followon XF5U could possible have topped 450 if it had flown.

    In Germany, there was the Arthur Sack AS-4, which was very similar in concept to the V-173.

    Never get a history major started on such things >:^D>

  4. I’m not paying you by the word, so what do I care? Ramble away.

    Hard to believe they made a model out of something so ugly. I’d LOVE to see a radio controlled flying version! Great for scaring ducks on Lost Lagoon.

  5. I saw the Flapjack X-87 at Kennedy Space Centre (or was it still Cape Kneivel at that time? I forget). I was about ten, and hopeless about models of both the plastic and silicone types. But really hopeless, as in glue wouldn’t hold anything together but my forefinger and thumb (and silicone never got within arms’ length).

    I pleaded to buy it, but was told that the Atari 2600 I had bought in New York had consumed my entire spending budget (six years’ worth of paper route).

    Upon returning to Canada, I discovered that I could now purchase, for the price I’d paid, four Ataris and still have cash left for the Flapjack, but my parents wouldn’t take me back to Florida.

    Thus began my deep-rooted suspicion and loathing of technology. But I’m still looking for an unassembled Flapjack.

  6. Well, without getting overly pedantic, my workbench contains:

    – a three-subject discourse on the success of makeshift Spitfire versions including http://beingamodelcitizen.blogspot.com/2006/09/in-progress-spitfire-mk-xii-148-scale.html#links;

    – the basis of one of Steve McQueen’s best roles, Jake Holman, in landing party rig;

    – an exploration of how one German aviation manufacturer adopted American design practices and aicraft systems design in the form of the Ju 88, and;

    – an exploration of how a 1930’s design was stretched beyond practical reach in the form of the Bf109G6-R6 ‘kanonenboot’

    On top of that, a really bitchin USS Enterprise NCC-1701.

    But I digress

  7. I should send you my father’s phone; it’s in the shape of the Enterprise, and it makes the Red Alert sound when it rings. It needs someone to give it a reason to exist; maybe you could do some custom add-ons so it appears to be mating with a Romulan ship?

  8. Always good to read about Windsurfing, my ex was of olympic standards..

    Can I ask though – how did you get this picked up and into google news?

    Very impressive, is it something that is just up to Google or you actively created?

    Obviously this is a popular blog with great data so well done on your seo success..

  9. It’s in Google News? I didn’t know. Google moves in mysterious ways.

    As for my SEO, it’s almost entirely due to the built-in advantages of WordPress.com and my relentless self-promotion. Giving things titles that are words people will be Googling for and adding social bookmarking buttons doesn’t hurt either.

  10. They’re really cool beasts… I think they actually look rather beautiful in a scientific/functional kinda way.

    WIG is actually “Wing In Ground effect” – which makes rather more sense than Wing In Ground.

    Channel 4’s Equinox did a full 40 min program about the Caspian Sea Monster and the technology about 10-20 years ago – I can’t find it though. More recently James May did a BBC show that was partly about the CSM. Clips here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7638659.stm

  11. Pingback: Tag, I’m It « raincoaster

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