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Ekranoplanes - the most unusual airplanes!

Started by Phil Bunch, Wed, 15 Jan 2014 01:24

Phil Bunch

I watched a TV documentary on these airplanes today and was amazed at their unusual design and purposes.  Apparently they were designed and built by the Russians during the cold war, and with their high speed close to the ocean's surface, they might have presented a threat to an enemy Navy.  Other applications included things like some sort of amphibious landing craft, etc.

It must have been quite dramatic to ride one of these things very close to the ocean's surface, especially under conditions of significant waves, etc.

It might work better to feed this URL to

Be sure and scroll down and take a look at some of the more exotic models!  The Orlyonok is interesting, too.  It's interesting that the tail assembly seems much higher than for a normal plane, presumably to keep the control surfaces away from ocean spray and the spray from the engines impacting the ocean surface.

There is some additional information here:

I think this is my favorite model:

Am I the only person who had never heard of these aircraft?
Best wishes,

Phil Bunch

Richard McDonald Woods


I have heard mention of them, but many years ago.

It strikes me as a very much more expensive method of rapid transport over water than our old friend the hovercraft.

Here in the UK, I believe I am correct in saying that the only regular use of the hovercraft remaining is the Solent service from Portsmouth (my nearest city) to the Isle of Wight operated by

The Isle of Wight is the home of the original hovercraft experiments (see

Cheers, Richard
Cheers, Richard

Jeroen Hoppenbrouwers

It's all about fuel economy. Hovercrafts probably use a lot more fuel to work as they don't deploy lift at all.

Phil Bunch

Thanks for the comments.

As you probably know, the US Navy has a fleet of at least one large hovercraft (I think it's the "LCAC"), used to support amphibious landings of soldiers and large equipment.  AFAIK all US hovercraft use a flexible skirt to trap some air to be used for hovering.  They aren't very fast and can't take off or fly somewhere.

As was mentioned in the replies, the ekranoplane is nominally the same idea, hovering close to the sea (or land) surface, but it doesn't seem to use a "skirt" to trap air for lifting the craft above the ocean surface.  Perhaps if you dump enough jet engine exhaust in the right direction, you don't need a skirt!  In the TV show a claim was made for a 300 km/sec cruising speed, but I don't know if that was just a possibility or if it could actually be used very much.  They mentioned that salt spray caused the engines to have a short lifetime and to need intensive maintenance.  

I tried to envision how useful it would be in an actual naval battle, against surface ships or submarines.  Since the Navy uses airborne radar planes to monitor at least 200 miles from their ships (esp aircraft carriers), it would seemingly take quite a bit of stealth technology to avoid detection and prompt destruction by the zillion types of weapons a carrier group has at hand.   If the ekranoplane could come in at 300 km/sec on an unsuspecting carrier group and then fire its missiles, submarines and cruise missiles, that might be more than a little stressful.  

In any event, it seems that the Russians didn't deploy the things in large numbers or very seriously.  There was also a US navy jet seaplanes or two that were test flown, but they had many seemingly unsolved problems, such as refueling (a fighter only has about 20 minutes of fuel if it's going very fast for very long).  

The TV show said that the incredible size of the largest ekranoplane was shocking to the photo reconnaissance planes that first picked it up in its dock on the Caspian sea.  The Russians certainly weren't afraid to "go big" when they designed a new type of military vehicle!  I think of the big Hind helicopters, for example, as well as their "Tsar Bomba", the biggest nuclear weapon ever dropped from a bomber (I think it was 60 megatons).

As glad as I am that the Cold War is over, it did keep everyone busy introducing new and occasionally exotic weapons systems, some being more successful than others...I especially miss the SR-71 Blackbird.  Now *that* was a beautiful and effective airplane!  Not as effective as the 747-400, though!!  Now I wonder who the US military plans to use their hyper-expensive new weapons against.  Some of their aircraft now cost $1 Billion or so (e.g., the B2 stealth bomber).  I think the new J-35 stealth fighter is exceptionally expensive, too.  And who are all their nuclear missiles targeted at???    Oh, well - I guess they can always go back into Iraq and look for those missing weapons of mass destruction...[sarcastic comment].
Best wishes,

Phil Bunch

Jeroen Hoppenbrouwers

Ekranoplanes cannot hover -- then fly like real aeroplanes and need airspeed to take off and lose the water drag. They just do not have sufficient thrust and/or lift to get out of ground effect, comparable to a normal aircraft that rotates too early and struggles low over the runway at full throttle, not gaining altitude and crashing into a building one mile ahead. The return for this seemingly underperforming behaviour is that their by design not so powerful engines guzzle significantly less fuel than airplanes would.

Apparently the Russians were not so interested in fuel economy, but instead went larger, building much larger craft than would ever really fly, pushed by normal engines (and quite a few of them!).



hi - had posted this some time ago...