At the end of July 2020, the world's only ekranoplane Lun was successfully towed from Kaspiysk to the city of Derbent. Transporting the vessel took almost 14 hours. Pontoons were used for towing. This ingenious invention of Soviet designers, whose history ended so ingloriously, will soon become the main exhibit at the Patriot Park branch. When in the Central Design Bureau for SEC them. R. Ye. Alekseeva began work on project 903 under the terrifying title "Caspian Monster", no one could have imagined that their development would end its life in the museum. Then the designers were working on creating a formidable and dangerous weapon, the Cold War was coming to an end, and a large country was about to collapse. Let's go back to that time for a while.
What are ekranoplans and what they are capable of
Before we get to know the device "Lun", which was unique, let's take a short excursion into history. First, let's find out what the ekranoplanes were like. This is a category of aircraft that use the so-called ground effect for flight. During movement over shielding surfaces (ice, water, snow), such devices experience a sharp increase in aerodynamic characteristics and wing lift. The effect of the influence of the earth increases as the speed of the ground effect vehicle decreases and the distance between it and the surface decreases. Don't underestimate such vessels. These massive vehicles seem to be clumsy, which in fact they are, because maneuverability is not their strong point, but they can jump right off the bat and give a sharp start.
Ekranoplanes are capable of high speeds up to 400-600 km / h and more, which seems surprising for such a heavy water bird. WIGs fly only at a relatively low altitude of just a couple of meters. If you ever had a unique opportunity to fly on such a vessel, you could only admire the water surface or the snowy desert at arm's length, and you would have to forget about the bird's-eye views.
Only Soviet scientists were involved in the development of this type of apparatus. Our designers had good reasons for that, because ekranoplanes have a lot of advantages:
They are much safer than regular planes. When a malfunction is detected, such a vessel simply dumps gas and sits on the water. Even strong wind and waves, if the device is flying over the river, will not become a hindrance. Falling from a two-meter height for an ekranoplan is like an adult falling off a children's stool, although he can still beat off his tailbone, but there will be no unpleasant consequences for the device. The fuel consumption of the devices is much lower, since the power plant works in a sparing mode ... Ekranoplanes can go on long sorties through enemy territory and do without refueling much longer than reconnaissance aircraft.
High speed, which we already mentioned above. Did you know that ekranoplanes can fly much faster than hydrofoils or the more publicized hovercraft? They had several engines, which the designers divided into two groups. In the event of a failure of one of the engines included in the cruising group, they could be easily compensated for with one of the engines from the launch group. The aircraft did not lose either speed or maneuverability and continued on its way as if nothing had happened. In terms of carrying capacity, such devices are superior to aircraft.
WIGs can be launched from any site. Landing can also be done even in extreme conditions. There is no need to clear the runway. Since ships fly several meters above the ground, their movements are difficult to track with radar. The devices can work in any conditions. As a shielding surface, water, snow-covered desert, ice surface, off-road conditions are used. Such a device will not get stuck halfway, because the road was blocked by fallen trees or the enemy blew up the bridge.
The interesting effect of the influence of the earth was first studied in detail by a Finnish engineer who made an unusual sled. In the USSR, many scientists worked on the development of such aircraft, but Rostislav Alekseev, a well-known Soviet shipbuilder, who was awarded a number of prestigious awards, including the Stalin Prize for the creation of a hydrofoil, became the real "father" of ekranoplanes. As you yourself could see, the ekranoplanes had great potential, but, alas, work on the projects was hastily curtailed, when after the collapse in the country, the devastation began, staff began to "leak", and ideas were sold for next to nothing.
Deadly: "Lun" and his little secret
If we recall the advantages of ekranoplanes, it becomes obvious that these ships could be successfully used for military purposes: reconnaissance, rescue operations, transportation of important cargo. "Lun" had to perform completely different functions. On such a relatively harmless device, Mosquito anti-ship missiles were installed, which could destroy an enemy ship in one fell swoop. The massive, hulking apparatus with short wings has become a dangerous weapon. The first "Lun" was launched in 1986. It was a giant among ekranoplanes, weighing 400 tons. Its main opponents were to be aircraft carriers. Invisibility for radars and the high speed of the ekranoplan allowed it to imperceptibly approach the ship close to the distance of an accurate missile launch.
The height of the vehicle body was 19 meters. Maximum he could rise 5 meters above the shielding surface, but this vessel did not need more. The length of its hull was 73 meters. It was divided into ten compartments, each of which was waterproof. There were three decks on the hull. A hydro-skiing device was located under the bottom of the vehicle, which was used during landing. The center section of the wing was located in the middle part. The thickness of the hull plating is from 4 to 12 millimeters. The decks were intended for the location of service equipment and rocket launchers. The wingspan of the vehicle in which the fuel was stored was 44 meters.
Work on this large-scale project began in the 70s. The ekranoplan was assembled at the Volga experimental plant in 1983. More than three years later, it was launched and sent to Kaspiysk, where the device passed a number of tests, and its design was finalized. By 1990, "Lun" was put into operation and this is where its story ends. It is known for certain that the device was listed in the 236th division of the Caspian Flotilla, but already in 2001 it disappeared from all the lists. The ekranoplan was simply written off, gutted, the secret electronics were handed over to warehouses, and the ship itself was mothballed in a dry dock, where it could only quietly rust. An honorable place in one of the expositions of Derbent is a lucky ticket for decommissioned vehicles that have never been in a real battle.
According to project 903, Soviet specialists were originally supposed to design eight ekranoplanes. After the launch of the first, the work was stopped, because the USSR was already in agony. Even the most promising projects were hastily curtailed, funding was cut off, and scientists had other concerns.
For scrap or for a museum?
"Lun" became a unique experiment of Soviet scientists. This project had both opponents and supporters. The key advantage of the device is speed. And no one could argue with that. In 2011, data appeared that ekranoplanes would be disposed of in the near future. This caused a negative reaction from the public. The activists sent a letter to the Ministry of Defense with a request to transfer the equipment to the museum. Interestingly, in 1990, the American military became interested in Soviet developments. They appreciated the prospects of using ekranoplanes at their true worth. The US Congress even created a special commission that was supposed to deal with this project, but its members decided to take the path of least resistance and put forward a proposal, ingenious in its simplicity, to appeal to the USAs.
A couple of years ago, this might have seemed like a joke, but the Americans really contacted the USA authorities with a tempting offer. They give $ 200,000, and in return they are given the opportunity to study, shoot, pick and probe one of the ekranoplanes at the base in Kaspiysk. The parties clapped their hands, and the deal was successfully closed.
When the Americans collected enough material, they went home, where they began their own development. Surprisingly, the stormy activity of foreign designers ended in the same way as the work on ekranoplanes in the USSR, that is, nothing. The project, which was named Pelican, was either frozen or classified. The last mention of the ekranolet, which was supposed to take on board 17 tanks, occurs back in 2003. The future of ekranoplanes could have been completely different if this project had been given the green light, but circumstances did not leave them a chance. Today, few people remember this development, but everything can change dramatically in 30-50 years, because a lot of data about projects that have already been repeatedly revived like a magic phoenix bird are stored on the dusty shelves of archives.
The Topic of Article: Predatory Lun: The Fate of the ”Carrier Assassin”.