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These Monstrosities Fly…Sorta. Can You Guess What They Are?

It was huge and very efficient.  But it never was adopted beyond the USSR because of one little problem…

An Ekranoplan is perhaps one of the strangest looking and performing vehicles out there. Technically not an aircraft, yet resembling one, the Ekranoplan is known as a “ground effect vehicle” or a “wing-in-ground-effect” or “WIG.” It is designed to make use of ground effect and fly quickly and efficiently while extremely low to the ground or water. They can be incredibly large, yet very fuel efficient, and used regular land or water.

Although resembling an aircraft, perhaps a seaplane, and seemingly behaving like a hovercraft, it is neither. A ground effect vehicle relies entirely on staying in the floating like stage of flight. Most cannot even take off as the wing shape is intended only for these close to the ground flights. Several different wing designs have been considered and used when it comes to ground effect vehicles, including a type of delta wing concept and a tandem wing concept. In this video, the Ekranoplan is featured with its shorter than normal wing and unique design.

Mild success but the idea hasn’t taken off yet.

The Ekranoplan is Soviet designed and one of the most successful and largest ground effect vehicles out there. The most popular and used Soviet Ekranoplan is the A-90 Orlyonok. Used for quick transport the Olyonok served for several years within their military and proved to be a useful addition. While the production and use was canceled and with the fall of the Soviet Union, the project was taken over elsewhere but also dropped. Today, several companies and militaries are still interested in ground effect vehicles and it will certainly be interesting to see how things pan out for them.  One challenge these vehicles face is rough seas.  They can’t fly above the weather so they rely of traveling in calm waters and in areas above freezing.  The idea is great but their usefulness is marginal.

Title photo by Fred Schaerli.

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