In the mist of Cold War, the Soviet Union built a revolutionary transport vessel that was bigger than any plane and faster than any ship. It was also capable of carrying nuclear warheads.Classified as a ground effect vehicle, the 300-foot-long Lun-class Ekranoplane flew just four meters or so off the surface of water through the ground effect generated by its large wings.
It theoretically represented a new threat against the West, though the ship did not enter wide production and it never saw action.
The only model ever produced, the MD-160, was retired in the late 1990s and now sits rusting at a naval station in Kaspiysk. Aviation blogger Igor113 captured some awesome pictures of the Ekranoplane and shared them here.
At the pinnacle of the Cold War, when the Soviets were realizing they had few options left in defeating the West, the Lun-class Ekranoplane likely held high hopes for many Kremlin officials. Larger than a football field, the Lun was a technological innovation the likes of which the world had never seen. Eight powerful turbofans producing 28,600 pounds of thrust apiece — as much as the new F-35 engines — are mounted at the nose of the craft. It has a flying boat hull and a “step” to help reduce friction and provide lift for takeoff. The vessel carried six P-270 Moskit guided missiles that could all be armed with nuclear warheads. Concealed in the nose and tail are the most cutting-edge radar and tracking systems of the day.
The physics principle keeping the Ekranoplan aloft is unique. The “wing in ground” effect allows the fully loaded, 2-million-pound aircraft to fly low over the water and even offers decent fuel economy. Ground Effect Vehicles are twice as efficient as traditional airplanes and can carry twice as much payload. The effect that allows the huge Ekranoplane to skim the surface of the water can be seen in low-flying seabirds that glide above the sea without flapping their wings. The Lun would have skimmed so close to the water that it would have evaded radar detection and been recognized only after it was too late.
The Lun would never have been able to fly any higher than the length of its wings, but it could still serve a valuable purpose. The Lun could have carried hundreds of tons of cargo and troops, flying about 1,240 miles at 340 mph. Another version of the Lun, the Spasatel, was slated to be a field hospital — able to rush to any coast to provide expansive medical care to wounded Soviet troops. Funding for the medical version dried up, however, and the Spasatel was never built.
There was also an anti-submarine variant fitted with six anti-ship missile launchers across the top of the fuselage. Limitations of the Lun included its inability to bank sharply and how it could only take off into the wind. Though it has a tail gunner, the Lun would likely have required fighter support, as well. Though it can avoid mines and torpedoes, the huge Lun would have been vulnerable from the air. Though that weakness was of little concern to the Soviets.
The only model built rusts away and the Russians have no plans to restart the program.