Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Will a modern 'Caspian Sea Monster' ride again?

I'm sure many readers remember how surprised Western news media were to learn during the 1980's of the existence of the Lun class ekranoplan, a ground effect vehicle developed from an earlier prototype dubbed by the CIA the 'Caspian Sea Monster'.

MD-160, the sole Lun class ekranoplan

Today MD-160 sits derelict in a Caspian Sea shipyard, covered in rust and bird droppings.  It's a sad end to what was, for its day, a very high-technology vessel indeed.

However, it looks like the ekranoplan concept is far from dead.  A Russian firm has announced plans to build a new, smaller version it calls the A-050.

The Central Design Bureau for Hydrofoil named for Alexeyev has already completed a draft design for the project. Recently, the enterprise announced that it is ready to begin construction on the first 54-ton ekranoplan in the new A-050 series. Georgy Antsev, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Central Design Bureau for Hydrofoil said, “We are prepared enough to already begin construction of the prototype,” as reported by Interfax-MNA.

According to him, "The A-050 has very good aerodynamics and has been successfully tested in a wind tunnel and on hydraulic canals.”

A model of the proposed A-050 ekranoplan (click for a larger view)

Georgy Antsev noted that the A-050 ekranoplan will be entirely equipped with Russian avionics and modern navigation and piloting systems developed jointly with NIIAO, which is part of KRET.

He also said that negotiations are already underway with potential customers. According to him, the A-050 is ideal for the Federal Border Service, Ministry of Emergency Situations, Federal Security Service, and Navy for patrolling of territoritories.

The A-050 ekranoplan will have a takeoff weight of 54 tons. It is designed to carry 9 tons of cargo or 100 passengers for a distance of up to 5,000 km at a cruising speed of 350-450 km/h. The ekranoplan may be outfitted with R-195 starting engines similar to the Su-25, and TV7-117SM boosters, as on the Il-114.

There's more at the link.

China has apparently already expressed an interest in buying the A-050. If it does, expect a Chinese copy of the design to emerge within a few years - they've done that with almost all the Russian ships and aircraft they've bought before. If Russia agrees to sell the A-050 to China, I expect them to charge a premium price to take that into account. Still, the A-050 has the speed to cover large areas of ocean quickly, ideal for patrolling or resupply purposes - and China's been building all those artificial island bases in the South China Sea that would benefit from such speed.



bruce said...

bizarre but interesting looking craft, problem is its inability to make a definite turn. Wing tip catches a wave, boom. High seas, boom. So its a fair weather straight shot heavy hauler. Sounds iffy for anything that needs to get there now, no matter what.

Uncle Lar said...

Anyone else, upon seeing the photo, immediately flash on that one historic very short flight of the Spruce Goose?

J G Pelham said...

While there are definite bank angle limits for ekranoplan their cruise height is a function of wing chord. You can see a very large chord in comparison to the wingspan which suggests a higher than usual cruise height while still in ground effect. Also the Anhedral applied to the lower wing on that model would suggest they are sacrificing some efficiency for a wider range or safe bank angles. It reminds me most of the Orlyonok https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A-90_Orlyonok which was itself used for long range air sea rescue. It was actually quite good in rough weather from what i've heard.

As a fast low level launch platform for "carrier killers" these would be very suitable.

Will said...

Looking at that MD-160, I'm thinking houseboat! Cruise North and South America. Change countries in a day. Outrun any Hurricane. Wonder what its best fuel mileage/speed is? Does it need all engines spooled up to achieve cruise, if no missiles are loaded?

I'd replace the missile tubes with hangers/storage bays for small seaplanes, boats/watercraft, submersible, and helicopters.

Probably more practical than getting the Spruce Goose for the same purpose.

That would beat the hell out of owning a yacht!

J G Pelham said...

It will need all engines to takeoff as water resistance is an order of magnitude higher than air resistance. Once aloft it would just need those two props.

The two little inlets in the nose will be for turbojets which exhaust through those bulges to increase airflow under the wing during takeoff. That is consistent with the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A-90_Orlyonok

Larry said...

They don't really need to bank for turns, either. They're entirely capable of "skidding" around in turns. I remember reading an account by a former USAAC P-26 "Peashooter" pilot describing the ridiculous belief of his commander in Panama that 'level' turns looked better in formation flying, so they practiced skidding horizontal using only the rudder to turn, and using the ailerons to keep the wings level. I see no reason why that wouldn't work with these beasts.