THE FLYING SHIPS – EKRANOPLANS

THE FLYING SHIPS – EKRANOPLANS: Ekranoplan is a hybrid version of aircrafts and ships and recently came into light when Russians started redesigning their old Ekranoplan (2017). This type of vehicle uses “ground effect” – which makes aerodynamic interaction between wings and surface to achieve fast, stable, and low-level flight. The vehicle is termed as Ekranoplan, Ground-effective Vehicle (GEV), Wing-in-ground-effect (WIG), ground-effect craft, screen plane, and wing ship.

Ekranoplan made its first appearance in the year 1960s. One of the leaders in Soviet Union – Nikita Khrushchev, disclosed that their nation is building a ship that can jump over bridges. This statement took everyone by surprise as he had disclosed one of the secret projects on which Soviet Union was working. These vehicles are designed to use “ground effect” over the surface level – mainly on seas, lakes, frozen lakes or flat plains. Before the introduction of Ekranoplans the fastest boat in the world was the hydrofoils. The speed of hydrofoil isn’t much in comparison and they are held by the phenomenon called the cavitation which disturbs the lift generated by the hydrofoil wings.

A-90 Orlyonok_Ekranoplans

Fig 1.3: A-90 Orlyonok

Ekranoplan – new concept introduced to the world

Rostislav Evgeniech Alexeyev, the director and chief designer of “Central Hydrofoil Bureau” introduced a new and unique concept. By removing the wings of hydrofoil out of the water and allowing it to speed up the vehicle, the lift is created and thus it will move the new formed vehicle called “Ekranoplan” to move at higher speed. The vehicle is the hybrid version of aircraft and ship but they don’t fly like aircraft or move in water surface. It is a vehicle that drives above air cushion just above the surface and this extra lift phenomenon is called the “ground effect”. Rostislav started creating small models and prototypes and proposed his idea to the Soviet Union to get the funding for building it on a large scale.

There are some famous Ekranoplans that are still in limelight but lost their presence in the advancement of technology. Few of them are disclosed as below:

Ekranoplan Models (Timeline)

Ekranoplan Models (Timeline)_Ekroplans

Advantages of Ekranoplans

Ekranoplans boasts of several advantages which are as follows:

  1. They run at a very high speed.
  2. It is very difficult to be tracked by radar and sonar.
  3. Military searching and patrolling can be done easily.
  4. Naval mines can be avoided as they can pass over them.
  5. An effective vehicle for shallow coastlines (which is a problem for big ships).
  6. Construction and Design is simple.
  7. Can quickly transport military goods and cargo across great oceanic distances.
  8. It is a potential weapon platform in a war zone.
  9. Stability and Efficiency can be achieved.
  10. The threat from a torpedo launched by a submarine is avoided.
  11. It can disappear quickly and launch missile at target from a far distance.
  12. Less dangerous in accidents and engine failure because of low altitude.

Drawbacks of Ekranoplans

The Ekranoplan has various drawbacks that are as follows:

  1. In extreme weather conditions such as high tides, they are not able to perform their function. Suitable only for normal weather conditions.
  2. While it can be easily manoeuvred on air, it is hard to operate while landing.
  3. Once detected, it is an easy target by ships, aircraft, and missiles.
  4. Produces sound that can be heard from a distance.
  5. These vehicles are big in size, costly and require more maintenance (salt water of sea is the problem for base material of ekranoplan).
  6. Low altitude makes very less option for pilot to avoid any collision.

Reasons that Stopped Its Production

There are various reasons due to which the production of this vehicle was stopped, especially on a large scale:  

  1. There were hardly any enemy attacks on Russia by nearby countries. They had no enemy who could attack from a smooth sea.
  2. The full range for such a big investment on building is low when compared to aircrafts.
  3. After the world war, the funding on military equipment was low.
  4. Limited utility reduced the production level, as it is hard to amortize the costs and to compete with aircrafts.
  5. There is difficulty in evacuating at the time of emergency. (This is due to the less egress points).
  6. Redesign and rework in order to achieve required results in early time increase engineering costs and waste of precious material.

Types of Wing Configuration

Ekranoplan has different configuration for wings which are as follows:

  • Straight wing: It is the oldest aircraft wing design. Straight wings are shorter in comparison with high aft-placed and horizontal tail which helps in maintaining stability of Ekranoplan.
  • Reverse-delta wing: Reversedeltawingallows stable flight in ground-effect through self-stabilization.
  • Tandem wings: The tandem wingsconsistof two wings: one is located in forward and the other in rear position. These are further divided into following configurations:
  • A biplane-style: Biplane style has a shoulder-mounted main lift wing & belly mounted sponssons.
  • A canard-style: This type has mid-size wing near the nose which helps in directing airflow under the main lift air-foil.
  • Two stubby wings: Two stubby wings in tandem-airfoil flair boat that is designed by Gunther Jorg was formed by self-stabilizing longitudinally.

Russia Began its Redesign (Ekranoplan A050 Chika 2)

Russia has disclosed that they are re-designing Chaika A50. The Project A-050-742D “Chaika-2″ started its testing and will be ready to operate in the year 2022. It will be armed with missiles and will be patrolling the Northern Sea Route, Black Sea and Caspian Sea. It weighs 50 tons and with speed up-to 450 km/h above water, ice, and flat plain surface. The version is provided with a range of 5,000km and can carry about 100 fighters. The vehicle can be used for – passenger transportation, emergencies (Ship sinks, plane crashes, Oil rig failure, etc.), monitoring and cargo transportation as well as troop deployment. Russians showed their interest in sharing their technology with India as they said, “India has BrahMos cruise missiles and our GEV can be equipped with them”. 

Why Is it Getting Re-designed?

  1. Russia wants to bring back missile-armed Ekranoplans to defend their claims in the Arctic.
  2. Russia wants to patrol the Northern Sea Route, Black Seas and Caspian Seas.
  3. NASA in the year 2014 claims that use of GEVs for passenger travel will lead to cheaper flights, increased accessibility, and less pollution.
  4. The Russians started to share the technology after getting into good economical position. They showed their interest of selling this to different countries including India.

Concluding Thoughts

The sudden boom in re-design of Ekranoplan by Russia received world-wide attention. The development of Ekranoplan is the need of the hour. The focus is on technology sharing (monetizing) and ease in analysis of such a big vehicle to reduce or remove its negative aspect without incurring additional cost. The secondary reasons are – border safety, faster rescue and cargo transportation for a country that is surrounded or linked with water ways. Countries have expressed their interest in owning such a vehicle that deflects radar and sonar system of the enemy and can work efficiently in a war zone.

Stay tuned for more updates regarding the Intellectual Property related to Ekranoplan. We will soon publish another article that discusses the Ekranoplan IP landscape.

-Ayush Bohra, Parteek Saxena (Engineering) and the Editorial Team

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