Caspian Sea Monster

Ekranoplan, the Caspian Sea Monster

Arnold Fischer
4 minutes

15 April 1969. A fisherman is just about to lower his fishing net into the Caspian Sea when he perceives a metallic screaming noise on the horizon and the sea suddenly appears to shake. Seconds later, the noise is deafening and coming towards him is something that he can only describe as a monster. It is the most dangerous, ugliest and loudest thing he has ever seen. It terrifies him. He has heard from other fisherman that it is the “Caspian Sea Monster”. The unbelievably loud monster comes nearer, accompanied by huge foaming fountains of water. No, he thinks, that’s not a monster: the “thing” looks too technical. A few seconds later, it’s gone as if it had never been there – only the boiling spray remains.

The Caspian Sea Monster and the ground effect

Since the earliest days of flying, clever minds have repeatedly tried to invent something significant or fundamentally innovative, with more or less success. Early on, it was obvious to the world’s aircraft designers and engineers that there had to be something like a “ground effect”. They noticed that aircraft hover much longer close to the ground and also have their lowest energy losses at this point. Ground effect essentially means direct proximity to the ground, that is a few metres above it. However, flying aircraft at this altitude is impossible, alone because of the many obstacles that would stand in its path. Apart from on the sea, of course.

At the beginning of the Sixties, the Russian ship and aircraft designer, Rostislav Alexeyev, considered whether he could combine these facts with the benefit of flying under the radar. The Soviet Union wanted to use this massive flying object to shift the balance of power in the Cold War against the USA in their favour. Head of state, Nikita Khrushchev, gave the developer unlimited resources. “KM“, the abbreviation for “korabl-maket“ (“ship design”), was the name given to the novel vehicle. “KM” reached a maximum speed of almost 500 km/h with a length of over 90 metres, a height of 22 metres, a wingspan of 37 metres and a take-off weight of well over 544 tonnes.

Even the USA feared the Caspian Sea Monster

A US spy satellite flew over the Caspian Sea just a year after the KM’s first test flight. A little later, analysts assessed the images and stared, as shocked as the fisherman, at a seriously enlarged photo of a Soviet base – and a huge unknown object. They also feared this sight. Feared what they saw and feared a serious advance of the Russian military. After all, the Russians had initially outpaced the USA in manned space flight.

The initial design was followed by a second smaller and a third even bigger version with launch ramps for missiles. And, were the worst ever to come to the worst, this ekranoplan, known as “Lun”, would be capable of destroying American aircraft carriers. However, the “Caspian Sea Monster” didn’t have much of a future. Admittedly it set several speed records, but had to overcome turbulent flying behaviour in rough sea and ultimately suffered an accident during a test flight in which the crew were nevertheless saved in time. Who knows, maybe a fishing boat saved them.

Even though the ekranoplan first didn’t have much of a future, this might change now, as Russia is currently working on a successor – the beast is back

by Arnold Fischer

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