Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The LUN Class Ekranoplan

It is fun to be associated with the Cold War Air Museum (although admittedly, some days are more "fun" than others).

One of the fun aspects is to hear from so many people who have stories to tell, or aircraft to sell. The MD-160, (NATO code named "Duck", Russian "Hen Harrier") is a unique "aircraft".

Intended to be the first of a new class of anti-ship weapon platform, only one was completed, serving with Soviet and Russian forces through the 90's. With engines mounted in a canard at the front, six nuclear capable missile tubes above the fuselage and a radar/sensor suite on the tail, the MD-160 was intended to approach its target from below radar coverage at speeds approaching 300 knots. More information about the design and class can be found at these Global Aircraft and Wikipedia links.

Recently, we were contacted by Igor, who has produced an active journal with more pictures and information about this aircraft. With a 240 foot length, 144 foot wingspan and a maximum takeoff weight of 882,000 pounds, this is a truly massive project in the finest Soviet tradition. For those of us that can't read Russian, Google makes a valiant attempt at rendering a translated version of Igor's journal. A sense of humor is helpful when reading automated translations. In this effort, one of my smiles came from Google's choice description of an engine part as a "marching band".

After construction, the craft was launched into the Volga river on 16 July, 1986. Although reported to be capable of limited flight and having the appearance of an airplane, most Western sources show the MD-160 to have been commissioned as a ship in the Soviet Navy.

Like sea birds skimming just above the ocean, an ekranoplan uses ground effect to decrease the energy required for flight. In addition to the MD-160, the Ekranoplan Program developed high speed naval transport designs. A sister ship, the second in the LUN series, was changed on the drawing boards from an attack craft to a mobile hospital or rescue ship, but it was never completed.

Experimental designs using ground effect pre-date WWII and the inherent efficiency of the design continues to see expression in experimental projects such as the Boeing Pelican ULTRA.

We enjoyed Igor's journal and hope others will enjoy it as well and by the way, if you are looking for a very large piece of Cold War History, this one might be available. It's too big for us, at least until our next hangar expansion or until we can construct a Texas sized lake or river nearby.

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