HUMONGOUS Soviet ground-effect tank-plane

I know nothing about this titanic Lun Soviet ground-effect war-tank-plane-thing. The description (in Russian) contains a large number of specialized ground-effect tank-plane enthusiast vocabulary words that stymie Google Translate. It appears that it could traverse broken apocalyptic roads, frozen tundra, and water with equal ease, skimming below radar, too. But I can't say anything else for sure.

So I will say this: if you fed a hyperactive 12 year old lad a diet of old Astounding Stories covers and put him in the most boring math class of all time for 28 straight hours with a collection of fine pens and a binder full of doodling paper, he just might produce one of these.

Экраноплан "Лунь" проекÑ‚ 903 (Thanks, Elapsv!)


  1. Google “Ekranoplan” for some great information and photos. These apparently were built in a variety of models.

  2. These are called Ekranoplan, there’s a fair bit of information about them in Wikipedia.
    If you want to see video of them in action, there are plenty on YouTube. Try this one:

    They work by exploiting ground effect to skim just above the surface of water or smooth surfaces.

    Pretty impressive stuff. Although the Soviets appear to have abandoned the technology, the Chinese seem to be developing them, there’s one at a seaplane base on Google Earth.

  3. The Lun Ekranoplan was one of the more unique aircraft designs to come out of USSR during the cold war. Kinda makes you wonder, at the end of WWII all the conservative German scientists came to the ‘States and all the eccentric ones went to ‘Russia.

    1. Kinda makes you wonder, at the end of WWII all the conservative German scientists came to the ‘States and all the eccentric ones went to ‘Russia.

      Are you kidding? The ones that came to the United States helped us send some dudes to the moon and gave them a dune buggy so they could go joyriding once they got there.

  4. This looks like one of the Ekranoplan flying boats in which Soviet Russia were very interested for their their own rapid deployment plans. The plane depended on the Ground effect ie. that is when you have enough speed above water an air cushion will keep it aloft. Looks mighty interesting but am only too glad not to have to pay the bill for the gas station.
    More on Wikipedia under Ekranoplan.
    Greetz, Rob

  5. The Soviets had a hard-on for these “ekranoplans” in the Cold War era. Their largest was on the order of 400 TONS all-up weight. They were intended as guided missile platforms, high speed transports and amphibious assault vehicles.

    Wikipedia is a good place to start:

  6. I remember seeing a documentary on that vehicle a few years ago on UK TV. You can find a bunch more pictures and links of it by googling ‘ekranoplan’, which I think is the Russian term for ‘Ground Effect Vehicle’. I think the documentary was called ‘The Caspian Sea Monster’.

    One of the fascinating things I recall about it was that although it has eight jet engines it only requires two of them for normal flight – the other six are just required to take off from the water and get into ground effect and are turned off once it’s got going.

    Those are astonishing pictures of it although it is a shame to see it deteriorating. I guess it’s not practical enough to justify the (presumably huge) expense of keeping it running.

  7. I have no idea how something like that could’ve gotten off the ground. But, then again, I’ve flown in a C-5 and I have no idea how THAT behemoth got off the ground either.

    1. They basically only get one wingspan altitude off the ground. There were some skimmers made in the states that basically flew above fence height. These would be reasonable desert aircraft as well, anywhere you have expanses of flat land, limited vegetation and rock formations.

      Getting stuck in ground effect is one of the dangers of overloading your aircraft and attempting lift-off at high altitude airports. If you don’t realize it in time to set back down on the runway, you fly until you find obstructions. It’s why checking pressure-altitude and knowing your take-off weight is pretty important in the high plains.

  8. I love the fact that it’s called a “Monster”.

    The thing still holds the record for carrying the heaviest load out of any airplane and was capable of taking out aircraft carriers (seeing as how it’s able to cruise on water and was invisible to radar).

    Shame that it’s not the safest or cheapest thing to fly and had to be canceled. I doubt that any civilian airline would want to fly so fast and so low to the ground, but I would still like to have taken a ride on one.

  9. “Good news, Comrade Chairman! Our valiant engineers have finally come up with a counter for the dreaded American Landmaster!”

    “That is excellent news, Vasili. George Peppard will never know what hit him!”

  10. I always had an image of the Ekratoplan Wing of the Red Air Force racing across the Pacific to attack California in the name of the Motherland and Socialism… right up to the moment they smashed into the Philipine squid-fishing fleet.

  11. For some reason, I read through that and my brain immediately started to craft rules for what these things would be like in Ogre/G.E.V. Insanely fast missile tanks that cross the field in six turns or so, with no turn radius, no way to slow down.

    1. > Insanely fast missile tanks

      David Drake, the Hammer’s Slammers stories. Turbofans and skirts, mostly energy weapons, if memory serves.

  12. The only complaint is that “Soviet” technology means it’s powered by a donkey on a treadmill.

    1. Or by two four engine low-bypass turbine pods.

      One had a massive contra-rotating prop up in the tail, I suppose your conjecture of about 500 donkeys on treadmills down in the fuse could have powered it.

  13. In Soviet Russia… OMFG!

    So those video game bosses I killed in the late eighties were closer to reality than I thought. Wild.

    1. I have the sudden urge to buy one and create…HOUSEBOATPLANE!

      You and me both. I’ve always loved the idea of living on a houseboat. A gigantic military-grade houseboatplane will do nicely. :-)

  14. W.T.F.

    That things is crazy.

    I gotta tell you if I saw that thing coming at me I would just say forget it, I am going home, this is nuts…

    Looks like something out of a Hayao Miyazaki nightmare.

  15. Fantastic photos.(^-^). Looks like a metallic dinosaur.
    Love the photo in the cockpit. Are those ropes for emergency exits?

  16. Wow, never heard of these “boats” before and they are quite impressive. Though it seems like they have a lot of navigational issues when turning, even when using computers to assist. Though i am highly curious as to how efficient they are when compared to comparable planes and boats.

  17. Am I the only one that thinks this looks like something straight out of the “Fallout” games?

    1. …and at Darth Vain; forget Miyazaki, this thing looks as though it fell out of a Gerry and Sylvia Anderson production. Heck, a lot of Soviet era hardware did, for that matter…

  18. @#13
    Have you seen the size of the frikkin hovercraft on the apron just adjacent to the Ekranoplan?

    Did the Russians ever build anything on any scale other than massive?

  19. C5s look like airplanes – only much, much bigger.

    I love the Russian design philosophy which says that anything can be made airborne if you strap enough rockets and engines to it.

  20. I’m an airplane guy and have some interest in the ekranoplan concept. The russian text at the bottom of Cory’s post says (I think): Ekranoplan “moon” project 903
    I think Ekranoplan literally means Screening plane (spy plane)
    But I could be wrong, my russian is VERY basic

    This is as safe as any other low flying aircraft, possibly more so because the stability is designed for ground effect flight, regular planes tend to get somewhat weird controls due to the ground effect cancelling out the circulation effect from high pressure to low pressure which causes the spiral effect from the back of the wingtip which can sometimes be seen.
    This circulation effect drops the efficiency of the wing a lot. Methods to try to minimize this effect are: winglets (the little vertical thing like a rudder you sometimes see on the wingtips of aircraft), high aspect ratio (long, narrow wings) and flying low.

    The Ekranoplan was designed to use this effect, and so is able to carry heavy loads with very high aerodynamic efficiency. MUCH more efficient (aerodynamically) than a jumbo jet.
    The trade of is a max cruising altitude of around 100 feet (it can go a bit higher, but loses efficiency) and therefor sensitivity to weather, obstacles and terrain. High waves might also be a problem.

    Modern jets go high for many good reasons, one of which is to get out of the weather. That’s probably the biggest concern which makes this otherwise brilliant experiment non-viable as a commercial machine.

  21. I’m honestly surprised that you’ve never heard of these things before, Cory. I’d’ve thought they’d’ve turned up in BB long before this. Anyhow, here‘s a family tree of all the Soviet ground-effect vehicles. The subject of this post is the one on the furthest right.

  22. I am crossing the Caspian Sea this summer… I now fully expect to travel via, or at least see one of these beautiful machines.

  23. I’m completely delighted that one of the sites about the Ekranoplane above refers to “wing-in-ground-effect” as “wing-in-ground” effect.

  24. Forget Miyazaki and the Kubrick biting Gerry Anderson, this thing is straight out of the Gundam original series. I expect to see it in space launching mobile suits out of those missile silos.

    As an aside, Kubrick did sue Anderson—for years on end.

  25. Perhaps it was decided that having six giant missile tubes directly above the cockpit and passenger compartment could lead to crew complaints in case of failure.

  26. I’d love to build a balsa model version of this- for when I need to fly a heavy toolbox across a lake to someone.

  27. What I’m trying to figure out is how they maintained CG within allowable limits as the missiles lit off and launched. With a flying altitude of only a few meters, there’d be almost no time for trim corrections. Or maybe it was supposed to pop up for launch, trim for CG as quickly as possible, then back to the surface and scoot for home?

  28. Some translation for all you yankees :) : the plane could just barely skim off the surface of the water, but in doing so could reach speeds of up to 600 km/hr. So it was more of a boat with wings than a sea plane. The thing weighed 400-500 metric tons depending on the payload, and was meant to specialize in destroying aircraft carriers. It was equipped with six “Moskit” missiles which travel at 2.5 times the speed of sound and to this day cannot be intercepted by any existing technology.
    I think the reason that the Google translator was befuddled by the linked article has to do with its use of compound words more than anything. I know nothing of aviation, but was able to understand the article clearly. Nice links though.

  29. So. Awesome. A Cold War Miyazaki wet dream. . .OF DEATH!!! (and 600kph is 360+mph. . .what’s the turning radius and braking distance on a thing like that?) A final thank you Jesus that it was never used as intended. . .

    1. totally Miyazaki! – Nausica Valley of the Wind, Laputa: Castle in the Sky inspiration for sure.

  30. MrSmirnov is correct (according to the research on this beast that I did for a work of fiction a few years ago). Basically, it’s any Carrier Admiral’s worst nightmare — think of it as a missile boat, the successor of a WW2 torpedo boat, only able to cruise at 300-350mph at wavetop height. Hard to pick up on radar at long range, able to close very fast, and armed with six of the deadliest anti-shipping missiles ever built — ones that, to this day, western navies aren’t good at defending against. (The upgraded Thales Goalkeeper 33mm point defense gun can theoretically take one out on the way in, but I doubt it’d be able to engage six of them in the space of thirty seconds, much less the kind of barrage that a squadron of Luns could unleash. NB: the missile in the YouTube video appears to be an Exocet — the Moskit is about five to six times as fast.)

    1. Yes I think the general idea was that if you were engaging a country that has a carrier fleet, then it’s unlikely that you are in a conventional war anymore since anyone with a carrier fleet worth talking about had nukes. At that point it’s just plain easier to Nuke the fleet.

  31. This must be the ectoplane that’s featured in the recent James Bond book, “Devil May Care”. More about it at Wikipedia. Clearly for real, was to “fly” extremely low over the ground or water, very fast.

  32. You say “Ekranoplan”, I say “most fucking awesome thing ever fucking built”.

    Truly spectacular photographs.

  33. I was addicted to “Wings” (not the stupid comedy) when I was a teen and never did they do a show on this thing. I’m so disapointed in the show, but extraordinarily delighted by all the links! Thanks, BB!

  34. Wow, totally awesome. I’m not a military expert but I’m pretty sure this beast could hardly be engaged without air support, at that speed it literally runs circles around even the fastest military ship.

    This thing would also fit perfectly into a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game.

  35. The pictures aren’t just of ‘a’ Lun ekranoplan, they are of the only working Lun ever built. Shame, it doesn’t look like she’ll be flying/skimming anywhere again without a lot of work.

  36. I remember seeing a TV programme about this a couple of months ago where the presenter had a go in a consumer ekranoplan. If your tempted theres a company called bently yachts that will sell you one for a very reasonable $75m…

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