The monster of the Caspian Sea rises

Stranded for more than a year on the western shores of the Caspian Sea, it looks like a colossal aquatic beast, something strange perhaps more at home underwater than in the air.

It certainly doesn’t look like something that can fly. But he did, albeit a long time ago. In July 2020, after lying dormant for more than three decades, the Caspian Sea Monster, one of the most striking flying machines ever built, was back on the move on what, most likely, was its final journey. It took 14 hours for a flotilla of three tugs and two escort vessels to maneuver slowly along the shores of the Caspian Sea to deliver their bulky special cargo to its destination, a stretch of coastline near Russia’s southernmost point.

It is here, next to the ancient city of Derbent, in the Russian republic of Dagestan, that the 380-ton “Lun-class Ekranoplan” has found her new and probably permanent home. The last of his kind to sail the Caspian waters, “Lun” was abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, condemned to rust at the Kaspiysk naval base, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) off the coast. above Derbent. But, before she could vanish, she was rescued thanks to plans to turn it into a tourist attraction. Ironically.

This happens just at a time when this unusual marine vessel concept might be ready to make a comeback. Ground-effect vehicles, also known as “ekranoplans,” are a kind of hybrid between airplanes and ships. They move on the water without touching it. The International Maritime Organization classifies them as ships, but in fact, they derive their unique high-speed capabilities from the fact that they skim the surface of the water at a height of between one and five meters (three to 16 feet).

They take advantage of an aerodynamic principle called “ground effect This combination of speed and stealth (their proximity to the surface while flying makes them difficult to detect by radar) caught the attention of the Soviet military, which experimented with various variants of the concept during the Cold War. Their deployment in the vast inland body of water between the Soviet Union and Iran led them to acquire the nickname “Monster of the Caspian Sea.” The ekranoplan “Lun” was one of the last designs in the Soviet ground effect vehicle program.

Longer than an Airbus A380 superjumbo and almost as tall despite its size and weight, the Lun was capable of speeds of up to 550 kilometers per hour (340 mph) thanks to eight powerful turbofans located on its stubby wings.
This formidable machine was even capable of taking off and landing in stormy conditions, with waves of up to eight feet. Its intended mission was to carry out lightning strikes by sea with the six anti-ship missiles it carried in launch tubes attached to the top of its hull.