KM - The "Caspian Sea Monster"
It is not a plane, it is not a boat, it is not a terrestrial vehicle. It is not also a hover craft -- though it has some resemblances. The name is strange: Ekranoplan, a compound made from the Russian expression ecranniy, which means "ground effect" and refers to a vehicle that is able to shift a place very fast because of this effect. But what amazing machine is that, which seems to come from a science fiction movie or from a modern PC game?
When a plane surface moves in a great velocity closer of another plane surface, the air existing between them forms a kind of mattress that keep them apart. This phenomenon, known as "ground effect", became possible the conception of a vehicle that could dislocate overflowing the ground without building roads or routes. Besides, the low friction could allow it to reach the greatest velocities. The standard sliding surface would be the water, as it is completely smooth and free of obstacles. Then the ekranoplan concept was born.
The Russian Rostislav Evgenievich Alexeyev was the first to conceive that skill in the years after the World War II. The Soviet govern at the Cold War liked to think about the development of a speedy military vehicle impossible to be detected by radar. The project, denominated KM, was concluded in 1966. It was the first and the biggest ground effect vehicle (GEV) that was ever constructed, with 100 meters length and more than 500 tons weight, pushed by 10 powerful turbojets. The tests happened over the waters of the Caspian Sea under top secret and an American spy satellite. 20 unities of this vehicle were built, instead of the 100 unities initially planned.
The ekranoplan development continued to be supported by the Soviet govern and, in 1972, a smaller but more efficient device appeared: the Orlyonok A-90. It had just 58 meters length and had about 140 tons. However, two reactors and a motor helix made it exceed 400km/h in an altitude from 5 to 10 meters. These characteristics made it able to be operated over land, what could be really amazing! Several devices like these were in service at the Caspian Sea and at the Black sea until 1992.
Nowadays ekranoplans can be seen a little everywhere. They are not designated to military purposes as the huge models produced by the time of ex-USSR any more, but they are designated to commercial and touristic uses. Even with the little stability offered by these devices, in a general way -- something that the technology evolution solved --, they continue to represent a valid and relatively economic means of transport. The concept which originated one of the strangest and most fascinating machines that the talent of the human race could conceive prevailed.
Aerocom Atlantis 1
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