Take A Look At These Incredible Shots Of The Russia’s Sole Completed Lun-Class Ekranoplan

The MD-160, the sole completed Lun-class ekranoplan model. (All images: Lana Sator, unless otherwise stated)

Some new interesting (internal and external) images have emerged of the only Project 903 Attack/Transport ground effect vehicle (Ekranoplan) with carrier-killing supersonic missiles that has recentlty made its final voyage before becoming museum.

On Jul. 31, 2020, Russia’s only completed MD-160 Lun class ekranoplan, towed by a tug, made its final voyage across the Caspian Sea. The trip, taking 14 hours in total, was required to move the gigantic non-operational ground effect vehicle (GEV) designed by Rostislav Evgenievich Alexeyev in 1975, from Kaspiysk naval base, where it had remained sitting unused since it was retired in the late 1990s, to Derbent, Dagestan, where it will will be put on display at the (future) Patriot Park on the Caspian Sea.

Officials and journalists were invited to the ceremony and the towing operations were widely reported in the media. However, it turns out that no Patriot Park was built in Derbent, and the ekranoplan lies on its belly near a wild beach where it has become a key local attraction.

Photoreporter Lana Sator made the trip to Derbent and took some really awesome shots of the impressive Lun class wings in ground effect (WIG) plane (including some pretty interesting ones of the cockpit and interior).


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Увидеть экраноплан “Лунь” изнутри – это было целью моего спонтанного возвращения в Дагестан. Редко рассказываю истории возникновения идей прогулок, подготовки и процесса, – но, может быть, именно такого контента здесь не хватает? Впрочем, инстаграм не так хорош для лонгридов, текст разбит на части и помещён в комментарии. Продублирую на английском, как обычно. Фотки снаружи, если кто не видел, – во вчерашнем посте. Seeing “Lun” ekranoplane from the inside was the main purpose of my spontaneous return to Dagestan. I rarely tell stories of ideas for walks, preparation and exploration process – but maybe this is the kind of content that is missing here? However, instagram isn’t so good for longread, – the text is broken down into parts and placed in comments. 🇬🇧 English text in comments below.

Un post condiviso da Lana Sator (@lanasator) in data:

Known as Ekranoplan in Russia, the GEV or WIG plane is a vehicle that is designed to attain sustained flight over a level surface (usually over the sea) by making use of ground effect, the aerodynamic interaction between the wings and the surface. The cushion of air reduces drag allowing the WIG to carry significant payload over long distances, very fast and very low: this makes a WIG equipped with missiles difficult to detect and a significant threat to any enemy warship.

The ground effect explained. (Image credit: declassified CIA doc)

The Soviet WIG program began in the early 1960s. At the end of the 1980s, a then secret CIA document said that the WIGs “will add a new dimension to naval surface warfare when they become operational. They are designed to fly at speeds of 200 to 250 knots at about 5 to 10 meters above the water’s surface (the ground-effect zone)”.

An aerial view of the ekranoplan at Derbent, in Russia’s republic of Dagestan.

Lun class ekranoplan was built in 1987 and given the reporting name Utka class. “The Utka class WIG is a tactical strike and coastal defense vehicle for the Soviet Navy” the CIA said. “It carries six supersonic SS-N-22 antiship cruise missiles. The Utka, can engage enemy ships out to its radar horizon (about 35 kilometers) but can fire the SS-N-22 out to the missile’s 100-kilometer range with over-the-horizon targeting data. The Utka is larger than a US Boeing 747 jet airplane and flies at about 250 knots. One Utka has been built”. That one is the ekranoplan currently waiting to become a museum on a beach of Derbent.

“We believe that an Utka strike force or coastal defense force would give the Soviets a quick-reaction capability against surface combatants. However, unless the Utka can pop up out of ground effect to extend its radar horizon, it will require external sources of targeting information”.

The ekranoplan had a crew of 15 (6 officers, 9 enlisted). Thanks to Lana Sator, we also get an idea of the aircraft cockpit and interiors:

The cockpit of the MD-160.

However, the Soviet WIG project was expensive and only the first plane, model MD-160, was completed. A second was nearly completed.

“While not requiring “high” technology, WIGs certainly require new integration of technologies. They are more complex than any ships or conventional aircraft, and they require extensive maintenance to keep them seaworthy. Turbofan engines on WIGs are especially maintenance intensive. Their performance degrades significantly in a salt-air environment without proper maintenance.”

The Lun was powered with eight Kuznetsov NK-87 turbofans, mounted on forward canards, each producing 127.4 kN (28,600 lbf) of thrust, and was equipped for anti-surface warfare, with P-270 Moskit (Mosquito) guided missile (with a range between 10 and 100 kilometers). Six missile launchers were mounted in pairs on the dorsal surface of its fuselage with advanced tracking systems mounted in its nose and tail.

Another dramatic shot of Lun-class ekranoplan model on the beach at Derbent.

A three-ship formation of MD-160 could launch 18 missiles at a target simultaneously, each one closing on the target at 2.3M and flying at 20 meters above the ground.

CIA believed WIGs could be configured to carry out different missions, including minelaying, ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) and SAR (Search And Rescue). To that respect, another version of Lun was planned for use as a mobile field hospital for rapid deployment to any ocean or coastal location. It was named the Spasatel (“Rescuer”). Work was about 90% done, when the military funding ended, and it was never completed.

While we wait for the only Lun class ekranoplan to become a museum, we can at least enjoy some really stunning photographs of this marvelous vehicle thanks to Lana Sator (that we want to thank for allowing us to post some of her shots).


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Экраноплан “Лунь” – бесконечно красивый гибрид корабля и самолёта, долгие годы томившийся на территории военного завода “Дагдизель” в Каспийске. Недавно его решили перевезти на новое место – якобы, в будущий филиал парка “Патриот” около Дербента. Операция буксировки была сложна и потребовала немалых усилий, на торжественное событие пригласили ответственных лиц и журналистов, а успех широко освещался в СМИ. Только вот закончился этот “успех” тем, что никакого парка Патриот в Дербенте не построено, экраноплан лежит на брюхе возле дикого пляжа и превращается в ключевую местную достопримечательность. Желающие сфотографировать приезжают с рассвета, поток машин по пляжу практически непрерывный. Дети купаются вокруг и прыгают с крыльев в воду. Экраноплан охраняют от мародеров и вандалов – сторожа находятся внутри круглосуточно, обслуживают генераторы для работы насосов. Зачем насосы? Внутри экраноплана вода. Тут два варианта – либо корпус потерял герметичность за время хранения на заводе, либо ему продрали днище, пока волочили тросами к пляжу. Тросы не выдерживали и рвались, подходящей техники для аккуратного перемещения и установки на постамент (которого тоже нет) предоставлено не было… Узнав обо всём этом, я срочно отправилась посмотреть на чудо своими глазами: зная российские реалии и вспоминая недавнюю историю с крымской подлодкой, можно всерьёз опасаться за судьбу уникальной машины. Помимо прочего, в таком виде – стоящий в морской воде, находящийся в своей стихии, – экраноплан выглядит гораздо более круто, нежели в сухом доке завода или на демонстрационном постаменте в окружении любопытных ротозеев. …Разумеется, ключевой целью этой поездки было не только увидеть Луня снаружи, но и пробраться внутрь – ведь я уже была внутри экранопланов Спасатель и Орлёнок, этого не хватало для полного комплекта. Операция прошла успешно, – в следующем посте расскажу и покажу, каково оно там. Следите за обновлениями! 😎 #ls_drone

Un post condiviso da Lana Sator (@lanasator) in data:

H/T Alex Snow for the heads-up!

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.