Lun Class Ekranoplan

MD-160

Spasatel

The Lun-class ekranoplan (also called Project 903) is a ground effect vehicle (GEV) designed by Rostislav Alexeyev in 1975 and used by the Soviet and Russian navies from 1987 until sometime in the late 1990s.

It flew using lift generated by the ground effect acting on its large wings when within about four metres (13 ft) above the surface of the water. Although they might look similar to traditional aircraft, ekranoplans like the Lun are not classified as aircraft, seaplanes, hovercraft, or hydrofoils. Rather, crafts like the Lun-class ekranoplan are classified as maritime ships by the International Maritime Organization due to their use of the ground effect, in which the craft glides just above the surface of the water.

The ground effect occurs when flying at an altitude of only a few meters above the ocean or ground; drag is greatly reduced by the proximity of the ground preventing the formation of wingtip vortices, thus increasing the efficiency of the wing. This effect does not occur at high altitude.

The name Lun comes from the Russian word for the harrier bird.

The Spasatel was originally built as a second Lun-class anti-ship missile-carrying ekranoplan. After the Soviet nuclear submarine K-278 Komsomolets sank in 1989, killing 42 people, the Spasatel was repurposed to be deployed in the maritime search and rescue mission, and seating for up to 500 passengers was planned.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the project was cancelled for financial reasons. Military operations at sea were also greatly reduced, so the intended use became less important. The unfinished Spasatel is stored in an old industrial complex in Nizhny Novgorod as of 2020.

The Lun design had several drawbacks. One was that although the ground effect enabled it to fly at low altitude, in order to utilize the effect it had to fly as low as 1.5–3.0 m (5–10 ft) off the water due to its short wingspan, so it could not fly when seas were even mildly rough. Another was that the craft was only designed to use the ground effect principle, so it could not ascend to higher cruising altitudes. The requirement for calm seas to operate and inability to fly above them if they weren't greatly limited where it was able to deploy.