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Ground effect vehicle A-90 Orlyonok. Экраноплан “Орлёнок”
Image by Peer.Gynt
A ground effect vehicle (GEV) is one that attains level flight near the surface of the Earth, made possible by a cushion of high-pressure air created by the aerodynamic interaction between the wings and the surface known as ground effect. Also known as a wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) vehicle, flarecraft, sea skimmer, ekranoplan, or wing-in-surface-effect ship (WISE), a GEV can be seen as a transition between a hovercraft and an aircraft. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has classified the GEV as a ship. A GEV differs from an aircraft in that it cannot operate without ground effect, so its operating height is limited relative to its wingspan.
In recent years a large number of different GEV types have evolved for both civilian and military use. However, these craft are not in wide use.
Small numbers of experimental vehicles were built in Scandinavia just before World War II. By the 1960s, the technology started to improve, in large part due to the independent contributions of Rostislav Alexeev in the Soviet Union and German Alexander Lippisch, working in the United States. Alexeev worked from his background as a ship designer whereas Lippisch worked from his own background as an aeronautical engineer. The influence of Alexeev and Lippisch is still noticeable in most GEV vehicles seen today.
The Soviet Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau (CHDB), led by Alexeev, was the center of ground-effect craft development in the USSR; in Russian, the vehicle came to be known as an ekranoplan (Russian: экранопла́н, French: ecran "screen" + Russian: plan "plane", from эффект экрана effekt ekrana). The military potential for such a craft was soon recognised and Alexeev received support and financial resources from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Some manned and unmanned prototypes were built, ranging up to eight tons in displacement. This led to the development of the "Caspian Sea Monster", a 550-ton military ekranoplan. Although it was designed to travel a maximum of 3 m (9.8 ft) above the sea, it was found to be most efficient at 20 m (66 ft), reaching a top speed of 300 kn (350 mph; 560 km/h) (400 kn (460 mph; 740 km/h) in research flight).
The Soviet ekranoplan program continued with the support of Minister of Defense Dmitri Ustinov. It produced the most successful ekranoplan so far, the 125-ton A-90 Orlyonok. These craft were originally developed as very high-speed military transports, and were based mostly on the shores of the Caspian Sea and Black Sea. The Soviet Navy ordered 120 Orlyonok-class ekranoplans. But this figure was later reduced to fewer than thirty vehicles, with planned deployment mainly in the Black Sea and Baltic Sea fleets.
A few Orlyonoks served with the Soviet Navy from 1979 to 1992. In 1987, the 400-ton Lun-class ekranoplan was built as a missile launcher. A second Lun, renamed Spasatel, was laid down as a rescue vessel, but was never finished.
Minister Ustinov died in 1985, and the new Minister of Defense, Marshal Sokolov, effectively stopped the funding for the program. Only three operational Orlyonok-class ekranoplans (with revised hull design) and one Lun-class ekranoplan remained at a naval base near Kaspiysk.
The two major problems that the Soviet ekranoplans faced were poor longitudinal stability and a need for reliable navigation.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, ekranoplans have been produced by the Volga Shipyard in Nizhniy Novgorod.
GEV developed since the 1980s have been primarily smaller craft designed for the recreational and civilian ferry markets. Germany, Russia, and the United States have provided most of the momentum with some development in Australia, China, Japan, and Taiwan. In these countries, small craft up to ten seats have been designed and built. Other larger designs as ferries and heavy transports have been proposed, though none have gone on to further development.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, smaller ekranoplans for non-military use have been under development. The CHDB had already developed the eight-seat Volga-2 in 1985, and Technologies and Transport developed a smaller version by the name of Amphistar.
In Germany, Lippisch was asked to build a very fast boat for Mr. Collins from Collins Radio Company in the USA. He developed the X-112, a revolutionary design with reversed delta wing and T-tail. This design proved to be stable and efficient in ground effect and even though it was successfully tested, Collins decided to stop the project and sold the patents to a German company called Rhein Flugzeugbau (RFB) which further developed the model.
Tandem flarecraftHanno Fischer took over the works from RFB and created his own company called Fischer Flugmechanik. Their two-seat Airfisch 3 and their later model that seats 6 passengers have been a successful design. This craft, the FS-8, was to be produced by a Singapore-Australian joint venture called Flightship. The company no longer exists, and the ship is out of production. An ongoing research project in collaboration with the university of Duisburg-Essen, involves the development of the Hoverwing.
Günther Jörg in Germany, who had also been working on Alexeev’s first designs, and was familiar with the challenges of GEV design, developed a GEV with two wings in a tandem arrangement, the Jörg-II. It was the third, manned, tandem airfoil boat,named "Skimmerfoil", which was developed during his consultancy period in South Africa. It was a simple and low-cost design, but has not been produced to date. The consultancy of Dipl. Ing. Günther Jörg was founded with a fundamental knowledge of Wing in Ground Effect physics, as well as results of fundamental tests under different conditions and designs that began in 1960. In 1984, Günther Jörg received the "PHILIP MORRIS AWARD". In 1987, the Botec Company was founded
A number of companies have been heavily lobbying governments for development funding to pursue research and development of GEV craft exceeding 500 tonnes. The current worldwide trend in the decline in military research and development spending since the end of the Cold War era has not been conducive to funding the development of GEV craft. The perceived development risk is very high due to the untested nature of the technology and the uncertainties in the development process, operational costs and performance outcomes. GEVs have been suggested as the solution to a number of possible operational roles, with heavy lift being the most appealing attributes. GEVs have been proposed as an alternate to the very large aircraft needed to fulfill these transportation goals. The US Air Force report "Airlift 2025" looked at using GEVs as heavy-lift platforms with the capabilities of insertion into remote locations, long range and good survivability. In the report, GEVs were cited as inappropriate for the intended use as there was a need for another method of transport from the coast to the required destination. Another study by the US Navy’s "Strategic Studies Group XVI" also looked at the possibility of using small GEVs as insertion and extraction craft or naval gunfire teams. Also discussed were the advantages of using WIG craft for transoceanic cargo craft, where their increased speed would reduce resupply times by at least 60%.
Civilian roles for GEVs have been heavily promoted at a number of conferences held since 1993. GEVs have been suggested as recreational craft, small to large ferries and large transport craft. A number of small companies have emerged designing and constructing GEVs for these purposes. A number of large Russian and US companies have gone as far as the preliminary design of a number of concept GEVs mainly for the transport and heavy lift market.
Theoretical research into GEVs’ aerodynamics, ground effect and WIG craft stability has proceeded at a number of research centres. Performance enhancement of takeoff and landing distances as well as methods to increase sea state limitations have been analysed on prototypes and with model tests. Research continues into the determination of the most efficient platform configuration.
Besides the development of appropriate design and structural configuration, special automatic control systems and navigation systems are also being developed. These include special altimeters with high accuracy for small altitude measurements and also lesser dependence on weather conditions. After extensive research and experimentation, it has been shown that "phase radio-altimeters" are most suitable for such applications as compared to laser, isotropic or ultrasonic altimeters.
Even today R&D activities are being carried out for such vehicles in several countries, including Russia, USA, China, Germany, UK and Australia. Other future projects include the horizontal take-off and horizontal landing of Aerospace Planes (ASP) using ekranoplans.
In Russia, the reduced defense spending has forced GEV manufacturers to look for potential sales in the civil market. A number of designs have been proposed for heavy transport while a small GEV, the Amphistar, has been produced in limited numbers.
In 2007, Vice premier and defense minister Sergey Ivanov announced at a meeting of the naval board: "A federal targeted program will be created according to which Nizhniy Novgorod will manufacture wing-in-ground-effect vehicles". The designers of the Beriev aviation scientific and technical complex responded immediately and have promised to create the new ultra-heavy Be-2500 transport amphibious airplane. The Be-2500’s takeoff weight will be about 2,500 tonnes with a useful payload near 1,000 tonnes. Wing span is 125 meters, length is 115 meters and height is 29 meters. Cruising speed at altitude is 770 kilometers per hour, and in ground effect is 450 kilometers per hour. For comparison: wing span of the Boeing 747 is 64.4 meters, the airplane’s length is 70.6 meters, and height is 19.4 meters.
Additionally, the civilian Arctic Trade and Transport Company (Арктическая Торгово-Транспортная Компания) produces "Aquaglide" ekranoplans, small craft capable of transporting five people including the pilot.
In China, GEVs are being researched to fulfill a number of roles in the Chinese military and commercial use. The China Academy of Science & Technology Development and China Ship Scientific Research Centre (CSSRC) started GEV project in 1980. The 702 design bureau and 708 design bureau designed a number of small prototypes. In 1995, the first commercial ferry Tianyi-1 project started. In 1998, the first Tianyi-1 prototype is tested. In 2000, the model is for commercial sale in China. Currently a larger prototype Tianxiang-2 has been completed and a 50 seater Tianxiang-5 is under development.
In the USA, a number of small companies have designed and tested a number of small ferry and recreational craft. The L-325 has gone into limited production and is for commercial sale in the U.S. Aerocon has proposed the development of a large GEV transport craft but does not appear to have gained sufficient funding for the project.
In Germany, the military interest of the 1970s has decreased. As a result the German company RFB has shifted its emphasis from GEV development. The former technical director Mr. Fischer founded a company Fischer Flugmechanik which has designed and built craft for the recreational market, their most notable development being the Airfish recreational craft. Fischer Flugmechanik, in conjunction with Techno Trans research institute, have been sponsored by the German Ministry of R&D to develop a second generation GEV. This has resulted in the development of the two-seat prototype, HW-2VT.
The leading German company for Tandem Airfoil WIG craft is the Botec GmbH, located near Frankfurt.
In 1984 Phillip Morris Company awarded Dipl. Ing. W. Günther Jörg as the winner of the competition for Future Traffic Systems. Botec Company was founded in 1987 under the leadership of the Tandem Airfoilboat specialist Dipl. Ing. Günther W. Jörg . Dipl. Ing. Günther W. Jörg and his team have developed a large number of WIG craft for the civilian market, some of which have gone into limited production. The development of those TAF (Tandem Airfoil Flairboat) includes a number of craft in different designs and sizes. Botec GmbH has developed Tandem Airfoil Flairboats suitable for leisure boat applications and for commercial applications. Up to 2005, 16 Tandem Airfoil Flairboats had been built and successfully tested according to all rules and regulations. Dipl. Ing. Günther W. Jörg and his team have provided a lot of ideas scheduled for further applications in the commercial transportation sector.
In Japan, GEV technology has been analyzed in order to gain a leading position in the fast ferry design and construction market. A number of research craft have been prototyped and tested but none have proceeded onto development.
In Australia, there are a number of small enterprises, companies and individuals, the most newsworthy being the Rada and Seawing companies. These companies were established in the early 1990s with the goal of developing small commuter and recreational craft. None of the craft built by these companies progressed beyond prototype development. Neither of these companies are functioning at present, however the principals are still active in GEV development. In 2004, a company from Australia known as Sea Eagle emerged, and worked with China’s CSSRC to develop a civilian range of Class B Wing Effect Craft. Currently the Craft is flying in China.
Sea EagleNew Zealand mechanic Rudy Heeman successfully adapted a 2-person hovercraft  as a wing in ground effect vehicle in 2010.
One of the problems that have delayed the development of these craft is the classification and legislation to be applied. IMO has studied the application of rules based on the International Code of Safety for High-Speed Craft (HSC code) which was developed for fast ships such as hydrofoils, hovercraft, catamarans and the like. The Russian Rules for classification and construction of small type A ekranoplans is a document upon which most GEV design is based. However in 2005, the IMO classified the WISE or GEV crafts under the category of ships.
The International Maritime Organization recognizes three classes of ground effect craft:
Type A cannot operate out of ground effect.
Type B can jump to clear obstacles by converting kinetic energy (speed) into potential energy (height), but cannot maintain flight without the support of the ground effect.
Type C are certified as aircraft, with the ability to operate safely and efficiently out of ground effect.
Advantages and disadvantages
A ground effect craft may have better fuel efficiency than an equivalent aircraft flying at low level due to the close proximity of the ground, reducing lift-induced drag. There are also safety benefits for the occupants of the craft in flying close to the water as an engine failure will not result in severe ditching. However, this particular configuration is difficult to fly even with computer assistance. Flying at very low altitudes, just above the sea, is dangerous if the craft banks too far to one side while making a small radius turn.
A takeoff must be into the wind, which in the case of a water launch, means into the waves. This creates drag and reduces lift. Two main solutions to this problem have been implemented. The first was used by the Russian Ekranoplan program which placed engines in front of the wings to provide more lift. The Caspian Sea Monster had eight such engines, some of which were not used once the craft was airborne. A second approach is to use some form of an air-cushion to raise the vehicle most of the way out of the water, making take-off easier. This is used by German Hanno Fischer in the Hoverwing (successor to the Airfisch ground effect craft), which uses some of the air from the engines to inflate a skirt under the craft in the style of a sidewall hovercraft.
IS-2 Soviet Heavy Tank. 1944.
Image by Peer.Gynt
Moscow, Kubunka Tank Museum. Jul 2009.
The Iosif Stalin tank (or IS tank, named after the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin), was a heavy tank developed by the Soviet Union during World War II. The tanks in the series are also sometimes called JS or ИС tanks.
The heavy tank was designed with thick armour to counter the German 88 mm guns, and sported a main gun that was capable of defeating the German Tiger and Panther tanks. It was mainly a breakthrough tank, firing a heavy high-explosive shell that was useful against entrenchments and bunkers. The IS-2 was put into service in April 1944, and was used as a spearhead in the Battle of Berlin by the Red Army in the final stage of the war.
Design and production
The KV series of Soviet heavy tanks was criticized by their crews for their low mobility, and lack of any heavier armament than the T-34 medium tank. In 1942, this problem was partially addressed by the lighter, faster KV-1S tank. The KV series remained much more expensive than the T-34, without having greater combat performance. The heavy tank program was nearly cancelled by Stalin in 1943. However, the German employment of substantial numbers of Panther and Tiger tanks at the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943 changed Soviet priorities. In response, the Soviet tank industry created the stopgap KV-85, and embarked on the KV-13 design program to create a tank with more advanced armour layout and a more powerful main gun. Because Marshal Kliment Voroshilov had fallen out of political favour, the new heavy tank series was named Iosif Stalin tank. The IS-85 prototype was initially accepted for production as the IS-1 heavy tank.
Two candidate weapons were the A-19 122 mm gun and the BS-3 100 mm gun. The BS-3 (later adopted on the SU-100 tank destroyer and the T-55 tank) had superior armour penetration (185 mm compared to 160 mm), but a less useful high explosive round. Also, the BS-3 was a relatively new weapon in short supply. Excess production capacity existed for the A-19 and its ammunition. Compared to the older 76.2 mm tank gun, the A-19 had very good armour penetration, similar to that of the effective 75 mm high velocity gun mounted on the German Panther, and delivered 3.5 times the kinetic energy of the older F-34.
After testing with both BS-3 and A-19 guns, the latter was selected as the main armament of the new tank, primarily because of its ready availability and the effect of its large high-explosive shell when attacking German fortifications. The A-19 used a separate shell and powder charge, resulting in a lower rate of fire and reduced ammunition capacity, both serious disadvantages in tank-to-tank engagements. However, the gun was very powerful, and while its 122 mm armour piercing shell had a lower muzzle velocity than similar late-issue German 75 mm and 88 mm guns, Soviet proving-ground tests established that the A-19 could penetrate the front armour of the German Panther tank , and it was therefore considered adequate in the anti-tank role.
German Army data on the penetration ranges of the 122 mm A-19 gun against the Panther tank showed it to be much less effective than the Soviets thought: the A-19 gun was unable to penetrate the glacis plate of the Panther at any distance, and could only penetrate the bottom front plate of the hull at 100 m. It was however the large HE shell the gun fired which was its main asset, proving highly useful and destructive in the anti-personnel role. The size of its gun continued to plague the IS-2, the two-piece ammunition was difficult to manhandle and very slow to reload (the rate of fire was only about two rounds per minute). Another limitation imposed by the size of its ammunition was the payload: a mere 28 rounds could to be carried inside the tank. 
The IS-122 prototype replaced the IS-85, and began mass production as the IS-2. The 85 mm guns could be reserved for the new T-34-85 medium tank, and some of the IS-1s built were rearmed before leaving the factory, and issued as IS-2s.
The main production model was the IS-2, with the powerful A-19. It was slightly lighter and faster than the heaviest KV model 1942 tank, with thicker front armour and a much-improved turret design. The tank could carry thicker armour than the KV series, while remaining lighter, due to the better layout of the armour envelope. The KV’s armour was less well-shaped and featured heavy armour even on the rear, while the IS series concentrated its armour up front. The IS-2 weighed about the same as a German Panther and was lighter than the German heavy tank Tiger series. It was slightly lower than both.
While the design was good for its time, Western observers[who?] tended to criticize Soviet tanks for their lack of finish and crude construction. The Soviets responded that it was warranted considering the need for wartime expediency and the typically low battlefield life of their tanks.
Early IS-2s can be identified by the ‘stepped’ front hull casting with its small, opening driver’s visor. The early tanks lacked gun tube travel locks or antiaircraft machine guns, and had narrow mantlets.
Later improved IS-2s (the model 1944), had a faster-loading version of the gun, the D25-T with a double-baffle muzzle brake and better fire-control. It also featured a simpler hull front without a ‘step’ in it (using a flat, sloping glacis armour plate). Some sources called it IS-2m, but it is not to be confused with the official Soviet designation IS-2M for a 1950s modernization. Other minor upgrades included the addition of a travel lock on the hull rear, wider mantlet, and, on very late models, an antiaircraft machine gun.
In late 1944 the design was upgraded to the IS-3. This tank had improved armour layout, and a hemispherical cast turret (resembling an overturned "soup bowl") which became the hallmark of post-war Soviet tanks. While this low, hemispherical turret may have made the IS-3 a smaller target, it also imposed severe penalties inside the tank by significantly diminishing the working headroom, especially for the loader (Soviet tanks in general are characterized by uncomfortably small interior space compared to Western tanks). The low turret also limited the maximum depression of the main gun, since the gun breech had little room inside the turret to pivot on its vertical axis. As a result, the IS-3 was less able to take advantage of hull-down positions, a tactic at which Western tanks were better suited. The IS-3’s pointed prow earned it the nickname Shchuka (Pike) by its crews. It weighed slightly less and stood 30 cm lower.
The IS-3 came too late to see action in World War II. Though some older sources claim that the tank saw action at the end of the war in Europe, there are no official reports to confirm this. It is now generally accepted that the tank saw no action against the Germans, although one regiment may have been deployed against the Japanese in Manchuria.
In 1952, a further development was put into production, the IS-10. Due of the political climate in the wake of Stalin’s 1953 death, it was renamed T-10.
In the mid-1950s, the remaining IS-2 tanks (mostly model 1944 variants) were upgraded to keep them battle-worthy. This upgrade produced the IS-2M, which introduced fittings such as external fuel tanks on the rear hull (the basic IS-2 had these only on the hull sides), stowage bins on both sides of the hull, and protective skirting along the top edges of the tracks. IS-3 was also slightly modernized as IS-3M.
The IS-2 tank first saw combat in the spring of 1944. IS-2s were assigned to separate heavy tank regiments, normally of 21 tanks each. These regiments were used to reinforce the most important attack sectors during major offensive operations. Tactically, they were employed as breakthrough tanks. Their role was to support infantry in the assault, using their large guns to destroy bunkers, buildings, dug-in crew-served weapons, and other ‘soft’ targets. They were also capable of taking on any German AFVs if required. Once a breakthrough was achieved, lighter, more mobile T-34s would take over the exploitation.
The IS-3 first appeared to Western observers at the Allied Victory Parade in Berlin in September 1945. The IS-3 was an impressive development in the eyes of Western military observers, the British in particular, who responded with heavy tank designs of their own.
By the 1950s, the emergence of the main battle tank concept – combining medium tank mobility with the firepower of the heavy tank – had rendered heavy tanks obsolete in Soviet operational doctrine. In the late 1960s, the remaining Soviet heavy tanks were transferred to Red Army reserve service and storage. The IS-2 Model 1944 remained in active service much longer in the armies of Cuba, China and North Korea. A regiment of Chinese IS-2s was available for use in the Korean War, but saw no service there. In response to border disputes between the Soviet Union and China, some Soviet IS-3s were dug in as fixed pillboxes along the Soviet-Chinese border. The IS-3 was used in the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Prague Spring in 1968.
During the early 1950s all IS-3s were modernised as IS-3M models. The Egyptian Army acquired about 100 IS-3M tanks in all from the Soviet Union. During the Six Day War, a single regiment of IS-3M tanks was stationed with the 7th Infantry Division at Rafah and the 125th Tank Brigade of the 6th Mechanized Division at Kuntilla was also equipped with about 60 IS-3M tanks. Israeli infantry and paratrooper units had considerable difficulty with the IS-3M when it was encountered due to its thick armour, which shrugged off hits from normal infantry anti-tank weapons such as the bazooka. Even the 90mm AP shell fired by the main gun of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) M-48A2 Patton tanks could not penetrate the frontal armour of the IS-3s at normal battle ranges. There were a number of engagements between the M48A2 Pattons of the IDF 7th Armoured Brigade and IS-3s supporting Egyptian positions at Rafah in which several M48A2s were knocked out in the fighting. Despite this, the slow rate of fire, poor engine performance (the engine was not well suited to hot-climate operations), and rudimentary fire control of the IS-3s proved to be a significant handicap, and about 73 IS-3s were lost in the 1967 war. Most Egyptian IS-3 tanks were withdrawn from service, though at least one regiment of IS-3 tanks was retained in service as late as the 1973 October war. The IDF itself experimented with a few captured IS-3M tanks, but found them ill-suited to fast moving desert tank warfare; those that were not scrapped were turned into stationary defensive pillbox emplacements in the Jordan River area.
After the Korean War, China attempted to reverse-engineer the IS-2/IS-3 as Type 122 medium tank. The project was cancelled in favour of the Type 59, a copy of the Soviet T-54A.
Type Heavy tank
Place of origin Soviet Union
In service 1943–1970s
Used by Soviet Union, Cuba, China, North Korea, Egypt
Wars WWII, Hungary, Six Day War, Czechoslovakia
Designer Zh. Kotin, N. Dukhov
Designed 1943 (IS-2), 1944 (IS-3), 1944–45 (IS-4)
Manufacturer Kirov Factory, UZTM
Produced 1943–45 (IS-2), 1945–47 (IS-3), 1945–46 (IS-4)
Number built 3,854 IS-2, 2,311 IS-3, 250 IS-4
Specifications (IS-2 Model 1944)
Weight 46 tonnes
Length 9.90 m
Width 3.09 m
Height 2.73 m
Armor 30–160 mm
armament D25-T 122 mm gun (28 rds.)
armament 2×DT, 1×DShK machine guns
Engine 12-cyl. diesel model V-2
600 hp (450 kW)
Power/weight 13 hp/tonne
Suspension torsion bar
Fuel capacity 820 l
Operational range 240 km
Speed 37 km/h
(Post from China rapid prototyping manufacturer blog)