Парящие над волнами
by Caz Dalton
The creation of this unique-properties flying apparatus, from the origin of an idea up to its realization and then cessation of work is very interesting, but is not a well known page of engineering history.
Working on a further increase of speed for Vessels On Underwater Wings, R.E.Alekseyev met a physical restriction on growth of speed VOUW; caused by the strong growth of resistance and cavitation (low-temperature boiling) of water on underwater wings and propeller. A natural resolve was to rise completely from the water into the air, so Rostislav Alekseyev decided to go by use of screen effect.
At first, as well as with the VOUW, towed models were tested. The VOUW "Volga" was used as the tow. To the point, the first models of the VOUW Alekseyev tested were towed by sailboat. The tests were not typical in the world's shipbuilding industry, but let us return to the ekranoplanes. The models were tested in an aerodynamic wind tunnel at the Chkalovsky branch of the CKB (Gorky area) and were tested on a track. They were dispersed by a special launcher and flown on inertia along a long equal path. A heavy sheet of plywood was used for researching the stability of movement, as the airwave from its fall forced the model to rock. Further movement was the subject of more researches. Once, this test bed was too strong and the force of the air caused the model to break loose from the track, climb up in the air, and hit the roof. But as a whole the tests gave encouraging results and the tests were satisfactory for the development to begin.
Since 1961 the CKB began construction and tests of self-propelled manned models: SM-1, SM-2 and so on. The apparatus SM-6 became an actual prototype of the "Orlyonok". On these machines the basic constructive decisions were fulfilled, amphibian characteristics were tested for coming onto dry land, and tests were performed on its control ability. Tests were carried out in Gorky's water pool, far from curious eyes.
In autumn 1972 the first production work copy of the "Orlyonok" was taken out for a test. Telyachy island down from the Nizhny Novgorod (Gorky) on the river Volga was used, as it kept curious onlookers from seeing the tests, yet had a length of around 8 km on its left shore. There the first tests of the "Orlyonok" were performed. It was already impossible to hide such "huge thing", and keep it a secret from the local people. The tests passed successfully, and in the spring the ekranoplane was disassembled and transported down on the Volga to the Caspian Sea, reassembled, and tests proceeded under sea conditions again.
The ekranoplane was projected and built as a cargo-descent vessel for carrying machines and also armed forces into regions of battle action and landings. For the uninformed, the 'Orlyonok' was jokingly called in Russia, "the floating stand for improvement of new engines of high-speed boats".
On tests under sea conditions the ekranoplane showed good results. The high speed, "amphibian ability", take-off from water at slow speed (due to the account blowing under a wings by jets of forward engines) made this apparatus unique by its abilities.
In 1975 during the tests the ekranoplane was sit on stones. The pilot switched the blow-under engines on, and the machine left on water, flew up, and without any undue incident reached base. But landing on stones did not pass without consequences. The fuselage of the pre-series "Orlyonok" was made of an alloy K482T1, which is very rigid and strong, but fragile. Probably, the impacts with stones damaged the fuselage, as there were cracks in the tail, which were not noticed in the external survey. The next tests were done on a heavy sea. During a rise from the water the damaged fuselage impacted the crest of a wave and the tail, together with tail wings and mid-flight engine, simply fell off. The pilot dumped all gas of the start engines. R.E.Alekseyev, who sat in the pilot's cabin also (the main designer personally attended practically all tests), did not panic and took control. He set the start engines on the cruise mode, which kept the ekranoplane from plunging into water (in this case the ekranoplane would sink, as it would be unavoidable without the tail present). This set the "Orlyonok" on a gliding mode and it landed on the coast. The people sitting in the ship got quite a fright, but for Rostislav Alekseyev, this failure had much heavier consequences. Everyone expected, that Alekseyev would receive the rank of a Hero of the Socialist Labor for creation of ekranoplanes. But instead of the Minister of a ship-building industry B.E.Butoma, already "having a grudge" against Alekseyev for the independence of his character, used the failure as a pretext and removed Alekseyev from his post of the main designer and the CKB chief, lowering him down to the chief of a department, and then to the chief of his perspective sector.
However, the military and Alekseyev looked at this failure a little different: the "Orlyonok" had shown surprising survivability (tear off a tail of the plane or any usual sea vessel and what would happen?). Analyzing the reason of this failure, the main designer replaced the material of the case to an aluminum-magnesium alloy ÀMG61. After this was done, another three ekranoplanes were made for the Soviet NAVY. All ekranoplanes were constructed at the Volga" factory at the CKB. There were a total of five "Orlyonok's" on record:
The series of ekranoplanes, S-21 and S-25 and S-26, were pre-series A-90s, as the plans of development the Soviet Navy provided construction of 120 production "Orlyonok's. The military seamen liked the efficiency of an ekranoplane as a descent (invasion) vessel. The high speed provided for army troop and vehicle transfer, that was unattainable using usual invasion vessels. Anti-invasion obstacles and mine fields were not a handicap for the "Orlyonok" (it would simply fly above them), and for the capture of a "fortress" on a well-protected coast of an opponent, the ekranoplane would be simply irreplaceable.
But the plans never came to fruit, as in 1985 after Defense Minister Marshal of the Soviet Union D. F.Ustinov left office and support for the idea of the construction of fleet-descent ekranoplanes died. The new Defense Minister Marshal of the Soviet Union, S. L. Sokolov, closed the program and money intended for it was set aside to be spent on construction of nuclear submarines.
Now three ekranoplanes are at the Russian Navy base in Kaspiysk. The conditions in the world have sharply changed; they have become a military burden and it is unclear what will be done with them. The situation is complicated in being so close to the Caucasus region with its numerous centers of intensity and open wars.
Nevertheless, the A-90 "Orlyonok" is not going to hand over positions. On its base the passenger version, known on the West as A.90.150, has been developed. It can work on a regular lines, transporting up to a 150 people, or be used as a cargo-passenger high-speed vessel, transporting loads and replaceable crews for floating sea installations, fishing boats, and polar stations (it can land on a drifting ice). Further development of the ideas incorporated to the "Orlyonok" could become a large passenger ekranoplane for up to a 250 persons. The research version of "Orlyonok", MAGE (Morskoy Arcticheskiy Geologorazaved'vatel'nuy Ekranoplan), sea arctic geological ekranoplane, is actively under development. Besides changes of designs, usual for converting from a military to the civil version (arms and descent equipment are removed), in the tail a small water propeller with a drive from a diesel engine was installed. Also in the tail, large open doors are made and special equipment is placed for the ekranoplane to take tests of the bottom ground, seismic messages, magnetic, and gravity investigation. Together with the Ukrainian ANTK "Antonov" a very interesting project for a unique air-sea rescue system is being developed. There is the rescue version of the "Orlyonok" installed "on the back" to the giant transport plane An-225. This increases range of a mission and equipment for all people necessary for rendering assistance in the sea (ambulance station, folded beds, and so on). The plane-carrier delivers an ekranoplane to a hospital with the speed 700 km/h. Before launch from the An-225 the "Orlyonok" starts the engines, releases from An-225, and lands on the water, turning into a seaworthy rescue vessel. Due to large durability of its design, the ekranoplane can sit on a strong harsh sea, perilous for hydroplanes, and has the unique value, that will allow it to work practically in any point of global ocean or sea (you see, fuel is spent only for a return way up to the nearest port). This system will work also in a polar regions, as the ekranoplane can land on ice. Such a system can deliver a polar station crew with urgent supplies (not only in the Arctic, but in the Antarctic also). And all these projects are financed by interested customers, so, despite difficulty, which the whole industry of the SNG now experiences, there is a basis for optimism in the future.
The "Orlyonok" has large tail wings for the purpose of reducing the influence of the screen in order to assist the characteristics of stability and controllability of the ekranoplane. The relative large sizes of the stabilizer are explained by the necessity of maintenance of steady flight at various heights from the screen. Rudders are of four-sections, those of the rudder used for direction are in of two-sections. The vertical tail is built in with the fuselage. On top of the tail is the mid-flight engine and navigating antenna.
The fuselage includes a two-wheel nose and ten-wheel beaching gear. The gears have no brakes and the nose gear rotated on a castor. Retraction of the nose and the beaching wheels is done using hydro-cylinders filled up by the main water ski. This is located just in front of the nose wheels and looks like gear doors. Bay doors for the beaching gear are absent, the hydro-ski in its retracted position partially cover depressions in the nose wheel. The fuselage together with a ski-amortization device (nose and basic hydro-ski) and blowing-under provide passable practicality on any ground, snow and ice.
The engine installation consists of two starting NK-8-4K turbojet engines and mid-flight NK-12MK turboprop. Starter engines are installed on boards in a rotary part of the fuselage. Air intakes are placed in front of the canopy windshield for prevention of splashes and dust in movement above the sea or land. Rotary jet exhausts for the turbojet engines allow the directing of the engine's exhaust under a wing (mode blow-under) or above a wing (if increase of draft in cruise flight is necessary). The mid-flight engine utilizes two counter-rotating propellers with a diameter of 6 meters. An onboard auxiliary TL-6L power installation is also available. The fuel tanks are located in the wing roots.
The avionic systems of an ekranoplane represent a combination of traditional ship and aircraft equipment. A ship navigating complex named "Ekran" with survey RLS is available onboard. The control system is hydraulic. The ekranoplane uses an autopilot system, but can also be flown manually. In the nose end of the fuselage is the installation of the navigating radar-tracking station to warn of collisions - "Ekran-4" with high resolution. The aerial survey RLS is placed on the top part of the fuselage behind the machine-gun turret. The hydro-system also provides power for the flight control surfaces, retraction of the beaching gears and water ski, and the opening nose part of the fuselage on hinges. The electronic-system provides current for piloting-navigating, radios, electrical technical equipment, and also aids in the flight control system. The ekranoplane is equipped with a complete set of ship navigating safety devices. In the rotary part of the fuselage nose is a drogue-towing device. The anchor is retracted in this area also. There are inflatable life rafts and motor-powered inflatable boats onboard the A-90 ekranoplane.
Armament is provided for defense by the installation of the "Utyos" machine gun turret housing two 12.7-mm machine guns. The weapon was control by a crewman at an interior station using radar.
The paint used on the upper fuselage, wing uppers, and tail wings are gray-green. The underwater part of the fuselage and screen wings is dark-green. The RLS antenna housing is a medium gray. Tactical numbers and the fuselage waterline are white. The propellers and machine gun housing are black and areas around the exhausts are in steel. The front intakes are lined in red and propeller tips are yellow. On both sides of the vertical tail there is an image of the Russian NAVY flag. The propeller spinner for White 26 was painted in the blue, white, and red of the Russian flag.
The plaque's Cyrillic title is transliterated as "Paryashchiy Nad Volnami" and means "Soaring Over The Waves".
Needless to say, the interior was null and void, but since I wanted to do the model in flight, I added a pilot and co-pilot from two Prieser Miniature figures in 1/144 scale. Be very careful cementing the intakes, interior exhaust closures and particularly the main beaching gear piece. Fit of the components is very good, but care must be taken to keep them aligned.
The cockpit interior was painted Aeromaster Cockpit Blue-Green with the interior area of the rear beaching gear painted Polly Scale RLM 71 Black-Green. The intake screens were painted Polly Scale Graphite and given an ink wash. The turboprop exhaust fan was painted Gunze Burnt Iron and given a black wash. Since exhaust fans were not included for the two turbojet lift engines, I scanned the turboprop fan piece and printed two copies to the correct diameter of these exhaust openings. The copies were cut out and applied with Elmer's glue in the decal stage. The interior the intakes and exhaust outlet pieces were painted the upper exterior color, which is a special mix I made.
Note: Revell's instructions give you a mix of three separate Revell paints. I crossed these with Humbrol and found that two of the Humbrol paints mixed resulted in US Light Ghost Gray FS36475, which I was already stocked up on. The last color crossed with RLM 79 Sandy Brown, so I used 9 parts Light Ghost Gray with 1 part RLM 79 to achieve the light upper greenish-gray finish of the 'Orlyonok'. It matches photographs of 'White 26' very well.
The fuselage is one long bugger. Think 1/700 scale boat and you have the pictures. Once all internal pieces had been worked up, painted, and attached, the fuselage halves were joined. Fit was good, but the rough surface of the plastic makes it very hard to sand the join seams on the top. I cut off all antenna to facilitate sanding, but some lines are still present I am afraid to say. The bottom of the fuselage did fine in sanding the seam. The rear exhaust of the turboprop looked badly at the join line and it was in a place impossible to sand or cut with the Dremel tool. My solution was to cut and apply a piece of sheet styrene over the offending muck. The windshield is one piece and fits really good. I attached it with Krystal Klear after giving the interior a coat of FUTURE. The exterior clear glazings were masked with Bare-metal foil before painting.
The 'screen' wing halves were cemented and their fit was flawless. The same can be said of the stabilizing wings, except they did have a small depression in each upper half that was impossible to fill. The machine gun turret and upper radome were painted separately and left off until final assembly. Small wire was used on the radome housing for the aerial wiring in the final assembly I used the antenna for the vertical tail, but cut new ones for the three small antennas atop the fuselage from thin sheet styrene.
The propeller spinners were impossible to sand without carefully cutting the propellers from them with an X-Acto #11 blade first. Marks were made and holes drilled with a #79 drill bit for the replacement of the blades once I chucked the spinners in my Motor Tool and sanded them smooth. To be truthful, I had to reattach the propellers with a little more pitch, so that they would spin using my hair dryer in photos. The forward propeller was painted in Gunze Sky Blue, which was the nearest I could find to match Russian Federation Blue and the propeller blades painted semi-gloss black and tipped with yellow. The thin white border at the rear of the spinner was done with white trim film decal. The rear propeller was painted bright red and the blades again painted semi-gloss black and tipped with yellow. I utilized two sizes of brass tubing for both props, so that they would spin with a blow of air.
The fuselage, 'screen' wings, and vertical tail stabilizing wings were primed in my special mix of light ghost gray/sandy brown mentioned above. After a little sanding and cleanup, all were giving a final two coats of this color. The fuselage and 'screen wing upper surface were masked and the hull and lower 'screen' wing surfaces were painted Polly Scale RLM 71 Black-Green. Once the masking was removed and all was dry, I attached the 'screen' wings to the fuselage. This is something one has to stay with until the heavy wings are good at set; a spar for these wings would have been most helpful here. The vertical stabilizing wings were attached in the final assembly to facilitate decaling. I had to fill the joints of the 'screen' wings with Krystal Klear and when this had set up, I touched up the joins with green-gray and black-green. Once all was done, I gave the model three light coats of Aeromaster Clear Gloss for decal prep.
Decals from the kit were used. Their opacity and registration is very acceptable, but whatever clear carrier Revell uses was the pits. Don't even think about using a solvent on them or they'll crinkle and curl. Also, no amount of cutting of repeated setting solution applications would get them to lie in any recesses. I had to wind up cutting them where necessary and touching up the paint, if needed. Come on Revell AG, give us some really decent decals with these marvelous models you are releasing these days! I used black trim film decal to cut a stripe for the top of the turboprop engine nacelle on the vertical tail. Small strips of silver trim film decal were used for the windshield wipers after the masking was removed.
After all decals had dried, I gave them a sealant coat of clear gloss and after this had dried, the entire model was given two light coats of Polly Scale Clear Flat. Masking was removed from the windshield and it was cleaned with Meguiar's mirror Glaze #3 before receiving a coating of FUTURE. All navigation lights were done with Bare-metal foil, Krystal Klear, and clear red and blue paints. The aerial wires were done using .008-in smoke-colored invisible thread.
The base is from my usual cabinet wood stock. It was painted medium brown and splotched in medium gray. The top is gloss with three coats of thick Min-Wax Polycrylic. It is then top with a 1/8th inch sheet of ripple Plexiglas. My Russian friends tell me the Caspian Sea is more brown and gray like a river than any deep sea or ocean. The plaque was done using PrintShop Version 10.0.
Special thanks go out to Boris Krotkov, Yevgeny Borissov, and the webmasters at www.airforce.ru for supplying me with all the information involving Russian Ekranoplanes. Gentlemen, your assistance is greatly appreciated and without such reference from the "horse's mouth", I could not render my models correctly. Thanks also to Mr. Ken Duffey for his kind assistance in supplying information on the A-90.
Article © Caz Dalton, August 2000
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