Dubbed the “Caspian Sea Monster” by US Intelligence, this 92-metre (301-foot) long Russian ekranoplan (a mixture of airplane and hovercraft) was spotted during the height of the Cold War in 1966, by an American spy satellite while it scanned the Caspian Sea.
Initially it baffled the West due to its odd shape and intimidating size, which made it poorly suited for traditional sea to air flight. The Sea Monster’s actual function was to fly very close to the water or ground, producing a cushion of air that increased its lift and made it more efficient than a traditional aeroplane. This phenomenon is known as ‘ground-effect’ and could have allowed the vehicle to fly low enough to be undetectable by enemy radar at the time, ferrying hundreds of troops and armoured vehicles across the water in secret.
The only model of the Caspian Sea Monster was unfortunately crashed in 1980 after a pilot error, and was much too heavy to recover from its watery grave. Plans were made to deploy over 100 similar planes during the 1990s, but the end of the Cold War also put an end to these developments, leaving only a handful of ekranoplans in existence.
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