Ekranoplan revisited

My mate over there said he saw one flying on a body of water I’ve been on. I was looking to build one and there was interest from Russians but:

1. Large wingspan was required – the small versions were lethal, flipping often enough;

2. The variable surfaces of water put over sea flight out of contention, only good for rivers and lakes;

3. The enormous fuel burning just to break surface tension, even with swivelling engines, put the project out of contention.

It was by no means just a flight of fancy – I had a connection with a transport engineer but security implications came into it. Language was also a barrier. Pity.


The seaplane lacked the issues of the WIGs, so why bother with WIGs? And yet giant seaplanes docking and taking on passengers – romantic, yes, one would pay for a flight for sure, where does it dock?

How do passengers alight? From behind the swingback nose cone? I can see the point of one landing on a large river near the city if you could sort out the transfer issue to the centre … so why did it not take off, so to speak? As a popular idea?

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8 comments for “Ekranoplan revisited

  1. The Jannie
    June 13, 2020 at 11:09

    I think that the biggest factor must be that a runway, no matter what the weather, does usually stay flat! The sea has other ideas and an aircraft built to cope with landing and taking off from it has to carry around all its specialised features, hence extreme drag and weight.

  2. Mark Matis
    June 13, 2020 at 13:28

    Ground effect works up to roughly 1/2 the wingspan of the vehicle. Longer wings would have worked better! And the winglets of modern passenger aircraft take care of wingtip vortices.

  3. ivan
    June 13, 2020 at 16:03

    Qantas were running seaplanes out of the airport in Rose Bay, Sydney until the mid 50s. Many times on my way home I watched them land out in the harbour and then taxi up to the pontoon where little tugs would push them to final docking.

    Now someone runs little float planes from there.

    • June 13, 2020 at 16:50


    • Stephen Bayliss
      June 14, 2020 at 12:22

      Flying boats have to be very strongly built. I’ve flown on floatplanes in both Australia and Canada, water landings and takeoffs are brutal, thumping along like driving over multiple speed bumps at 80-100 mph. Then there is the hull shape, step hulls are way less aerodynamic. Then you factor in corrosion problems, especially with salt water, so thicker skin, thicker frames. So, a lot more weight than landbased planes. Water resistance till you get up planing on the step is huge. So weight and resistance means bigger engines.

      All makes the flying boat a lot less efficient than land based planes.

      Finally even moderate wave action makes landings and takeoffs hazardous.

      Romantic true but just plain uneconomic. They have their niches. waterbombing being a key one. Mid sized flying boat waterbombers were stilll being built in Canada into this century.

      I recall seeing a working Catalina being used for geophysics work in Kenya in my youth, operating off the Rift Valley lakes. The extended flight duration being another huge benefit of that aircraft

      Larger floatplanes avoid some of these drawbacks but still have a weight and aerodynamic penalty. Twin Otter size ones have widespread use in Canada, Caribbean, Pacific Island nations and Maldives.

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