The revival of GEV production was announced by the Alekseev design and construction bureau, which used to be the leading producer of such vehicles. According to its production branch director, Evgeny Meleshko, the bureau is working on a big model. It will spend two years making the new design with the first tests to be launched in 2012.
“For our company it’s a big project, and most of our specialists will be working on it,” Meleshko told Interfax news agency.
GEVs are high-speed naval vehicles that fly just over the surface thanks to a high-pressure air cushion created by its wings. The first prototype with a wingspan of 37.6 meters and a hull length of about 100 meters could travel at 250 knots and had a maximum take-off weigh of 544 tons.
The Soviet Union produced several models, including one for amphibian troops transportation and a cruise missile carrier. There was also a project for a strategic GEV armed with ballistic missiles.
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.