Friday, June 17, 2011

The Soviet Superplane Program That Rattled Area 51: "

The Lun ekranoplan
The Lun ekranoplan weighs 380 tons, has a 148-foot wingspan and can launch six anti-ship missiles from flight. Or rather, it could, before it was retired to a forlorn pier in southern Russia.

The dilapidated plane is the offspring of an even larger prototype ship that so spooked the CIA in the 1960s that they developed an unmanned drone to spy on it, an alleged program detailed in the new book Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base.

Deployed much later, in 1987, the Lun (a more contemporary behemoth) was an improvement over the previous model. It remained in service until the 1990s, when it was mothballed by the Russian military. The once-fearsome Lun will likely never fly again and is now little more than a chunk of aerodynamic scrap metal.

Alternately described as an amphibious aircraft or a flying boat, the plane is a feat of engineering that has been reduced to a footnote in aviation history. Read on for a look inside this aging relic and the ambitious program that spawned it.

All photos: Igor Kolokov


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