Staff Writer (Updated: 8/19/2014):
Ground effect allowed designers to utilize the inherent reaction of a winged airframe with the naturally occurring forces found near the surface of the earth. In effect, the aircraft was designed to skin the surface as if a hovercraft, though achieving greater altitudes. Ground effect allows an aircraft to utilize lower lift-dependent drag and, theoretically, provide greater efficiency in its forward momentum. The Lun Ekranoplan became an excellent example of this achievable principle though its kind has yet to find widespread use.
Externally, the Lun was a mix of boat and aircraft, showcasing a very bow-like fuselage with straight, mid-mounted wing appendages (capped by pontoons), a single vertical tail fin mounting a pair of swept-back horizontal planes in a "T" style arrangement and a forward-set flight deck. No fewer than 8 x Kuznetsov NK-87 series turbojet engines were fitted, these along the forward section of the fuselage just aft of the cockpit, and set as two groups of four engines each. As such, the engines could cleanly aspirate from the front in the usual manner and exhaust aft, over the main wing assemblies. The engine arrangement netted a thrust output of 28,000lbs each, propelling the Lun at speeds equaling 342 miles per hour over water. Operational range was 1,200 miles (1,000 nautical miles) with the vehicle crewed by fifteen including six officers. The Lun was designed to haul up to 220,000lbs to 300,000lbs of goods in its deep boat-like hull. The nose housed a Puluchas search radar suite.
The Lun Ekranoplan sported an overall length of 242 feet with a wingspan of 144 feet and height to tail top of 63 feet - making her one of the largest operational "aircraft" ever completed. On empty, the system weighed in at 630,500lbs and held a maximum take-off weight of 837,700lbs. Cruising speeds were in the vicinity of 280 miles per hour. When making headway, the Lun Ekranoplan reached heights of 16 feet from the surface of the water and measured a listed overall operating altitude of 24,600 feet.
While built as a transport, the Lun was appropriately armed with 6 x SS-N-22 series "Sunburn" anti-ship missiles fitted to six launchers angled over the fuselage in fixed positions and arranged inline in three pairings (Sunburn missiles were eventually adopted by the navies of China, India and Iran in time). Tracking and engagement facilities were housed in the nose section as well as the tail unit. The crew could also call upon 2 x 23mm PI-23 powered turrets (4 x total cannons) for direct-fire support against incoming aerial and surface threats. One turret was fitted ahead of the missile launchers and the other fitted in the tail.
Beyond the sole MD-160, a second Lun Ekranoplan was under construction at some point (as a quick-reaction, mobile field hospital also for the Soviet Navy). Though nearly completed, this unit was never made operational during the period prior to the fall of the Soviet Empire. It was revived to an extent after a review in 2007. As such, this second unit may well see the light of day in the coming years. The original MD-160 can still be operated is called upon though it remains inactive at the Kaspiysk naval facility in the Caspian Sea.