On a beach in the Caspian Sea, next to the ancient city of Derbent, lies a testament of the greatness of the Soviet Union, a monstrous machine that was once the largest aircraft in the world. The KM (Korabl Maket), known as the “Caspian Sea Monster” was a prototype vehicle developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s, during the cold war. It was an ekranoplan, an aircraft that uses the ground effect to create lift. The ground effect occurs when an aircraft flies close to the ground, due to a phenomenon that reduces the aerodynamic drag of the wings. The chief designer Rotislav Alexeyev was responsible for this huge project, to create this aircraft with a wingspan of 37.6 meters and a length of 92 meters. The power was provided by 10 Dobrynin VD-7 turbojets engines, 8 in front and 2 in the back, who had to lift the 240 000 kg ekranoplan to a height of 5-10 meters. A big advantage of the KM was that it was not detectable by radar because it flew below the minimum detection altitude.
In 1968, an American reconnaissance satellite has photographed for the first time the aircraft. The US officials didn’t know what to think about what they saw in the image because the wings were too small to lift an aircraft of this size. They saw on its fuselage the flag of the Soviet Union and the initials “KM” assuming that the name of the ekranoplan is “Kaspian Monster”, but they were wrong, the initials standing for “Ship Prototype” in Russian. Being discovered during the Cold War, the CIA was very concerned about these images, so to find out the secrets of the project they built a special drone called Aquiline.
The project was developed in great secrecy, the prototype being transported to the Caspian Sea only during the night and covered in camouflage. The KM was considered by the Russian officials to be more of a boat than an aircraft, so the ekranoplan project was taken over by the Russian navy. The purpose of the aircraft was to guard the Russian territories from the sea and to fight with enemy ships using 6 rocket launchers placed along its dorsal edge. The test flights began in October 1966, the aircraft performing astonishingly up to a speed of 650 km/h (404 mph) a few meters above the water, below the radar detection area. However, during these flights some components were damaged, so the prototype needed constant improvements. Fifteen years after the first flight a terrible accident ended the project. The aircraft was too heavy to be moved from the crash site and Russian officials lost interest in it. Chief designer Rotislav Alexeyev has shifted his focus to other ekranoplans projects, and the wreckage of the KM has remained to this day on a beach in the Caspian Sea.
Eventually, a single KM prototype was made. A tourist park will be created around it, so people around the world are encouraged to come and witness the greatness of the Soviet Union’s military projects.