Aquila Global Is Bringing Back the Ekranoplan With Its Boat-Aircraft Hybrid Vehicle

Its 12-seater ground effect vehicle will be flying next year.

Aquila Ekranoplan

Aquila Global

After writing the post "Bring Back the Ekranoplan," praising the wonderful former Soviet Union ground effect vehicles, I was contacted by Aquila Global co-founder Timour Maslennikov, who said his company is bringing them back with the Aquila Global AG12. It is what he calls wing-in-ground effect (WIG) crafts, saying it is "a re-emerging technology that provides surface transportation over water with shared characteristics of both air and marine crafts in terms of speed and payload capacity, but with much lower operating costs and maintenance."

Flying over water

Aquila Global

The vehicle glides between 3 and 10 feet above the water, and if it is rough it can fly at altitudes of up to 500 feet. It can fly at speeds comparable to a plane between 50 and 350 miles, but since WIGs are recognized as maritime vessels, I could drive it with my boat license. It seats 12, yet has an empty weight of only 5,720 pounds—I suspect mostly engines.

It's powered by two V12 gasoline or diesel engines; you can pull them out of a Chevy Camaro SS at 430 horsepower each, or pump it up to 1,000 horsepower with custom engines. Maslennikov says: "It will zoom a few feet above water at a top speed of 250 mph on regular car gas. The optimal cruise speed is between 130-150 mph on 15-18 gph, depending on the vehicle loading. Within operating envelope it can cover 1200+ miles in 5 hours on 100 gallons of pump gas."

Aquila Inteiror

Aquila Global

The comparisons to other forms of transport are surprising. It is ten times as fast as a boat, it gets 18 miles to the gallon using regular fuel, and costs a fraction to operate compared to planes or helicopters. "More bang for your buck—no FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] oversight, no need for specially certified mechanics to perform maintenance, no need for expensive insurance," says Maslennikov. "Also, there is no need for any infrastructure, you can operate shore-to-shore from the beaches."

I had a pile of questions about ekranoplans, in general, and about Aquila Global, in particular, and Maslennikov was kind enough to respond. I have edited our interview a bit for brevity.

Aquila with people

Aquila Global

Treehugger: I am surprised that one doesn't need a pilot's license, that I could pilot this with my Canada and Toronto marine operator licenses! Can something that can go to 500 feet really be considered a boat?

Timour Maslennikov: Well, this one has a few caveats. In general, there are 3 types of ground effect vehicles, aka GuVs or Ekranoplans, Class A, B & C. As of now most of the ekranoplans within Class A & B are considered vessels according to the Maritime Rules, so they do not have to abide by the FAA requirements. The Class C vehicles is another story, which I’ll explain below.

Class A cannot really go that high over the surface of the water during normal operations. The configuration of these machines limits them to be operated only in the ground effect and only within a foot from the surface, like the Aquaglide in the video. These machines are mostly used as small personal recreational/fun vessels, carrying 1-4 people.

The class B machines are configured to temporarily lift itself out of the ground effect into the altitudes of no more than 150 meters/500 feet AGL (above ground [sea in our case] level). The altitude limitations is pretty much what separates these vehicles from the aircraft's classification according to the current Maritime rules and limitations.

Ekranoplans are extremely efficient when operated in the ground effect, i.e. close to the surface. They have the ability to transport more cargo by weight when compared to similar-sized aircraft. However, when class B machines are lifted higher into the air, their efficiency decreases dramatically, and they become less efficient than a conventional aircraft of a similar size. Therefore, I suppose in the future, operators would be lifting their machines into an altitude of 20-50 meters [66-164 feet], or even higher, only to jump over sandbanks, islands with tall vegetation, without bothering to change the course, or to avoid rough seas/large waves in the adverse weather conditions. There are really no economic incentives to operate constantly above 10-15 meters [33-50 feet] all the time during the calm weather, at the cost of burning more fuel than they would have to as during the normal operating conditions. 

A good example of class B machines would be Russian Orion 14. The manufacturing rights of this machine, for example, which was originally developed in Russia, were sold to China. Right now it is being duplicated under designation CYG-11, however, it has a number of things that can be further improved.

Technically, class C machines are called Ekranolets (the “let” portion refers to “samolet”, which is an aircraft in Russian) and they are basically designed and built as an aircraft but with some ekranoplan capabilities. In other words, it’s a somewhat mediocre aircraft and probably a way too sophisticated and expensive ekranoplan. These machines can be operated at higher than 150m/500 ft AGL altitudes, but they must follow all FAA regulations in manufacturing, operating, insurance, and maintenance phases.  

Aquila Flying

Aquila Global

In the specifications, it says the ground effect is only between 2 to 12 feet which doesn't seem like much for even regular seas in open water. Will that limit its utility or am I wrong about common wave conditions in, say, the Caribbean between islands? If you have a five-foot swell, does it fly level or does it follow the swell?

It really depends on the type of ekranoplans being used and its size. For example, if someone brave enough decides to use a small-sized Class A machine like AquaGlide to cross Atlantic Ocean, let’s say, from Miami to Cuba, they’d definitely experience a spectacular crash into the swells and sink probably pretty much instantaneously. If that would be a larger machine, let’s say Lun-class ekranoplan or Orlyonok or any sized Class B machines, those can easily travel well above the large swells, provided they were able to take off in a bay or a somewhat protected water strip with a smaller swell. The landing part is less critical because swells are usually moving/pushing vehicles into the shore. 

It should be mentioned that ekranoplans are not 100% all-weather vehicles, just like boats and aircraft they are not useful during serious storms. However, unlike boats, when they are already en route, these machines have enough speed to go around the slow-moving adverse weather conditions, just by simply changing the course and avoiding it altogether. 

Aquila from the rear

Aquila Global

The economics of this are amazing, 18 miles per gallon, better than an SUV. That is a huge environmental benefit right there. But I am wondering, since there are a few small planes running on electric motors, could this be electrified?

As far as electrifying ekranoplans, I wish it was the case. It would make building ekranoplans so much easier. 

As far as battery energy density, the best technology can squeeze only about 200Wh per kilo of battery weight. These above-mentioned batteries are high-risk Li-Ion, they are not even the latest LiFePo4. The latest LiFePo4 batteries can hold even less energy, only 80-120Wh/kg. This plays a major factor in underperforming electric aircraft and eVTOLs [electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft], with such low energy density batteries they can only operate on average for 45-60 minutes. 

Now, the same weight of gasoline has an energy density of 12,000Wh/kg. If you factor all of the inefficiencies of the internal combusting engine, the gas engine would still outperform electric batteries by 6 times. In the end, a 100 kilo of gasoline refueling can take an ekranoplan on a 5.5hr journey and cover about 1200 miles. Electric variant, not so much. 

As far as battery weight, it stays static regardless of whether the battery is discharged or fully charged. The electric vehicle has to lug these heavy batteries whether the operator likes it or not. As a result, one of the factors that extends distance traveled in the conventionally powered ekranoplan is an emptying fuel tank. 

Are we running away from electric vehicles? Not at all, this technology would be highly desirable when decent batteries are developed. I’ve always said in the past, it’s relatively easy to manufacture an electric motor that can deliver hundreds of horsepower from the batteries. The main problem is the batteries.

Aquila front with people for scale

Aquila Global

Because it is not actually an airplane, do you get to skip the years of certification and all that FAA  stuff? 

That is correct. We have nothing to do with FAA, our product is in essence a fancy fast-moving boat. The boat certifications, although desirable, are not mandatory. Nevertheless, we will undertake a full range of product testing, documentation, changes, and sea trials before rolling the product out to the customers. During the manufacturing stage of the initial vehicle, we will also work with a marine insurance company to address concerns and to understand the process of potentially certifying ekranoplans under Maritime rules, if that would be necessary. 


Aquila Global

When asked when it would be flying, Maslennikov said the pandemic threw a wrench into the product development schedule. He noted: "I would estimate that the first ekranoplan will be tested by the end of 2023."

In our previous post, I called ekranoplans "pie in the sky." Although the AG12 ekranoplan isn't flying yet, you can order one now and probably get it in two years. And maybe someday we will get those light batteries and be able to flight an ekranoplan electrically.