An ekranoplan describes a vehicle which is much like an airplane in that it takes its lift from aerodynamic forces that act on its wings but is different in a key way – fuel efficiency. Ekranoplans fly close to the surface of the ocean and the lift they receive has been known to increase by as much as 250% (in comparison to equivalent airplanes flying at low-altitude) from a phenomenon called wing-in-ground effect. To sustain this, the ekranoplan has to fly a distance from the surface of the ocean which is on the scale of the wingspan.
These vehicles are particularly interesting because of the way they cut corners with respect to their operation. First and foremost, these vehicles do not have to expend power climbing to cruising altitudes. Secondly, the cabin spaces do not need to be pressurized to carry passengers. Thirdly, the risk of fatal crashes due to shear distance from the ground is considerably less. These crafts can operate at speeds of M=.83 which is identical to that of commercial airplanes
The main challenge for engineers working on ekranoplans is in their longitudinal stability. Several ekranoplans which solved the stability issue were developed by the USSR until its fall in 1991. Since this point in time, the field of ekranoplans has remained a topic of R&D without any successful attempts at pushing the technology out as an efficient alternative to cross-atlantic or cross-pacific transportation of passengers.
Given the clear advantage of using ekranoplans for transportation the purpose of this group is to research the design of passenger-carrying ekranoplan exploring such topics as hull-design, airfoil design, and longitudinal stability using a combination of tried techniques such as conservational laws and scaled physical models with the goal of producing a design that is feasible, affordable, and most importantly safe.