Russia » Economics
Author`s name Alex Naumov

Caspian Monsters showed off in St. Petersburg

Arctic Trade & Transport Company (ATT), one of the world’s few successful designers and manufacturers of so called screen planes (w inged surface effect vehicles), intends to develop this direction at its industrial base in Nizhni Novgorod. Today ATT suggests four seats screen plane Aquaglide-5, which already has sales and operational records. However, the plans of this Russian company are much more far reaching. At the recently held IMDS-2007, where Aquaglide-5 definitely was one of the show off exhibits, the correspondent of PravdaRu asked the ATT’s Chief of Flights Sergey Stepanychev about the perspectives.

As of today ATT built 20 screen planes of the type Aquaglide-5 or its predecessor “Amphistar” (Xtreme Xplorer) . All but one were sold to different customers, including foreign. First ten are operated around Bahamas by a Russian-US structure dealing with tourism. One screen plane has an operation record in Taiwan. The rest were distributed among different private customers. Aquaglide-5 proved to be a technically lucky design. Right now ATT has specific proposals from Thailand and Malaysia. From time to time some German and Italian customers demonstrate interest, but so far it remains on the level of technical discussions. (The price of one makes around $650). ATT itself operates just one experimental smaller model for various technical studies.

Aquaglide-5 is certified but the Russian Sea Register. It is capable of transporting 5 people (4 passengers and pilot) with a speed of up to 170 km/hours to the distance of 450 km. The model was designed and constructed in full conformity with the safety requirements applied to the screen planes by the International Maritime Organization, and has IMO’s safety code.

Today ATT is developing the next version, a screen plane with 28 seats. The projected speed is 150 km/h. The peculiarity of the ATT’s screen planes is that both are low flying vehicles (unlike the models suggested by other Russian designers). This is regarded as a serious technical advantage, as the vehicle has better stability. Technical test take place in the Gorky river basin (near N.Novgorod). Although ATT has been only selling its screen planes, today the company also considers commercial operation. If the project is started - it will be something about tourist projects along rivers and coastlines.

Traditionally ATT had been specializing on the deliveries of various cargoes to the northern regions. At a time ATT merged with Nizhni Novgorod based Amphibious Transport Technologies and St. Petersburg based JSC New Submarine Technologies.

Noteworthy, ATT does not fear that foreign competitors will copy the models which ATT had delivered abroad. According to Sergey Stepanychev screen plane is a difficult job, a know how and it is impossible to dismantle a piece and find out how it was made. All attempted copies of ATT’s screen planes, if which the company is aware of, failed. South Korean copy crashed in the first test .

In 2003 ATT bought the bankrupt enterprise Fast Ships (Skorostnye Suda) based in Chkalovsk near Nizhniy Novgorod. By 2008 the company plans to finish the reconstruction of the workshop which would specialize on manufacturing the screen planes. The reconstruction is to increase the volumes of manufacturing screen planes up to 20 units a year. Earlier the administration of the ATT voiced some plans regarding cargo versions of the screen planes. Speaking to the Russian media the President of ATT Ruben Nagapetyan said that in his opinion screen planes will be one of the most perspective means of transport in this century.

According to him today industrial facilities of ATT correspond to the all international regulations applied to the shipbuilding enterprises. Various models of screen planes have been designed in Germany, Great Britain, Japan, but they are not made serially. It is expected that the new customers for Aquagile-5 will be Malaysia and Brazil. It may happen that even the new workshop will not have enough capacities to meet the demand of the market. However, such small models are hardly usable for serious operations. ATT does not exclude that it will be ready to set up joint ventures in Malaysia and Brazil on manufacturing screen planes.

Potential Russian customers like Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Emergencies need much more powerful machines. Today ATT is not ready to make such screen planes, bigger versions are expected in 2—2,5 years. The first two will be passenger (40-50 seats) and / or cargo (30 tons payload). Interestingly, western manufacturers of engines seem reluctant to cooperate with the Russian designers of the screen planes. Mr. Nagapetyan mentioned that ATT and Rolls-Royce had talks on this point and the latter refused to deliver the engines, which were deemed for the new big screen planes. It was hinted that this is aimed at trimming Russian technical superiority in this field, which is assessed at about 20 years. After this ATT selected Russian made aviation engines made in St. Petersburg.

It is remarkable that today ATT works in the building which used to be the office of the talented Russian designer Alexeev, who gave birth to the very idea of screen planes and the whole design bureau was named after him. His second screen plane Orlenok will take a place in the Moscow based museum of the Naval Glory. Let’s remind that in the middle of the Cold War US photo reconnaissance spotted a strange object in the Caspian Sea, a gigantic 100m-long creature that moved on the surface with the speed of about 500 km/h. US Intelligence dubbed it the "Caspian Monster". This was the first "baby" of Rostislav Alexeev. The vehicle was powered by eight Dobryin VD-7 turbojets on the front of the fuselage and two on the tail for extra thrust during take-off, which first took place in October, 1966.

According to some open sources Chinese Tongji University in Shanghai developed their own version of the Caspian Monster, which is capable of flying at 300km/h at half metre above the surface while carrying four tonnes of cargo. Exact technical details of the first Chinese screen planes have not been published. Allegedly China plans to develop a 50-seat screen plane by 2013, and the prototypes capable of carrying 200-400 tonnes by 2016 or 2017. Independent experts view screen planes as an efficient weapon against aircraft carrier groupings.

Yuri Seleznev

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