Lot production of the unique air vehicle will be launched by Russian aviation company EKIP (Saratov, Russia) in cooperation with the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command. The Americans are planning to use the EKIP as a drone for putting out forest fires and combating natural disasters.
The Saratov aviation plant was one of the key enterprises during the Soviet era. Over the last 10 years, the company has managed to maintain its leading positions in innovation and technologies only. Production output suffered a dramatic slump in 1995. The EKIP vehicle was designed in 1992, but further development was put on hold due to lack of financing.
The EKIP vehicle is sitting alone inside a dome-shaped workshop. It looks like a huge white may-bug on the outside. The body resembles an oblate seed of lentil. Some can even liken its shape to a medical pill. Well, judging by its technical characteristics, the aircraft is obviously capable of tackling quite a few dangers of today?s world. It can be used for fighting forest fires and containing natural disasters; it can also airlift cargoes to Antarctica and take part in operations against terrorism. The aircraft?s designers seem to have resolved the issue of vibration that is the main problem of aviation. The wings of the airplanes fall to pieces and their fuselages crack down due to vibration. The other problem refers to turbulence. The turbulent jets tangle up a plane like ropes.
Saratov designers managed to take advantage of the above negative forces. In particular, they used the vortex for creating a lifting force and easing away the passage of a plane through the air. The EKIP interacts with the air flows. The vortices continuously streamline the body and increase the aircraft?s lifting power by 40 percent. The body works both as a wing and a fuselage. A fundamentally new system for controlling the boundary layer is mounted at the aft of the vehicle. The vortex cells fixed in series are the cornerstone of the new control system. The vortices end up self-stabilizing in the cells.
One can hardly fight the desire to get inside the ?flying saucer.?
My emotions begin to cool down as I hear the comments by one of the workers: ?It?s just an empty body, there?s nothing inside.? So the size of the EKIP is flexible. It depends on a potential number of passengers and a mission?s objectives.
The landing perspectives of the EKIP are particularly bright. The aircraft is capable of landing virtually on any surface using its air cushion.
?An aircraft is shaken by impact during a touchdown on its landing gear,? says Alexander Ermishin, Director General of the Saratov plant. ?Therefore the fuselage has to be built in a very strong fashion to keep it from breaking apart, hence a plane?s weight goes up in the end. The air cushion enables to spread the load along the fuselage. It inflates during the landing and then it gets folded inside the aircraft. As a result, the EKIP is capable of taking off from anywhere. The aircraft can transport heavier payloads because of the reduction of its weight. A modern aircraft is capable of moving a payload weighing from 20 to 25 percent of its own deadweight while the EKIP can fly a payload weighing 40-45 percent of its own deadweight.?
The air vehicle is capable of transporting heavy bulky payloads of more than100 tons to very long distances at a speed of 500-700 km flying at altitudes ranging from 8 to 13 km. It can fly at a very low altitude above the earth and water using its air cushion at a speed up to 160 km/h. It can also operate as an airfoil boat at a speed up to 400 km/h.
Americans have been showing an active interest in the Saratov flying saucer since the machine was unveiled. NASA experts found that the EKIP had good prospects as a next-generation aircraft.
?I made myself quite clear at the very beginning of talks on a possible cooperation and manufacture. I told them that we?re not going to move the production outside this country. And Russia will hold the patent for the aircraft. The market will be divided after the start of full-scale production and the U.S. will be paying dividends to Russia for manufacturing its own ?flying saucers? while Russia will be paying fees to the U.S. for services rendered.
Americans made several attempts to create perfect conditions for launching the production of the Russian air vehicle on the American soil. They were ready to allot the whole village and production facilities in Tennessee for the needs of Saratov?s team if Russians agreed to sell them the rights to the aircraft. A German offer provided for R&D and design work to be done by the Russian party while the Germans would retain the right to carry out the assembly of aircraft. The Chinese came up with yet another offer. They suggested profits out of the EKIP production be split in three equal parts and paid to Russia, to the Chinese agency of space and aviation, and to a commercial entity that would invest in the production. The Saratov company has finally made its choice by accepting the terms of contract offered by the U.S Naval Air Systems Command. The U.S. partners intend to use the ?flying saucer? as a drone for putting out forest fires and tackling natural disasters.
The EKIP project will reportedly cost as much as the production of a conventional airplane. The costs are estimated to be ranging from $10 to $40 million. The agreement signed between Saratov?s company and the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command stipulates that the Saratov plant is to be a head manufacturer, a test-flight and research facility for the project. The American party is to cover costs of the project. No exact figures have been revealed so far. However, specialists reckon that more than $ 160 million be required. The first test flight of a Russian-American air vehicle built on the basis of the EKIP vehicle is slated for 2007 in Maryland. The lot production of a new machine should kick off 5 years later.
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