SWe have an occasional obsession with Soviet-era ekranoplans, the half-plane, half-hovercraft madness machines which take advantage of the ground effect, a phenomenon which provides for high lift at low altitudes. We've meandered across all manner of ekranoplan, from the massive Caspian Sea Monster to Luigi Colani's vision of an ekranoplanic future. But today we find out Ruskie planners once envisioned a future where space travel was enabled by ekranoplans. Propelling heft into space is much easier at the equator, where you can get up to twice the payload into the night sky at the same fuel charge.
Details on the concept are poorly translated, but it seems a space vehicle would be launched from an equatorial parallel in the traditional manner, but upon return, the landing would be facilitated by heavy ekranoplans. The returning shuttle would hook up with a speeding ekranoplan, which would slow it down the rest of the way and then transport it home. Roll that concept around in your mind a second and imagine how badly that could go wrong. It's no surprise to us the Soviets eventually went with the traditionally shaped but inevitably mothballed Buran shuttle. [USSR Airspace and DarkRoastedBlend]