With romantic names like "Stormbringer", "Sputnik", "Comet" and "Meteor", these were true rockets of the riverways
We already wrote at length about fantastic Soviet Ekranoplans, but today we have a special treat for you.
The Rockets of the Riverways! Swift and streamlined, like soaring seagulls or flitting swallows, these gracefully poised, surging arrows (all these descriptions were also reflected in their names) - these beautiful high-speed, high-passenger-capacity hydrofoils were the pride and joy of the Soviet Union in the 1960s-1980s.
And then... the industry experienced a prolonged slump, with fewer and fewer of these machine in use on the Russian waterways today. We will see some incredibly poetic and, yes, sad photos of the abandoned hydrofoils further in this article.
But first, there was the Golden Age of "Rocket" Hydrofoils - white, loud, powerful vessels, some of which reached the speeds of 150 km/hr, and could carry more than 300 passengers.
Perhaps the most beautiful high-speed hydrofoil vessel of them all: the Burevestnik (Stormbringer), with two airplane turbine engines on the sides:
The cabins of these vessels were styled like the 1950s cars, with less chrome finish but similarly streamlined shapes:
In this rare photograph we can see them in the Port of Odessa on the Black Sea, back in 1984:
Here are two of these beauties sitting in the port, looking, for all we know, like the Japanese Shinkansen bullet trains! -
All aboard! Here is a good side view of "The Meteor":
Some of the surviving dashboards:
A Smorgasbord of Lovely Hydrofoil Models
There was quite a variety of passenger hydrofoil models during the 1960s-1980s (Soviet Union certainly made lots of them: in all, more than 3,000 hydrofoil vessels were in use in Russia and Ukraine) Most of them were designed and built by Rostislav Alekseev and his Bureau in the city of Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod) on the Volga river. Below you can see the commemorative portrait of Alekseev and a monument to him (right image below):
The "Rocket" (Raketa) was the first Soviet passenger hydrofoil vessel designed in 1957 by the "Red Sormovo" Central Design Bureau (production lasted until the mid-1970s). This vessel was soon followed by compact hydrofoil boat design "Volga" (awarded the Gold Medal at the Brussels Exhibition) - really just a rescue motorboat sporting hydrofoils.
First "Raketa" was seen in Moscow in 1957 during the International Youth Festival. "Raketas" immediately became very popular, and even Nikita Khruschev famously said "Enough of stumbling around rivers in some rusty tubs. Let's travel in style!".
Soon the "Raketa" name became synonymous with all ships of this type, regardless of their model names. "Let's take Raketa on a weekend, shall we?" could be often heard on Moscow River, Volga River, Ladoga Lake, etc.
The Era of "Meteors"
The "Meteor" (built from 1961 to 1991) was used for river navigation (his near-twin "Kometa" was used for the sea routes), was faster than "Raketa" and could accommodate 160 passengers. In total, almost four hundred "Raketa" vessels were built, and more than four hundred "Meteors"! Quite a number... "Meteors" were favorite with families for short cruises to a favorite "secluded" beach spot, like this one (what a beautiful lake landscape, too!):
Here are some rare 1970s photographs of a "Meteor" on Volga river:
"Meteors" were also successfully used for the river cruises in St.Petersburg:
"Kometa" (The Comet) was the sea-going variation of the "Meteor". A total of 86 were built in Feodosiya shipyard between 1964-1981, including 34 for export - plus during 1962-1992, thirty nine "Comets" were built in the Poti shipyards.
(photo by A. Veselov)
Here is a "Kometa" steaming toward the Valaam islands (an archipelago in the Lake Ladoga):
"Kometa" came on the scene in 1961 and boasted top speed of 70 km/hr. Here is a colorful version from 1973:
"Voskhod" (The Sunrise) was built to replace the aging fleet of "Kometas" and "Meteors" (first one built in 1973, 150 vessels in total). "Sunrise" was also exported to eighteen other countries, particularly to Canada, Vietnam, China, Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Thailand, Turkey.
(image credit: Ivan90)
Newly designed "Katran-M" and a larger hydrofoil vessel "Vostok", designed by the Seatech firm:
Built as "Kometa-44" in 1979, this one now is used in Turkey as "Ege Princess":
(images credit: Frank Behrends, via)
"Stormbringer" is arguably the most beautiful river vessel ever produced!
Futuristic, romantic, surging into the future! "Burevestnik" (Stormbringer) was a masterpiece of industrial design, and was an incredible treat to ride on, or simply observe it roaring along pristine Russian (mostly quiet) waterways:
High speed vessel "Burevestnik" (also called "gazo-turbokhod", as it ran on turboshaft-gas-turbine type engine) was used along the Volga river during 1964-1979:
(on the right is the smaller "Belarus", seating 40 people)
The mighty "Burevestnik" sported two IL-18 airplane engines on its sides... It was used on Kuibyshev-Ulyanov-Kazan-Gorky lines on the Volga river; the only surviving ship was dismantled for scrap in 1993; such a shame! -
There was also 1962 "Sputnik" (the Satellite): similarly imposing, powerful vessel (4x850hp engines), capable of taking almost 300 passengers! Certainly a record... "Vikhr" (the Whirlwind) was its seagoing version:
Chaika (the Seagull) was a very distinctively shaped prototype; only one vessel was made, but it served for two years on the riverways:
It only carried 30 passengers, but boasted faster speed of 100 km/hr:
The streamlined "Olympia" designed by Matveev Bureau:
Also by Matveev Bureau is this "Katran" hydrofoil:
From "Morskoi Flot" magazine, 1973: the Comet's captain and "Kometa-7" docked for maintenance in Sochi:
Even today, these formidable in shape and power boats look truly inspiring, working the waterways as cruise ships, or super yacht conversions:
"Cyclone" is a modern impressive "double-decker" hydrofoil ship, which is currently used in Crimea (on the right is surviving "Kometa", seen in Sochi):
Significantly less known and rarely remembered are Taifun (Typhoon) and its Strela (Arrow) incarnation:
... and don't forget Lastochka (the Little Swallow):
This Kolkhida model from the early nineties seats 150 passengers (more info):
Current Condition of Surviving 1960s-1980s Vessels: Not Good. Definitely, not good (with rare exception)
Today some of these ships are kept in pretty miserable conditions, some are abandoned, some waiting on their chance for some private river tour company to rescue them:
Seriously amazing sight: retired "heroes of the riverways", rusting away in the autumn forest - near Kama Reservoir (Zaoszerskaya shipyards, near Perm):
(images credit: Ratmir)
Is it now a restaurant? A forlorn "Sputnik", seen in Port of Samara:
One of the "Meteors" was converted into a bar in the city of Kanev, Ukraine:
And here we see the whole industrial yard covered with them:
These were spotted in Valaam Bay (left) and totally abandoned somewhere in Kazakhstan:
Some are transformed into super-yachts, like this one in Krasnoyarsk:
These "Meteors" are still in good use (photo taken in 2010 in Cherepovets):
And this river tour company uses a restored "Raketa" vessel with great effect:
This one ended up in China (in Chang Jiang):
(image credit: Peter)
Welcome on board of the Soviet River Time Machine!
Here are some impressive approach shots of these vessels, currently used in the Gulf of Finland:
And finally, very poetic shot - a "Meteor", gliding over the quiet waters... -
(image credit: Ivan90)