Winter Beaters Don’t Get Better Than the Tupolev A-3 Aerosledge, Russia’s Aircraft-Powered Snow Machine

Early models had just 100 horsepower courtesy of a five-cylinder radial engine, however, most later models had 260-hp nine-cylinder radial engines sourced from light aircraft. To ensure the boat didn’t flip over or push itself off of the ground with this much power, the engine was pointed downwards at a few degrees so it was always pushing the craft into the earth. 

Control for the A-3 was handled by two rudders on the back of the craft that both directed the air from the propeller and extended to the ground to provide mechanical steering. These rudders were controlled by a steering wheel inside the cabin. In addition to turning left or right, the rudders could also both point outwards when the wheel was pulled towards the driver, allowing for aerodynamic braking. To ensure the aerosledge wouldn’t slip from left to right over ice, three stainless steel runners protruded from the hull to provide lateral grip.

Over snow, the A-3 could carry as much as 1,400 pounds, and allegedly travel as fast as 74 miles per hour. Over water, the payload was a lesser 660 lbs, and the craft was limited to a speed of 40 mph—but that’s still good by boat standards. At 13-feet long and 7-feet wide, there was room for a driver and four passengers. But even carrying all of those people, the craft allegedly has a draft of just two inches in the water. This is in part thanks to the hull providing a small amount of lift when traveling at higher speeds. That being said, this is not an Ekranoplan. It cannot remain aloft, even inside the ground effect.

Production of these machines lasted until the early 1980s, and they found various uses in the frozen parts of Russia, and other eastern European countries such as Ukraine and Hungary. From border patrols to medical transportation, the A-3 had a wide variety of uses.

However, the aerosledge still had issues. The vehicle’s inability to climb steeper slopes was still a problem, as was the noise and fuel consumption of its radial aircraft engine. Its payload was also quite small compared to other tracked or wheeled vehicles of a similar size. Gradually, the need for such a niche vehicle slipped away, and most were out of service by the 1980s.

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