Despite the loss of the first prototype, Beriev's Be-103 shows great promise


Of the ten major ex-Soviet design bureaux, perhaps the least known to the outside world is Beriev. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, Beriev is based in Taganrog, a relatively small city on the Sea of Azov coast, some 1,100km (680 miles) from Moscow. Secondly, over the last 65 years, it has specialised in "hydro aviation" - designing seaplanes and amphibians almost exclusively for the domestic market.

It has branched out slightly from time to time - it worked on wing-in-ground-effect aircraft and it developed the Be-32 regional airliner, which was produced only as a prototype and development aircraft. It has also developed specialist versions of other types - for example, the A-50 reconnaissance/surveillance version of the Ilyushin Il-76. Two new aircraft developed by Beriev in the difficult political and economic climate of the 1990s may change the bureau's image and fortunes, however.

The six-seat twin-piston Be-103 amphibian had its first flight in July. It is likely to attract the attention of business customers in the CIS. Russia's border guards have already placed the first orders for the Be-103, seeing a requirement for some 200, with 20 confirmed for deliveries starting in 1999. The aircraft may well become Beriev's first major export model.

The Be-200, a scaled-down version of the A-40, is a twinjet amphibian capable of carrying 64 passengers and also offered as a cargo, combi, firefighter, air-sea-rescue or coastal-patrol aircraft. The first flight is due in mid-October.


Prototype lost

The prototype Be-103 was lost in an accident on its 28th flight. The crew was practising for a MAKS 97 air-show demonstration at Zhukovski on the eve of the show, when, during a low-speed, low-altitude manoeuvre, it stalled and crashed, killing test pilot Vladimir Ulyanov.

Beriev has not yet completed researching the accident causes - working with governmental accident investigators and researchers, this will take some time. It is confident, however, that the programme will continue, and the second Be-103, built at the Konsomolsk-na-Amur aircraft-production factory (KnAAPO), is expected to have its first flight early this month.

Work started on the Be-103 in 1992. Beriev has traditionally designed aircraft for military service - only the Be-32 was intended for civil use as a 19-passenger feeder/regional aircraft. General designer Gennadi Panatov realised, however, that changes would be needed if Beriev was to survive and, when his team suggested an amphibious six-seat twin-piston aircraft for "general purposes", he authorised a work study, and appointed Viktor Ponomarev as the project's chief designer.

With the changing political and economic situation in Russia and its neighbours, early studies indicated that there would be a market for an aircraft in this category among the developing business organisations in Siberia and other remote regions of the former Soviet Union, where airfields are scarce, but where there are many rivers and lakes. Russia's border guards will also find an aircraft in this category useful, as would the emergency services, so the go- ahead was given.

Ponomarev and his team came up with a six-seat cabin design built over a hull and with a retracting undercarriage. Unusual features are the water-displacement low wing, the inner panels of the wing and, more particularly, the design of the trailing edges, which are to be used as stabilisers while on water, to improve seaworthiness. This also removes the need for drag-inducing wingtip floats.

Another drag saver was the new-found access to Western engines. Rather than the traditional Soviet-era piston radials, two Teledyne Continental 10-360 ESM flat-six engines with fuel injection are installed, driving two German-built MT propellers. With a much reduced profile, drag penalties are far fewer. If required, the engines may be fitted with catalytic converters to minimise emissions. They each produce 155kW (210hp) at sea level. They are mounted just aft of the cabin, on pylons, to raise them above water levels - mounting them in this position also augments control response, as they are immediately forward of the all-moving horizontal tailplane.

The aircraft's wing and hull are composed of sections divided by waterproof bulkheads to reduce the risk of sinking should damage occur.

Access to the cabin is through an upward- opening door on the left side. Another door on the right is termed an emergency hatch, but is also available for entrance/egress. A smaller door, also on the right, gives access to a luggage compartment at the rear of the cabin. Normally, six cabin seats are standard, but Beriev will offer as an option the possibility of converting a passenger interior to cargo - up to 400kg can be carried for 3,900km (2,110nm) - or ambulance. Other (non-convertible) options will include an executive interior; patrol or survey; and an agricultural sprayer.

Current weights are:

Equipped empty1,540kg

Maximum take off2,050kg

Beriev is conscious that the 510kg remaining is not ideal for fuel, baggage, crew and passengers, and is working to improve it. Unusually for Russia, it has a staff bonus plan in place - anyone who comes up with a practical way of saving weight will get a bonus for every kilo saved. This is hoped to improve payload, but, pending possible improvements, the maximum fuel load of 250kg will allow a pilot, plus three passengers, to travel just over 400km at 140kt (260km/h).

The unpressurised aircraft is intended for operation at altitudes of up to 3,000m (9,850ft). At this level, its maximum cruising speed is 145kt and economical cruise is 115kt. At the lower speed, its fuel consumption is 35.5kg/h.

Normal equipment includes the standard 720-channel transceiver, plus a 720-channel navigation transceiver with glideslope and an emergency locator transmitter. A Russian package will be offered for domestic customers and an AlliedSignal Bendix/King suite for international buyers. A transponder with Mode A, C and S functions is also provided, as is distance-measuring equipment and radar altimeter. A satellite-navigation system is optional.


Programme go-ahead

Beriev deputy general designer Vladimir Konoplev confirms that the programme will go ahead, despite the loss of the first aircraft, saying: "We had begun flying the Aviaregister tests to gain AP-23 certification, and had expected to receive it in autumn 1997. We will continue this work with the second aircraft.

"If any changes are needed [because of the accident], they will be made, but, realistically, we are now looking to receive certification in the first half of 1998," he adds.

The prototype had been built at Beriev's works in Taganrog, and was first shown publicly at the September 1996 Hydroaviatsiya show in Gelendzhik. The usual funding problems delayed its Ìrst ßight until 15 July this year, when it had a 12min, wheels-down, flight, piloted by Vladimir Ulyanov, who reported handling to be good, with "no problems".

Beriev says that Be-103 development costs will have run to $36 million by the time of first deliveries in 1999. It commissioned a market study, which concluded that some 800 could be sold in the next eight years - 485 in the CIS, plus 315 in Australasia, South and Central America and South-East Asia, at a price of about $700,000.

For international markets, Konoplev says that, following CIS certification, an application will be made for US Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 23 approval, beginning in the second quarter of 1999. He sees potential for the aircraft in North America and, in particular, Canada when this is achieved.

"It will be more difficult to do this in the CIS, where the concept of a business or family aircraft is new, but the number of bases for [Antonov] An-2 and [Yakovlev] Yak-18 operations means that we will solve this problem also," he maintains.

Maintenance requirements are simple. A pre- and post-flight inspection, a minor check every 50 flying hours and a three-monthly or 300h check are the light-overhaul needs. As operational experience builds, the 300h check should increase to 500h, or six monthly.

A major overhaul will be required every four years or 5,000h. Under the CIS system, AP-23 will allow just two majors at the start, but this is likely to be reviewed as experience builds. Beriev calculates that 2.68 man hours of maintenance are needed for each flight hour. As experience is gained, maintenance will become less time-related and more focused on condition.

Before deliveries to foreign customers begin, the KnAAPO site will have to be approved/ certificated to build the Be-103. According to Beriev's Panatov, work has begun on this. "I expect it to be completed by mid-1998," he says.

So far, only one Russian light aircraft has received FAR 23 approval. The Ilyushin Il-103 won one termed "shade" early this year. While its design is approved, its producer, MAPO's, Lukhovitski factory is not, and this is delaying its possible appearance on Western markets.

With an unusual and interesting new design, Beriev and KnAAPO have taken the first steps to avoiding this problem. There are still many pitfalls to face, but a good start has been made, and it could conceivably become an amphibious Piper Aztec for the early 21st century.

Source: Flight International