Most of the world's aviation industry abandoned development of flying boats in the 1940s, when the increased range of land-based aircraft, plus the birth of turbine engines, seemed to indicate the end of an era.
A few manufacturers stayed with the flying boat - Canadair has continued to develop special-purpose examples for a limited market, while one or two general-aviation types are still evident today.
Another designer which has stayed loyal is Russia's Beriev Design Bureau which in 1930 began working on Hydro aviation (seaplane) projects for the then Soviet Union. Unlike its Western counterparts, however, it has continued its development into the turbine era, first with turboprop engines and then with turbofans.
Beriev's general designer, Gennadi Panatov, sees a continuing need for modern flying boats to serve remote locations for military and civil purposes, and his bureau, working alongside the TsAGI (Central Aero and Hydrodynamics Institute), has amassed huge knowledge on the design and operational needs for them.
In 1986, Beriev's A-40 Albatross had its first flight. With a take-off weight of 69.2t, it was powered by two Aviadvigatel D-30KPV turbofan engines mounted above the fuselage behind the wing. Intended principally for long-range maritime patrol, it came just as the Soviet Union was running out of money, and its development almost stopped. Panatov and his team could see great potential in the design, however, and, looking at a future with sharply curtailed military budgets, in 1989 he instructed Alexander Yavkin to begin work on a scaled-down A-40 for civil and military applications.
Yavkin defined potential roles for the Be-200 (as it was numbered) to meet civil and government needs to fight fires, for search and rescue, for pollution patrols, for air ambulance, and commercial passenger and cargo transport from remote regions with lake or coastal access, or with 1,800m (5,900ft) class 2 runways.
COMMONALITY SAVES MONEY
The powerplants selected were two Lotarev D-436T high-bypass turbofans each of 70kN (15,435lb) thrust, which established a maximum take off weight in the 37-42t class. Scaling down the A-40 design had some advantages: it reduced the development of detailed aerodynamic design by using the already proven A-40 shapes and characteristics, and (unusually in Soviet/Russian aviation) it allowed a level of commonality (and thus cost savings) in spare parts between the two. Reportedly, 70% of airframe and wing structures are interchangeable.
Another cost-saving idea implemented was to build the prototype Be-200 at the chosen production factory - the Irkutsk Aviation Production Association (IAPO). In recent years IAPO has specialised in Sukhoi designs, and this is the first Beriev aircraft to be built there. In 1996, this became a factor in Beriev becoming part of the Sukhoi Aviation - Military Industrial Complex, one of the first industrial groups set up to bring Russia's aviation industry into the future. By building the prototype there, instead of at the design bureau and then transferring production drawings to Irkutsk, time, production tooling, training and the need for extra drawings were minimised. Within this grouping, the Be-200 project is managed by Beta Air (Beta Air combines BE from Beriev, TA from Beriev's home base of Taganrog and IR from Irkutsk). The programme was approved by the Ministry of the Aviation industry shortly before the Soviet Union collapsed, however, and, as with virtually every other project of the time, the resulting administrative and financial changes substantially delayed the project.
Even this had some advantages, however. Opening Russia's borders to foreign industry has allowed Beriev to offer Western equipment such as engines and avionics as alternatives. Yavkin still sees Russian and CIS customers choosing local equipment, but the availability of the Western equipment can increase greatly the potential markets for the aircraft.
One problem for Russia's aircraft designers has been the limited range of engines available. Now, Yavkin can look at engines ranging from the Allison AE2100 turboprop to the BMW/ Rolls-Royce BR710 family. For avionics, AlliedSignal agreed to work with Russian industry to develop a locally produced package which would be equally acceptable on foreign markets.
The aircraft's fuselage allows a range of options. Apart from purpose-built air-ambulance and firefighting versions, a passenger version can seat from 64 economy-class passengers at a tight 750mm pitch right down to a luxurious 18-seat business layout. In a cargo configuration it could take up to 6t in LD1 or LD2 containers; or a combi arrangement, mixing cargo and passengers.
Yavkin's design allows the Be-200 to land or take off from water depths of 2m, and in Force 3 sea conditions, with waves of up to 1.2m. The aircraft has a two-crew cockpit, and has been designed to meet Russia's NLGS AP 25 norms, equivalent to FAR-25 (US Federal Airworthiness Regulations) and JAR-25 (European Joint Airworthiness Requirements). Those approvals will be sought later, possibly working with Italy's Alenia in a TACIS (Tactical Assistance for the CIS) European Union-supported programme.
Beriev expects the Be-200 programme to have cost $140 million by the time international deliveries begin (expected late in 1999 or early 2000). This is not an easy sum for Beta Air to absorb. For example, although the prototype was completed and rolled out in September 1996, it took until August 1997 for the partners to obtain finance to pay for its engines, and this has resulted in the first flight date slipping to "the first quarter of 1998 - probably March".
LARGE POTENTIAL MARKET
Beta Air has undertaken a market survey for the Be-200, and forecasts a potential of 411 sales by 2011, with 149 for the home market and 262 for export. In this, Beriev sees potential in Australia, Brazil, Canada and South-East Asia, and even operators of Grumman amphibians in the USA are considered possible buyers. Yavkin thinks that the market could reach 500 aircraft.
Russia's emergency situations ministry has expressed a requirement for 20, and has placed an order for the first seven. Beriev expects certification to be awarded in late 1998 or early 1999, and for first domestic deliveries to follow shortly afterwards. More significantly, negotiations are "well advanced" for an initial batch of four for a Western customer which requires a firefighter with a 42t take-off weight. Deposits for these are expected "shortly".
Initial production rate is expected to be 25 a year, and the sales price is targeted at $25.3million, but, before this, the certification programme will require four prototypes - two for flight trials, plus one each for static and dynamic tests to establish the aircraft's service life. Also required is the certification of IAPO's factory for the production launch of the aircraft and the development of an adequate after-sales network. Beriev has already been approached by companies in the UK and the USA interested in marketing and supporting the Be-200.
The Be-200 is intended to cruise at an altitude of 10,000m (33,000ft) and to have a maximum cruise speed of 410kt (750 km/h), or an economic cruise of 345kt. Range with full payload is expected to be 2,200km for the passenger aircraft. The take-off roll at maximum weight is expected to be 950m from a runway or 1,400m from water in still conditions.
The first aircraft to be delivered will be firefighters, which, equipped with an under-hull loading device, will be able to pick up 12t of water in 12s. Beriev calculates that, with a water supply 5min flying time from a fire, up to 310t of water could be dropped without the need to refuel.
One factor which delayed the introduction of turbine engines to firefighting duties was their slow response time (up to 8s), compared to the almost immediate response of piston engines. This problem has been solved by now - Conair in Canada had found a solution for Fokker F27 Friendships by 1986 and, today, jet aircraft, including the llyushin Il-76, are regularly used on these duties. The time needed to reload such landplanes with water, compared with the quick scoop of a flying boat, will give the Be-200 a decided advantage, however.
Beriev and Beta Air have come up with an unusual, but probably effective, answer to a question that is not often asked. Now, all that needs to be done is to persuade the world market that it needs the Be-200.
Source: Flight International