Amphibian Russia’s Jet

The Beriev Be-200 twin-jet amphibian has unique abilities, but market demand has been low so far. Alexander Mladenov examines the programme’s progress and its opportunities to attract more customers


A MChS Be- 200CHS climbs up the slipway at Gelendzhik harbour for servicing and refuelling after a sortie. Beriev

The Be-200 programme experienced a long sought-after revival in 2016 as the TANTK Beriev manufacturing plant in Taganrog began rolling out newly assembled aircraft. In 2017, the jet amphibian, initially designed for civilian use only, is set for delivery to its first military customer. Russian Naval Aviation intends to use its initial batch of six Be-200s for a mixture or combat and non-combat tasks.

While it has proved next to impossible to sell the Be-200 to export customers, despite lots of marketing efforts over more than a decade, the second half of 2016 seemed at last to have turned the fortunes by opening up doors to foreign sales to China and Indonesia, with firm contracts expected to be signed with these countries in the foreseeable future.

Protracted Development

The Be-200 is among the few truly successful stories of Russia’s struggling civilian aircraft industry after the Soviet Union’s dissolution, but it is yet to prove its true commercial appeal. The programme managed to stay aloft during the development and testing phases, thanks to the firm government support received in the turbulent 1990s and early 2000s, backed by a financially stable design and manufacturing organisation able to deliver the original promises.

The Be-200 was conceived as an 80% scaleddown derivative of the A-40 Albatros twinjet military amphibian designed by Beriev in the 1980s for antisubmarine warfare (ASW) and maritime patrol duties.

The A-40 prototype made its maiden flight in December 1986, with the second following suit in November 1989. The programme, however, had no luck in the post-Soviet times: it was frozen in 1994, due to the lack of funding in the Russian Ministry of Defence budget.

The Be-200’s design concept, utilising the development experience gained during the work on the A-40, called for a new-design jet amphibian able to perform multiple missions to open a wider market in the civilian and paramilitary worlds. Fire-fighting was seen as the most promising mission from the commercial point of view. Design of the new jet amphibian was intended to be compliant with the then-new Russian AP-25 civil airworthiness rules; it was also planned for the aircraft to be certified in Europe and the United States to expand the market footprint further.

In the eventual division of work, Taganrogbased Beriev Design Bureau held the full responsibility for the development, design and documentation, as well as the static, fatigue and flight testing of the prototype aircraft, and type certification activities and design support of the production aircraft. Irkutsk Aviation Production Association (renamed as Irkut Corporation in December 2002) handled the management of the programme, as well as all marketing activities, together with tooling, manufacture and aircraft production activities at its Irkutsk plant.

The Be-200 sports high-mounted engines which are well protected from water spray by means of lateral strakes in the nose and the high-mounded wings. Beriev

This division existed until the late 2000s. In the early 2010s, the Be-200 programme was handed over to TANTK Beriev, formed through the merger of Beriev and the Tavavia serial aircraft plant in Taganrog, and controlled by Russia’s aircraft design and production monopolist, the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).


Wingspan: 32.78m (107ft 6in)

Length: 31.43m (103ft 1in)

Height: 8.90m (29ft 2in)

Wing area: 117.44m2 (1,264ft2)

Max take-off weight (cargo/passenger): 42,000kg (92,594lb)

Max take-off weight (fire-fighting): 37,200kg (82,011lb)

Max take-off weight (after scooping up water): 43,000kg (94,798lb)

Max useful payload: 7,500kg (16,534lb)

Max landing weight land/water: 35,000kg (77,161lb)

Max fuel: 12,260kg (27,028b)

Max cruising speed at 10,000ft (3,000m): 383kts (709km/h)

Economical cruise speed at 10,000ft (3,000m): 324kts (600km/h)

Max rate of climb at sea level: 2,755ft/min (840m/min)

Service ceiling: 26,000ft (8,000m)

Water scooping-up distance to 50ft (15m): 4,760ft (1,450m)

Ferry range with max fuel, no reserve: 2,078 nautical miles (3,850km)

Flight Tests and Certification Activities

Construction of the first flying prototype began in 1992, but it turned out to be a very protracted process, due to the insufficient funding. Assembly activities accelerated only after Irkut began investing in the programme in the second half of the 1990s, its own funds raised from export sales of the Su-27UBK and Su-30MKI two-seat fighters.

Flight testing of the Be-200 was originally planned for launch in 1995, but in the event the programme suffered from a three-year delay, the first of many in its history. The first prototype, registered RA-21511, rolled out at the Irkutsk plant on September 11, 1996, and took to the air on its maiden flight on September 24, 1998.

A MChS Be-200ChS seen at low level over Portugal during fire-fighting operations in 2007. Beriev

The Be-200 made its international debut at the Paris Air Show in June 1999. The much sought-after limited category AP-25 certification was awarded on August 15, 2001, by the Avia Register of the Interstate Committee of the Russian Federation and Associated States. This achievement at last enabled the Be-200 to perform fire-fighting operations, in addition to its use for aircrew conversion training.

By the end of August 2002, RA-21511 had accumulated some 700 flying hours and it was finally joined by the second prototype, built in the definitive Be-200ChS (Cherezvyichainykh Sutuatsiy – Emergency Situations) configuration for fire-fighting and search and rescue (SAR). Registered RA-21512, this second aircraft flew for the first time on August 27, 2002. An intense certification trials programme followed involving both prototypes, completed with the award of the full type certificate in December 2003. In January 2007, the Be-200ChS got a supplement to its type certificate allowing it to be used for commercial transport of up to 43 passengers, operating from both land-based runways and water basins. In September 2010, the long sought-after European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) restricted type certificate was received for the Be- 200ChS-E fire-fighting version with Englishlanguage cockpit.


In 2016, Russian Minister for Trade and Industry Denis Manturov said there were potential export customers for the Be-200 from Indonesia, Greece and Thailand, which had expressed interest in purchasing the jet amphibian. The aircraft proved its capabilities during fire-fighting operations in all three countries.

In the early 2010s, the Be-200ChS was offered for export at a unit price of about $50 million. This price tag, however, was viewed as too high and many countries regarded in the recent past as potential markets decided to lease aircraft from Beriev or MChS on an as-needed basis rather than investing in new fire-fighting aircraft. This was the case in Portugal, Greece, Indonesia, Israel, Croatia and Serbia.

In April and May 2012, the Be-200 underwent initial trials supervised by US company International Emergency Services. These were set to prove the jet amphibian’s use in the fire-fighting tanker role in a bid to get US certification and clearance for the aircraft. According to Beriev, the assessment made by the US Forest Service found that the Be-200, and its waterhandling system, fully complied with the requirements of the US Forest Service Interagency Airtanker Board (the body that regulates tankers and the providers of fire-fighting services in the United States). There were several minor modifications required to the Be-200’s fire-fighting systems for the aircraft to be fully compliant with US regulations. Despite this generally positive assessment, however, no further moves have been undertaken to promote the Be-200 for the fire-fighting role in the United States.

A memorandum of understanding covering the purchase of four Be-200s plus two options was at last signed with the Chinese company Leader Energy Aircraft Manufacturing Co Ltd in November 2016. In addition, a long-prepared firm contract, covering three or four examples, is expected to be signed with the Indonesian Government in 2017. Thailand is also viewed as a serious potential customer, with a requirement for four Be-200s, to be operated by the Royal Thai Air Force.

A look inside the Be-200ChS cabin, configured here with 43 passenger seats. Beriev
The Be-200ChS cockpit sports six flat-panel LCD displays and fighter-style control sticks for the pilots. Beriev

In MChS Service

A contract covering the delivery of seven Be-200ChS plus seven options was signed between Irkut and Russia’s Ministry for Emergency Situations (colloquially known by its Russian abbreviation MChS) in 2001. Valued at about $150 million in its initial form, it saw the first production aircraft for the MChS flying at Irkutsk on June 17, 2003; this aircraft was handed over on July 31 the same year, while the second example followed in early 2004.

The original contract delivery schedule called for all seven Be-200s to be taken by MChS by the end of 2005, but the ministry reportedly failed to provide regular funding. This in turn caused further delays in the production pipeline and a revised schedule extended the contract completion date until the end of 2007. This failed to materialise, however, and by 2008 only four aircraft had been delivered, together with another example (taken from the original seven-strong MChS order) that was sold to Azerbaijan in 2009.

To solve the numerous teething problems that surfaced during the initial MChS Be- 200ChS operations, Beriev and Irkut were forced to introduce no fewer than 300 design alterations in the early to mid-2000s. The most significant among them were a strengthened water scooping system and an improved flight control system. At the same time, MChS experienced serious problems with maintaining the airworthiness of its already delivered aircraft, with less than half of the fleet kept in airworthy condition, due to the delayed delivery of spares and repair/ overhaul services.

The MChS was the launch customer for the Be-200. It has a fleet of six aircraft, with a further six on a firm order and another ten slated to be ordered in the future. RF-21515 was the first example to be delivered in July 2004 and is seen at its home base at Ramenskoye near Moscow. Alexander Mladenov

Then, in 2010 and 2011, MChS took two more aircraft originally built at the Irkutsk plant in 2009 and subsequently ferried for completion at Beriev’s plant in Taganrog.

This is the first Taganrog-built Be-200ChS, intended for MChS, seen here during its first flight on September 16, 2016, still in primer. Beriev


The Be-200 is the basic version offered for the fire-fighting mission only. It is capable of scooping up 12,000 litres (2,639 gallons) of water in 18 seconds at speeds of between 65kts (120km/h) and 103kts (190km/h). The water tanks are located under the cabin; filling them is achieved using four retractable scoops. In addition, six further tanks for chemical fire retardant with a total volume of 1,200 litres (263 gallons) are installed in the cargo hold. The Be-200’s maximum take-off weight after scooping up water in its hull is 43,000kg (94,800lb), while time for a salvo drop from all tanks is 0.8 to 1 second, at a speed of about 135kts (250km/h).

The aircraft is advertised as boasting a remarkably high productivity when fighting fires, provided a water source is close enough. In such favourable conditions, in a single sortie with repeated scoopings-up, up to 270,000kg (595,248lb) of water can be dropped, assuming an airfield-to-water source distance of 108 nautical miles (200km) and water source-to-fire distance of 5.4 nautical miles (10km). In addition to the water-bombing mission, the Be-200 can also transport rescuers to the place of an accident, while up to 26 fire-fighters can be parachuted into remote areas of operations.

Azerbaijan is the only export customer, with one Be-200ChS (taken from the MChS order) delivered in 2009 and operated by thr country’s Ministry of Emergency Situations. Beriev

The Be-200ChS is the multipurpose version designed to meet the MChS’s requirements, which, in addition to fire- fighting, include maritime/overland SAR and casualty evacuation duties. Its cargo hold can be equipped with seating for 50 rescuers or survivors, and when used for casualty evacuation it can receive up to 30 stretchers. This version also features an additional blister window on each side of the fuselage, forward of the centre wing.

The Be-200 is advertised as capable of operations from any water surface with a depth of 9ft (2.6m) and a length of at least 4,360ft (1,330m). Beriev

The additional SAR equipment carried on board the Be-200ChS includes an enhanced communications suite, a Buran-A search radar, SGU-600 loudspeaker system and SX-6 searchlight. The sea rescue equipment is represented by two four-seat Orion-25S infiatable boats and two 50-seat PSN25/30 rafts stored in the cargo hold, fioating cargo containers and a removable winch installed in the cargo door.

The second Be-200 prototype seen taking offfrom water. The jet amphibian is said to feature the same aerodynamic efficiency as the conventional aircraft, as well as excellent behaviour when moving on water. Beriev

The flight crew consists of two pilots, mission system operator and observer. The search capability is enhanced thanks to the IAI Tamam airborne observation system, an electro-optical (EO) sensor system incorporating infrared and television sensors for round-the-clock observation. In addition to SAR operations, the EO system is also advertised as being useful for search of fire locations, sea patrolling and environmental monitoring.

The Be-200PS is a Be-200ChS derivative without fire-fighting capabilities and featuring Russian-only mission equipment and general aircraft systems, in addition to some militaryspeci fic systems. Intended for SAR and maritime patrol, it was designed for Russian Naval Aviation.

The Be-200P is a proposed – and still unbuilt – specialised maritime patrol version with sophisticated sea search and communication systems. Proposed chiefly to a number of Asian countries, it was advertised as being capable of patrolling a maritime economic exclusion zone, at 108 nautical miles (200km) from base for 7.4 hours on station or at 270 nautical miles (500km) from base for 5.7 hours, with a onehour fuel reserve. It is stripped of fire-fighting equipment and features an extra fuel tank in the centre-wing section.

An ASW derivative based on the Be- 200P airframe is also on offer. During the Gelendzhik Air Show in September 2000, it was proposed for the first time equipped with the Leninets Sea Dragon ASW mission suite, originally selected by India for its Ilyushin Il-38 upgrade programme.

The Be-200T is a cargo derivative (also unbuilt) targeted at both civil and paramilitary operators. It is advertised as capable of carrying up to 7,500kg (16,535lb) of cargo, while in the combi version it can accommodate 19 passengers and up to 3,000kg (6,614lb) of cargo.

The Be-210 is another still unbuilt derivative, dedicated for passenger transport, with seats for up to 72 passengers at 29.5in (749mm) pitch in the cabin. It is being advertised as a suitable means of serving regions with underdeveloped airport networks; with a full passenger load the jet amphibian would have a range of some 1,000 nautical miles (1,852km), including a fuel reserve for one hour.

Fruitless Westernisation Efforts

Irkut, Russia’s biggest privately owned aerospace manufacturer, launched in 2002 an active export marketing campaign for the Be-200. Exports would be instrumental for the commercial success of the programme, but in the 2000s and the early 2010s it proved next to impossible to sell the aircraft, due to a mixture of technical, economic and political reasons. At the same time, the programme development, testing and production costs had risen to $310 million, with an 85.4% share (equating to $265 million) provided by Irkut itself. Reaching the breakeven point at that time required between 50 and 70 sales, but the production proceeded painfully slow.

The initial market forecast made by Irkut called for a future worldwide demand for up to 320 aircraft in 25 countries over 20 years, with major markets expected in southeast Asia, Mediterranean countries and South/ Central America. In the early 2000s, the Be- 200 was offered for export at a unit price of $23.5 to $25 million.

The Be-200 can execute salvo water drops of up to 12 tonnes in 0.8 to 1 second, at a speed of about 135kts (250km/h). Beriev

To expand the reach of its sales effort, Irkut in 2002 initiated talks with EADS and Rolls-Royce Deutschland on the possible development and certification of a BR715- engined Be-200 version dubbed Be-200RR, as well as on joint marketing within Europe and the Americas, with the belief that the BR715-powered version would be ready for delivery to Western customers by 2007– 2008. In the event, studies made in 2005 showed that re-engining with the BR715 would be far from cost-effective, as it would require extensive and expensive design alterations and recertification to accommodate the BR715, which is heavier than the D-436TP.

A close-up view of the underwing floats that contribute to stability when still and moving on water. Alexander Mladenov
A good view of the Be-200’s high-mounted engines, T-tail and the rear of the boat-style hull that features a rudder on the bottom to improve stability and controllability on take-off, landing and manoeuvring on water. Alexander Mladenov

As a consequence, the idea was abandoned. As a cheaper alternative, Irkut’s head Alexey Fedorov proposed JAR-25/FAR-25 certification of the Be-200 to be provided with the original D-436TP engine, also with support from EADS. The process of getting the EASA limited certification, however, proved rather protracted and was not completed until 2010.

Despite the slow start with Be-200 sales, Irkut remained committed to pushing forward with the project. It launched a wide-ranging advertising and promotional effort worldwide in the mid and late 2000s, but no results have been reported.

As a consequence of the fruitless and expensive market effort, Irkut lost interest in the project in the late 2000s. The production capabilities at its plant in Irkutsk were then seen as more appropriate for new military and civil projects, so in 2008 it was decided to move the Be-200 production to Beriev’s facility in Taganrog in the southern part of Russia.

By late 2016, the total Be-200 production run amounted to only 12 aircraft: the two prototypes, eight aircraft for MChS, the example exported to Azerbaijan, plus another one intended for MChS but still undergoing testing at TANTK Beriev.

A May 2011 contract from the MChS foresees the manufacture of six more Be-200ChS, and there is another contract covering six other aircraft for Russian Naval Aviation. Next in the pipeline would be Be- 200s to be ordered by China and Indonesia in the 2017–2018 timeframe.

A production-standard Be-200ChS and the second Be-200 prototype at the TANTK Beriev plant undergoing modifications. Beriev


The Be-200 fuselage is optimised for water operations by using a single-step hull with a high length/beam ratio and an advanced hydrodynamic design on its bottom part. This solution provided significant improvements in the stability and controllability when moving on water as well as a reduction in g-loads during water landings and take-offs.

The wing has a supercritical profile, is provided with two stabilising floats and has a 23o leading edge sweep. It has a plethora of high-lift devices to improve take-off and landing characteristics, shorten the take-off distance and achieve good controllability during low speed/low altitude manoeuvring, which is needed, for example, when performing water drops. Additional improvements in stability and controllability were achieved thanks to the introduction of the EDSU-200 triple-redundant fly-by-wire control system.

The aircraft features a T-tail and engines mounted high on the rear fuselage, just aft of the shoulder-mounted wing. The shoulder wing and lateral fuselage strakes are used for protecting the tail-mounted engines from water spray ingestion when taxiing on water.

The hull is made of high-strength aluminium alloys provided with extensive anticorrosion treatment. A certain proportion of composites is used in the primary structure such as the wing (ailerons, flaps and spoilers), rudder, fin, floats and lateral spray-deflecting strakes.

The Be-200’s overall aerodynamic performance is said to be comparable to that of the conventional aircraft of the same weight class. It is capable of operating from 5,900ft (1,800m) runways, as well as from any water surface with open approaches that have a minimum depth of 2.6m (9ft) and length of at least 4,360ft (1,330m). Operations from water are also possible in rough surface conditions, with wave heights up to 1.2m (4ft).

The Be-200 is powered by two D-436TP engines, a much improved and ‘marinised’ derivative of the tried ZMKB Progress D-36 high-bypass ratio turbofan engine, manufactured by the Ukrainian company Motor Sich. It has a tree-shaft turbofan design and is rated at 16,550lb (73.6kN) for take-off, with a dry weight of 3,190lb (1,450kg). The aircraft is equipped with a TA- 12-60 APU operable up to a 23,000ft (7,000m) altitude and rated at 287kW.

The Be-200 features the ARIA-200 digital flight/navigation system with six flat-panel LCD displays, each sized at 6 x 8in (152 x 203mm) and a flight management system. The cockpit is optimised for a fight crew of two, pilot and co-pilot. The aircraft is controlled with the EDSU- 200 fly-by-wire flight control system developed by the Moscow-based Avionika Scientific and Production Complex and the pilots are provided with fighter-type control sticks.

New Production Line

The 2011 deal with the MChS for six further Be-200ChS, at a total price of RUB12 billion, including a spare parts package, ground support equipment and training, was inked in the aftermath of a devastating fire season in Russia that prompted the government to invest heavily in new fire-fighting technologies. In addition, a memorandum of understanding signed in September 2014 between UAC and MChS calls for ten more Be-200s, tentatively set for delivery between 2016 and 2025.

The second Be-200 prototype on the water slipway after a demonstration flight in Gelendzhik harbour. Beriev

The initial and apparently overoptimistic plans called for building the first Be-200ChS in Taganrog in 2013 and delivering it to MChS in 2014, but that turned out to be far from possible, and the eventual delay amounted to three years.

The production activities at the TANTK Beriev plant in Taganrog related to the fabrication of parts for the Be-200 fuselage commenced in 2009, but the programme suffered from a huge delay. The first Be- 200ChS (c/n 76820003102) built from the outset in Taganrog took to the air for its first flight on September 16, 2016, but its handover to MChS was postponed until early 2017. Four more aircraft are slated to be rolled out at the plant this year, while in 2018 the figure is planned to increase to six. When working at a full rate, the line will be capable of producing up to eight aircraft a year.

The aircraft built at the TANTK Beriev plant sport a good many design improvements, with 78% of their avionics suite being all-new, including the communication equipment and a vastly improved hydraulic system. The newly built Be-200ChS also received a Russian-made optronic turret, as well as a weather radar.

Expanding Operator Base

The contract for the six Be-200s for Russian Naval Aviation, signed in May 2013, comprises two Be-200ChS and four Be-200PS. The contract was priced at RUB 8.4 billion.

The list of the missions of the Russian Naval Aviation Be-200s, in addition to the usual SAR, fire-fighting (only the Be- 200ChS version) and maritime patrol roles, also includes the resupply of ships and submarines in open sea (including partial crew changes) and rapid delivery of naval infantry assault parties by water landings in zones of interest at long distances.

The original delivery schedule upon contract signature in May 2013 called for the first Be-200ChS delivery to be made in November 2014, to Russian Naval Aviation’s Yeysk-based 859th Centre for Combat Training and Crew Application. The second Be-200ChS was to follow to the Pacific Fleet air base at Knevichi near Vladivostok, officially designated as a component air group of the 7062nd Air Base. Then the Be-200PS version was set to be delivered to Yeysk (two) and Knevichi (two).

All the jet amphibians ordered for Russian Naval Aviation were originally scheduled for delivery by the end of 2015, but the raft of serious difficulties encountered with the Be-200s redesign and the organisation of the production process at TANTK Beriev plant between 2013 and 2015 incurred a serious delay, so it is now expected that the first example will be handed over in 2017 while the deliveries completed by 2019.

The Russian Naval Aviation Be-200PS/ ChS will be equipped with seating for up to 57 troops, rescue specialists or survivors. Alternatively, the cabin can be configured with up to 30 stretchers. When used for cargo transport, the payload can be up to 3,000kg (6,614lb). There will be a crew of five: two pilots, a navigator (or inspector pilot), a flight engineer and a mission suite engineer. The Be-200PS will be some 300kg (661lb) lighter than the Be-200ChS, with an empty weight of 28,500kg (62,831lb) compared to 28,800kg (63,493lb), due to the lack of fire-fighting equipment.

The service life of the Russian Naval Aviation Be-200PS/ChS is set at 30,000 flight hours or 12,000 landings (including 8,000 on runways and 4,000 on water) or 17,450 waterscoping cycles (only for the Be-200ChS). The D-436TP engine has a service life of 6,000 hours or 2,300 flight cycles, whichever is reached the first.

The Be-200’s original design concept called for a multipurpose amphibian for use in the military, paramilitary and civil sectors, first for the demanding fire-fighting role. Alexander Mladenov