The early history of the Soviet Union’s maritime patrol aircraft was centered on the once vaunted Beriev Design Bureau which was organized by the famous Georgy M. Beriev. The bureau origins dated to October 1934 when it was organized as the Central Design Bureau of Seaplanes Manufacturing. The bureau was the primary contractor for some of the Soviet Union’s Second World War seaplanes designs including the massive MDR-5 long range maritime reconnaissance platform as well as the MDR-7. Neither design made it out of the mockup stage. There were other wartime designs that, although very promising, never made it out of its conceptual stages. One that did make it was the MDR-10 flying boat. After the war, the MDR-10 program was renamed the LL-143 project. The double Ls refer to Letayushchaya Lodka or flying boats. The 143 was to be powered by two powerful Shvetsov ASh72 piston engines. Construction of the first two prototype planes commenced at Factory 477 in Krasnoyarsk in 1944. A year later, the first completed aircraft was transported to Taganrog where in September 6th 1945 it made its maiden flight. By next February, the Beriev Bureau move its design and developing operations to Taganrog. In June 1945, the bureau became the State Union Experimental Plant No. 49. Plant No. 49 became the USSR’s only research and developing facility dedicated to the design and production of flying boats. Georgy M. Beriev became the new organization’s first director that summer.
Following the advances made during the Great Patriotic War, the bureau began to modify the blueprints of the second LL-143 model. The new design featured the introduction of the advance ASh73 engines as well as a new inboard radar system. The new aircraft, now renamed the be-6, took to the air for the first time in the morning hours of June 2nd 1948. This model quickly became the standard measure of every Beriev design. The next version of the seaplane, the Be-6M was able to carry a powerful set of offensive weapon systems such as a five cannon arrangement, plus its assortment of free-fall bombs, mines and torpedoes. The Be-6, codename Madge by NATO forces, production run lasted between the years 1952 to 1957. A total 123 aircraft were delivered. The next Beriev design was a 1948’s proposal codenamed Be-10. The 10’s design was similar to the Be-6. The only appreciated difference between the two crafts was that the Be-10 would have posed a tricycle undercarriage for ground operations. The Be-10 never made it out of the blueprint stage.
As aviation began to shift from propeller-driven aircraft to the new jet engine flying machines, so did Beriev’s designs. The fist all jet Beriev design was the revolutionary R-1 platform. The bureau’s experimentation with jet engines actually commenced during the later stages of development of the Be-6 platform. In 1947, and with official authorization, Beriev designed a seaplane based on the powerful British Nene jet engine. The R-1 would have the engines mounted on the upper wing structure in order to keep the engines clear of water spray when splashdown is performed. On June 1948, the soviet Ministry of Defense (SovMin) gave the official order to proceed with the program. The program continued its progression, although at a slower pace, until June 1950 when the project was revised completely. The new design would now incorporate the Soviet-built VK-1 jet engines. The aircraft’s first mockup was completed in the summer of 1951 and the first prototype was finished by the middle of 1951. On November 22nd 1951, the R-1 commenced its first set of taxi trials. The trial revealed a new phenomenon affecting seaplanes fitted with jet engines. The Hydro-dynamic Instability Barrier Effect which made the R-1 suffered severed porpoising at nearly 80% of the take-off speed. The problem was semi-corrected (it was brought to a manageable level) with modifications to the plane’s elevator and tailplane compensation mechanism. Taxing testing resumed in April 1952 and in May 30th, it took to the air for the first time. The R-1 flew several times before an October 3rd incident when water poured into the jet engine nuzzles during an attempted take-off. Although the damage was repaired, this incident put the whole program in the spotlight. Calls were beginning to come from many quarters supporting the cancellation of the entire R-1 program. Nevertheless, the program continued and on July 18th 1953, flight testing resumed. The final R-1 test flight came on February 1956 when the only prototype was severely damage during a landing operation. The program was cancelled soon afterward. Although the program was considered a failure by high ranking Soviet officials, the program did collected valuable data related to the performance of a sea-based aircraft utilizing jet engines for propulsion, data that would find its way to others Beriev’s seaplanes.
Next for the bureau was the R-2 program, a project that did not make it out of the designing board. After the R-2 came the Be-10 program which would incorporate the data recollected on the R-1 aircraft. The 10 was first conceived as a reconnaissance/strike flying boat capable to engaging enemy vessels. The program commenced in earnest on October 8th 1953 when the commander of the Soviet Naval Aviation, Admiral of the Fleet NG Kuznetsov, supported a SovMin resolution ordering the development of a long range reconnaissance platform. From the beginning, the Be-10 was designed primarily as a major offensive flying-boat. The Be-10’s offensive arsenal was carried on a massive bomb-bay with doors on the bottom of the aircraft’s hull, behind the step. A moderate, sweepback wing structure was introduced on the new plane. The first prototype was completed by October 1955. Because of the upcoming winter conditions on the Taganrog area, the new plane was not able to perform any taxing test. The aircraft was moved to a new, more plausible testing site at Gelendzhik. The Be-10 performed its maiden flight on the afternoon of June 20th 1956. The testing phase went without a glitch and by the middle of 1958 the Soviet Navy placed an order for fifty of these huge seaplanes. The production line of the Be-10 ran between 1958 and the spring of 1961. In all, twenty seven fully equipped aircraft were delivered. When the aircraft entered service in the summer of 1959, it had the distinction of being the world’s only jet-powered operational seaplane, an honor it would enjoy for years. The Be-10 or Mallow as codenamed by NATO was finally retired from front line service in August 1963. The reason was poor structural conditioning. In fact, by mid 1963, two of the 10s crashed with heavy loss of life. The follow-on plane to the Be-10 would be the Be-10N. The 10N was designed with a much larger payload capacity in order to carry two of the new K-12BS anti-ship cruise missiles. The missiles were capable of carrying either conventional or nuclear tipped warheads. The 10N would have been able to take-off with a maximum weight of 106,920lb. Its operational range was designed to be nearly 1000 nautical miles. Nevertheless, the 10N design never made it out of the mockup stages. By August 1960, the SovMin cancelled further research into this new version of the Be-10.
The bureau next design, the Be-12 would make it out of the design table. The 12 was original conceived as a pure attack aircraft. To achieve the plane’s profile, several new additions were implemented on the design. Chief among them was the incorporation of a new, more powerful Initsiativa radar array system. The seaplane was also fitted with a detection and sighting mechanism, a powerful magnetometer, a sonobuoys system, an anti-submarine weapons array that includes the latest on Soviet torpedoes and depth charges. Work commenced on the new plane in the spring of 1958. The 12 developing stage took, from the design table to the tarmac, four full years, reflecting the program’s complexity. On the afternoon of October 18th 1960, the sole Be-12 prototype took to the air on its first flight. The aircraft performed flawlessly. The 12 was very similar, aerodynamically, to the early Be-6. The fuselage was longer and it posses a ground undercarriage for tarmac operations. The SovMin approved the full production of the Be-12 in December 1960. A total of 143 units were built by the Beriev Bureau between the spring of 1963 and the summer of 1973. The 12, NATO codename Mail, became operational with the Soviet Navy in the spring of 1964. The plane became the mainstay of the Naval Aviation anti-submarine effort from it achieved full operational status.
The success of the Be-12 did not translate on the next Beriev’s designs. In the autumn of 1962, the bureau began to conceive a design for a heavy load, long range seaplane intended sorely for anti-submarine warfare. No name was giving to this “new” project. But there were few data bits related to this so-called effort. The new design would have carried four Kuznetsov NK12-M turboprop engines, supplemented by two Lyulka AL7-PB jet engines for short take-off assistance. Although the “program” never even made it to the design table, the plane’s profile would become the cornerstone of a massive effort called Project LL-600. The LL-600 program called for the seaplane to shift its profile from a pure anti-submarine/reconnaissance platform to a bomber or even a commercial airliner profile. The project proved to be too ambitious and it was cancelled by the middle of the 1960s.
By the winter of 1963, preliminary studies were made inside the Soviet Union regarding the feasibility of developing a long range, heavy payload seaplane capable of operating equally from water and land. In fact, the studies suggested a type of Short Take-Off air platform. A huge leap in technology, but one that Beriev’s engineering team believes that it could accomplish. The Be-26, as the program was codenamed, would be fitted with sixteen RD-35-36 lift jet engines. Eight of them per side in clusters around the wing root leading and trailing edges. The 26 would also be able to refuel from surfacing submarines or air tankers, extending the aircraft’s operational range. The numbers that Beriev’s team began to put out about the 26 capability profile were impressive. The seaplane would operate at a top service ceiling of 42,651ft with a top operational range of 7,272 nautical miles. Notwithstanding these impressive figures, the Be-26 proved to be too technical challenging and the program never made it out of the drawing board.
There were two other projects worth mentioned regarding Beriev’s relationship with early Soviet seaplane development. They are the impressive A-150 design and the more practical A-40 program. The 150 would have been a massive, delta wing shaped seaplane capable of being a true multi-role seaplane. The 150 would have delivered a powerful punch. It would have been a reconnaissance platform as well as a search and rescue vessel, an anti-sub and anti-ship platform and a deep penetration bomber. Just like the Be-26, this design would have STOL capabilities. But, as with the 26, the technical implications were too high at the time, so the project was abandoned. The A-40 program was another story. In 1976 the Beriev bureau began to research the feasibility of designing a next generation anti-submarine seaplane. In 1983, Soviet Government chief Designer AK Konstantinov issued an order to Beriev to proceed, officially, with the program. The A-40 was conceived as a replacement for the now venerable Be-12 and even to replace the Ilyushin Il-38 maritime patrol aircraft. The 40 mission profile called for it to perform reconnaissance and anti-submarine and shipping operations in medium range areas. The aircraft was to be powered by two Soloviev D30KPV jet engines supplemented by two Klimov RD60Ks engines. Two of these aircraft were eventually built. The first unit took to the air on December 1986. It was revealed to the world at the Tushino Air Show in august 1989. Codenamed Mermaid by NATO officials, the A-40 began a slight transformation phase which culminated in 2002 with the delivered of the first A-42 version. The 42 is be powered by a D-27a profane engines and it had a more powerful avionics package than its predecessor.
With the delivering of the A-42, the Beriev Bureau ceased to be the more important player in now Russia’s seaplane development programs. The mantle was now in the Tupolev’s Bureau hands.
– Raul Colon
Beriev Be-10 “Mallow” – Russia’s Last Flying Boat, Aleksandr Zablotskiy, International Air Power Review Vol. 8, 2003
Russian X-Planes, Alan Dawes, Key Publishing 2001
Soviet Seaplane Jet Bombers, Thomas Mueller and Jens Baganz, Aerospace Projects Review, July-August 2003