Russian air tanker may visit Santa Maria

BE-200 air tanker
A Berieve Be-200 amphibious air tanker scoops water in a demonstration.

An entrepreneur in Santa Maria, California is promising for a second time that a Russian-made amphibious air tanker will appear at the Santa Maria airport for a demonstration. As Wildfire Today reported last August, David Baskett, a Santa Maria businessman and founder of the now defunct Pacific Skyway airline, has been working with the Russian government to bring the plane to the United States. Mr. Baskett envisions the air tanker, also known as Altair, replacing the aging air tankers presently being used that have an average age of 50.

In August Mr. Baskett announced the Be-200 air tanker would be at Santa Maria on September 26 for a demonstration and a month-long visit, but it never showed up. Baskett later blamed “bureaucracy” as the reason, since the approval of the U.S. government is required before it arrives. Now Baskett is saying the Be-200 will arrive at the Santa Maria Public Airport (SMX) on April 7 April 10 for a week-long visit and a demonstration, and possibly scooping water out of Lake Cachuma, if permission can be obtained.

On Wednesday, the ship cleared customs in Anchorage and was on its way to visit several countries in South America before it re-enters the United States in Miami. When it arrives at Santa Maria the plans are for it to park in front of the Radisson Hotel which is adjacent to the airport ramp.

A Be-200 air tanker, if I did the conversions correctly, can carry up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant. It also can carry foam concentrate which can be mixed with the water in the tank. The amphibious plane has scoops on the bottom much like the amphibious CL-415 making it possible to skim across a body of water to refill its tank. The Be-200, powered by two turbofan engines mounted above the wings to avoid water spray, can also land on a runway to refill with retardant. It has a maximum cruise speed of 435 mph, an economic cruise speed of 348 mph, and a minimum drop speed of 124 mph.

The Be-200 made its first flight in 2003.

Baskett envisions purchasing 10 of the Be-200’s, and then leasing them to air tanker operators.

Santa Maria has had an air tanker base for a long time, but a year or so ago it was downgraded from a fully functional base to a call when needed base, only open if air tankers were working a fire nearby. Wildfire Today has written about that issue previously.

Here is a link to some YouTube videos of the Be-200.

A web site has been established for the Santa Maria visit.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.