USFS tests water-scooping air tanker in Russia

BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California
BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California in April, 2010. Photo by Michael Lynn.

Randall F. Stephens is reporting on his Fireplanes blog  that the representatives from U.S. Forest Service are in Russia conducting tests of the Russian-built BE-200 amphibious air tanker. The web site has some posts from David Baskett of International Emergency Service who has been campaigning for years to import the air tanker, and in 2010 arranged for one of the BE-200s to visit the United States. When we interviewed Mr. Baskett in February he told us that in about three months the BE-200 was going to be tested to determine if it meets the criteria established by the Interagency Air Tanker Board (IATB). His plan is to purchase 10 of the aircraft and lease them to air tanker operators in the United States.

Apparently the manufacturer of the aircraft, Beriev, is covering the costs for two USFS employees to travel to Taganro, Russia the home base of the Beriev company, to conduct the first phase of the evaluation, lasting for 10 days. The final phase will be conducted in late summer.

Here is an excerpt from the Fireplanes blog, which in this case was written by Mr. Baskett:

First-Phase test criteria required putting the 90,000 pound airplane on special ramps for static flow tests and three days of flight testing to include demonstrations of the very effective Russian fire fighting “salvo” tactic onto an instrumented grid with 100 data points.

The 30 – day Phase II test program is scheduled for late this summer and will include the use of the U.S. Forest Service standard retardant flown over and then dropped on about 3,000 data collection points.

Preliminary Phase 1 test results indicate that the BE 200 passed the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB) criteria for scoopers, heavily used in Europe and Canada, which are likely to see more service in fighting US fires.

The estimated cost of a BE-200 is $30-42 million, it has a capacity of 3,000 gallons, can scoop water or be filled with retardant at an airport, cruises at 348 mph, and is powered by two jet engines.

The most difficult obstacle confronting Mr. Baskett and Beriev may not be the air tanker tests, but obtaining certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which could take years.

This provides us another excuse to post this impressive 7-second video of a BE-200 dropping on a fire in Russia:

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. Google+

10 thoughts on “USFS tests water-scooping air tanker in Russia”

  1. It is an impressive aircraft, but I don’t think you would see it in the Black Hills. Can you imagine it filling in Angostura Reservoir and scooping up a few walleye fishermen, jet-skiers, and what not?

  2. Forest Service is in Russia conducting tests? Isn’t this a slap in the face to very capable private American and Canadian air tanker companies? One of the many Rand reports must have adviced the F.S. to test; Russia in the Spring. (sounds like a movie). Wasn’t the BE-200 just in California. This Federal air tanker “thing” gets better all the time. The last word, Federal Aviation Agency, ouch.

  3. I’m glad the USFS is at least making an attempt to work on the “airtanker problem” but this seems odd to me, sure there are reservoirs in the west, but aside from that there isn’t a whole lot of water to scoop from as in Canada, Boundary Waters, etc.

    Forgive my ignorance, but I assume you can fill these conventionally at an airtanker base as well?

    Also, as stated previously it does seem like a slap in the face to companies like Neptune who have committed to spending their own capital to address the issue.

    1. MD said:

      …it does seem like a slap in the face to companies like Neptune who have committed to spending their own capital to address the issue.

      Neptune is leasing a British-made, Canadian-owned aircraft, a BAe-146. The Santa Maria, California company, IES, plans to buy BE-200’s and lease them to air tanker operators.

  4. If the pilot in the attached video is working a fire I’m assigned to I hope he/she adheres to a minimum safe drop altitude for that aircraft. From what I can see this drop was much too low even for a SEAT. Politics and aircraft types aside, safety is number one.

  5. “If a pilot in the attached video…”

    If you are worried about a min safe alt…by the looks of that video….

    It appears for the you tube generation…a great find.

    20 yrs ago if I was this close to a drop… most of my professional fire supervisors would have given a good butt chewin.

    I am sure there a great number of SEAT and other pilots that adhere to what say…..BUT

    I would venture guess that an SEAT or a heavy are going to getting bounced in some pronounced thermals that MSA is pretty much a secondary thought to aviate, navigate, and communicate as we professional pilots are all taught!!!

  6. The initial tests in Taganrog were primarily to check flow rate and aircraft systems for IAB conformity. Reports are positive.

    Follow up full grid tests this summer will probably use IES (American)/Russian crews to establish CRM protocol and introduce Russian crews to USA drop restrictions (height above vegetation), FTA procedures, etc.

    American IES crews may ride as observers on Russian fires this summer.

  7. Here’s what I don’t understand. There are (8?) great aircraft sitting in California right now basically for sale. Crews for that aircraft already trained, and parts for said plane all ready to go.

    I worked with the P3s for years and loved them. Pilots loved them, and ground crews loved them.

    Does their age just put them out of the new specs? Or is it just so close that they will fall out of the specs required in too short a time to consider them?

  8. Love those Russian aircraft designers… this aircraft is a direct rip-off of the Martin P6M-2 Seamaster, the first U.S. Jet Flying Boat. We already buy everything else overseas, why not Russian aircraft….

  9. The P6M was a late 50’s Martin design and was a dog. Hope this fares better, but buy American!

Comments are closed.