New agreement to produce US-built Be-200 amphibious air tanker

Beriev Be-200 air tanker
Beriev Be-200 air tanker. Beriev photo.

The Colorado company that proposes to convert the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt into an air tanker announced on September 26 that they signed an agreement to produce the until now Russian-built amphibious water-scooping Beriev Be-200 in the United States. USA Firefighting Air Corps (USAFAC) said they signed a collaboration agreement with California-based International Emergency Services, Inc. (IES) to develop a U.S.-built Beriev Be-200 in Colorado.

USAFAC co-founder Chris Olson made the announcement before the Colorado Wildfire Matters Review Committee saying the company was in discussions with international financiers to back the initiative’s $500 million proposition.

David Baskett of IES has been campaigning for years to import the 3,000-gallon Be-200 air tanker, and in 2010 arranged for one of the aircraft to visit the United States. It was on display at Santa Maria, California and made a demonstration water drop. Mr. Baskett said then that his plan was to purchase 10 of the aircraft and lease them to air tanker operators in the United States.

A couple of years ago some U.S. Forest Service employees traveled to Taganrog, Russia the home base of the Beriev company, to conduct tests to determine if the Be-200 met the criteria established by the Interagency AirTanker Board (IAB). At the time, we heard unofficial reports that it met the criteria for water-scooping air tankers, but tests were not completed for dropping fire retardant.

There are quite a few videos of Be-200s dropping water, but the four-second one below is my favorite.

USAFAC has made a splash recently with proposals about the A-10 and now the Be-200. The company, which first registered its web domain on August 9, 2014, has ambitious goals. It will be interesting to see if their talk translates into something flyable.

BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California
BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California, April 10, 2010. Photo by Michael Lynn.

Before we created Fire Aviation, we wrote several stories about the Be-200 at Wildfire Today. Here is a link to articles there tagged Be-200.

53 thoughts on “New agreement to produce US-built Be-200 amphibious air tanker”

  1. The time has come for an aircraft with the ability of the Be-200. Tanker 10 Group, with their DC-10’s, has proven a new aircraft and concept can be effective. I truely hope this outfit is given the opportunity to put in place their proposal.
    (it would be a damn site better than the A-10 concept!)

  2. This is a much better start for USAFAC. An airplane that is already an air tanker. I don’t fully understand all the FAA “loops” to jump through to get the BEV200 certified here in the U.S./Canada? The BEV would be a restricted category Part 137 airplane which MAY allow for smaller “loops”. I use to fly the Dromander agricultural/ fire aircraft which was made in Poland. So it can be done. On the business side is there enough economy of scale to substance a venture like this? Colorado Air Corp. and the BEV 200 may be a good “fit”?

  3. Good time as any to get started
    I would imagine FAA has its reasons

    Where are the USFS results of the Beriev tests?

    I would imagine one obstacle being the tanker operators who are relying upon contracts to recoup costs of their investments to “Next Gen” may or may not see the viability of leasing when they have their own aircraft that they, themselves, may have to lease out…

  4. At first I thought Colorado was headed in the right direction with this program, it seems that they have totally lost prospective, or really never had a clue!

    The time, $$$ and effort it will take to manufacture this Soviet designed aircraft in the US will take twice as long as the USFS C130 program, what’s the point?

    True there are really only a few aircraft that would be suited for conversion as Air Tankers and they pick one that will never be the A10 and now one that will never happen, you people really need some new ideas or people running the program if this is all you have, pretty sad considering all the experience out there!

      1. Bill,

        Good thing for Colorado. These people seemed really lost and / or are just trying to get the tax payers $$$.

      2. Giant thousand-foot long helium-filled dirigibles loitering over a forest fire? I can’t see anything possibly going wrong with that.

        Oh, the humanity!

  5. I see your 10 Berievs for $500M, and raise you 17 Cl415, or ~100 Firebosses: all made in North America, and neither of them licenced technology from a country that is all but invading the Ukraine…

  6. “throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks.”

    yep..got to start somewhere..
    Made in USA is a good idea though. I like that.

    “All it takes is money..” would have said Walt Darran

  7. Russian airframes, cool. Maybe we can procure them from Alibaba and keep all the revenue out of the country, groan.

  8. What happened to the Marsh G111AT Albatross Wildfire aircraft……anyone have any info…sounded interesting….

  9. Youtube video is cool. However that was a very low and unsafe drop, in my humble opinion. I hope someone has a talk with that pilot before they hurt someone on the ground or themselves and their crew.

  10. What’s with all the “keep it in the USA” sentiment? 20th Century exceptionalism is in the past; there are actually other nations that are able to come up with great ideas and manufacture a worthwhile solution to a global problem (wildfires). I’m not saying that Beriev is or is not the answer, but don’t disparage an idea because somebody else built it first, or in some misguided attempt to keep jobs local.

    ‘Made in the USA’ no longer holds the promise of quality and superiority that it may have beforehand.

    1. Failed Presidential candidate McCain tried to find a really derogatory term for Russia some days ago and called her ‘a gas station that is called a country’. Russia has been criticised for having a one-sided economy (what’s it to them anyway?) but when the Russians produce a product that is good and comeptitive, one must not buy it so that you can then continue to describe the whole country as a failure. With the rubel now having gone down so much, it would be competitive to just buy them.. One does not have to reinvent the wheel.

      I am only a lay person in Australia and saw this plane on TV as part of the search effort to find the black box of the Air Asia plane that went down. I took notice of the arrival of the plane and its crew because the media nowadays select only negative stories about Russia as if there was a campaign.

  11. I’m just not sure what to think. How much do we really know about the aircraft and it’s performance? We’ve seen water drops, what about retardant? What is the capacity? How does the aircraft fit in with current infrastructure? How does it compare to the CL-415?

    We’re slowly getting a nice mix of aircraft in the toolbox. From the 10 all the way to SEATS we’ve got a lot of capabilities. Does the Be-200 fit in the mix? Probably the bigger question is this- In what “group” of tankers should we add to? A little to all would be nice, but which additions will have the most effect on stopping fires while spending $$$$ most reasonably?

    I’m not sure the Be-200 is the one we should be spending the $$$ on personally, if given the choice.

  12. Chris,
    Not saying Russia, Ukraine, Western Europe can’t manufacture good airplanes. They do.
    It’s a question of keeping or creating local jobs.

    1. Is your opinion as a taxpayer looking for the best value for your ‘forced investment’ (taxes paying for firefighting)? Or as an American seeking to ensure his own job is retained?
      The article states that the plane could be manufactured in the US, which seems to me to include many jobs at the assembly plant itself. Beriev doesn’t have to do that of course, but understands that the prospect of allowing a Russian airplane into the US is infinitely better is it’s built there. There would likely be no improvement of the quality of the airplane, regardless of where it’s riveted together. As I’m sure you’re aware, assembling a plane in one country brings high-paying tech jobs to many countries. Boeing planes are filled with parts manufactured all over the world and Americans who cry foul after Airbus wins an order with a US carrier either don’t know or forget that that Airbus is also filled with bits & pieces made in the USA. A US-assembled Beriev will be filled with components made in the US, in Russia, Canada, France, China, etc.

      Taking the ‘keep it in the USA’ argument to its extreme, we’d better not allow Coulson, or Neptune, or Aero-Flite, or Air Spray or LA County’s CL-415s do any business in the US. Despite bringing stable employment to hundreds of Americans, all of these companies are owned by, or depend heavily upon foreign firms, and many hire foreign pilots. Could you imagine that? Allowing a pilot not born in the USA to work as a firefighting pilot there???

      1. This is all good discussion, exactly what a fledgling start-up needs to gain some arguments to put to an agency to agree to buy-in to the concept, thus allowing the same fledgling start-up to go back to its investors to now agree to fund said concept.

        But the reality is that we’re not talking about a Boeing or Airbus here. The worldwide market for airtankers is less than what Boeing manufactures in a month.

        No BE-200 would ever be manufactured in the U.S., or ever again for that matter. Until it passes some acceptance into the other markets, the USA being a rather large one, another will not likely be built.

        Same goes for the next-gen heavy tankers. Until they are ‘sold’ on the latest USFS tender, Neptune, Coulson, Aero-Air or AeroFlite won’t spend another dime on building any new ones.

        These are private companies, the money has to come from somewhere and I’m sure they are all still licking their nasty wounds they all suffered simply designing, developing, and certifying the first ones

        1. There are 74 that have been built, according to one webpage. They were also fighting fires in Israel, which means something.

          Last night’s TV news showed the plane arriving to be involved in the search for the ditched Air Asia plane, along with 70 specialists and deep sea divers to retrieve the black box. The whole caboodle came from Russia, and there the planes are owned by the ministry for emergency services. Someone (insurance most likely) has hired them from Moscow including that team. They probably made the best offer.

          This structure, that you/anybody will hire them on a case by case basis from Moscow will probably continue, because it would be costly to build equivalent capacity. Nobody would be game to say ‘oh no, we’ll let it burn, keep the black box on the bottom of the ocean. Must avoid hiring Russians’. If some Americans and/or Canadians want to offer the same service as the ministry in Moscow, who cares – as long as the job gets done. If they want to create their own capacities, by the time they’d start producing such an aircraft, it is very likely that a next generation of Be-200 is on the market.

        1. I think Aero-Flite has a strong ownership from a Canadian company. In fact the Canadian outfit brags about a controlling interest in the company.

        2. A controlling interest (it might be 51% but I could be mistaken) of AeroFlite is owned by a Canadian company. They do not brag about it, but do not keep their involvement a secret.

          Neptune is to my knowledge a wholly American company, but the design and conversion of their initial BAe146s was performed by Tronos Aviation based in Prince Edward Island. Tronos may actually own the aircraft as well.

  13. I understand all the “Buy American” concerns and I won’t object on that. However if you accept the point of a EU CL-415 pilot who worked together a Be-200 that was being evaluated by the Italian firefighting forces during our 2004 fire campaign, please consider that the Be-200 a superb firefighting tool. 12 tons of jettison ble load is an atomic bomb on any wildfire, and its water scooping (key) feature yield it an unparalleled productivity. A squadron of centralized, fast moving Be-200 plus some locally deployed Bombardier 415’s is all that is needed to protect even a huge country. It’s true, it’s a lot of bucks, but put it vs. the yearly loss of houses, wildland, water resources, cattle and, if we run out of luck, human lives.

    1. “A squadron of centralized, fast moving Be-200 plus some locally deployed Bombardier 415’s is all that is needed to protect even a huge country.”

      Well that…and abundant suitable water sources.

      Therein lies the trouble in most western states. Never mind the barriers that come with so many land management agencies (with separate budgets, policies, priorities and decision-making procedures) operating in a patchwork manner throughout the US that currently stands in the way of implementing a truly centralized airtanker system. Good luck changing this anytime soon.

  14. There are quite a few reservoirs in Colorado for those considering scoopers. But just looking at a map is not very informative.

    From a pilot perspective, I think there is a larger concern. Take Elevenmile Reservoir [big and in the middle of the state] as an example: On an average July day the density altitude would be around 11,000ft. How good is single engine performance for a BE-200 or a CL-415 at 11,000ft ?

    So maybe the foothills are better on the front range … Chatfield Reservoir near Denver in July would have density altitudes in the neighborhood of 8000ft in July. Still a pretty big problem.

    Density altitude is a big issue in Colorado in the summer and it would rule out lots of Colorado’s available water for scoopers. Either from a single engine performance or payload reduction penalty.

    1. bean-you mean like Durango on a 90 F, day? fun in either a DC6B
      (with water) or a DC7 with no water…
      I think BE-200 is a good aircraft, and shouldn’t be ruled out, however, there are more immediate needs..

  15. A new C130J cost about the same as this Russian thing and carries about the same – which would you want? The C130 can’t land on water, but it has landed on an aircraft carrier.

      1. 2014 flyaway cost for the USAF $67.3 and $100 mil for overseas sales. It is a very expensive game!

        1. This was for the C130J., but what would the stripped down version cost – no mil stuff on it?

        2. According to a March, 2014 report from the Under Secretary of Defense Comptroller’s office, in FY 2014 the Defense Department paid $106.5 million each for C-130Js. In FY 2015 they expect to pay $88.9 million each.

          Lockheed is coming out with a new aircraft that will replace the aging L-100, the commercial version of the C-130. It will be called the LM-100J. The Wall Street Journal reports that last summer the company signed a contract to sell 10 of the aircraft. It will retail for around $65 million, and will start deliveries around 2018 once the test period is complete.

    1. Perhaps the USFS or BLM could acquire and park mothballed aircraft carriers in strategic locations throughout the western US that currently lack suitable airfields.

  16. It’s just flat out too much money for these new aircraft. There is a reason (good or bad) that we’re using old airliners- $$$$. Economic feasibility is still paramount. New aircraft at that price really don’t make sense IMO.

  17. To Chris Mattews
    You said : “Could you imagine that? Allowing a pilot not born in the USA to work as a firefighting pilot there???”
    As a matter of fact, I can.

    These Canadian firms have set foot in the US and use their American subside company to get local contracts. I believe US companies could do the same… Set foot in Canada, Australia, Europe, start a local company or team up with a local one and hunt for contracts. Just do it. Yes, this a global economy but nothing wrong about creating a local company and hire locals to do the job.

    you said:”but understands that the prospect of allowing a Russian airplane into the US is infinitely better is it’s built there. There would likely be no improvement of the quality of the airplane, regardless of where it’s riveted together. As I’m sure you’re aware, assembling a plane in one country brings high-paying tech jobs to many countries. Boeing planes are filled with parts manufactured all over the world and Americans who cry foul after Airbus wins an order with a US carrier either don’t know or forget that that Airbus is also filled with bits & pieces made in the USA. A US-assembled Beriev will be filled with components made in the US, in Russia, Canada, France, China, etc.”
    I totally agree.

    You also said;”Therein lies the trouble in most western states. Never mind the barriers that come with so many land management agencies (with separate budgets, policies, priorities and decision-making procedures) operating in a patchwork manner throughout the US that currently stands in the way of implementing a truly centralized airtanker system. Good luck changing this anytime soon.”
    Again, I totally agree.
    Also try to get the Natural Resource agencies responsible of the lakes to authorize scoopers splash in different lakes as the day go might be a real issue…restraining the number of water sources for scoopers.

    1. Jerome states: “I believe US companies could do the same… Set foot in Canada, Australia, Europe, start a local company or team up with a local one and hunt for contracts. Just do it.”

      Absolutely! But why don’t they do so? The last several tenders for contract have been open to global bidders (ie: anybody), but no American company has even hinted at bidding or even asked an exploratory question. These are multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts in very progressive jurisdictions.

      *note: I should state that only aircraft operated under a civilian certificate of airworthiness may qualify. No restricted-category exists in Canada, thus no converted ex-military aircraft are permitted. But that doesn’t exclude all the current Next-Gen airplanes, except the C-130.

        1. They were. I believe they had a civilian CofA after being converted? They were no longer called Grumman nor DeHavilland, but named according to the firm that did the refit (ie: Conair Firecat and whatever the ON & SK aircraft were called). Perhaps somebody with more accurate historical info can elaborate.

  18. Good arguments between Mr Cupido and Bill

    I bet that the USFS has its mouth watering over that $65 million for brand new airplane….YAAAAY!!!!

    2018 for a chili an operation…sounds pretty normal

    How about those 7 C130’s that the USFS is going to paint “Go Fast Red” how is that “Liiiitle” project progressing?

    Are we getting our bang for the buck as far as managing those aircraft? I will NOT question the CWB project, because it is good hands……the questions becomes…….there is PLENTY O TIME for the USFS planning and getting funding for these ships.

    This time between …..no excuse for plan…….Bet Congress will REQUIRE one before even ONE C130 launches…….I surely can see that coming……while these arguments are happening for Colorado.

    PLANNING is the key to gaining the funding….the rest is only talk……

  19. Good luck getting congressional direction or an executive order for an FAA bilateral airworthiness agreement between the US and Russia for a Russian aircraft including its engines built in in the Ukraine near the contested southeast region. Not to mention long term parts support.

    Might be a good airplane but given the political climate, not likely to happen.

  20. Chris

    I bet with monikered “Next Gen” aircraft you might indeed see a uptick in US operators checking the Canadian landscape out……this is if they do not pick up some Med or European contracts in the meantime.

    It will be fun to watch……

    1. Well, let’s see if they’re serious. There’s a bid opportunity open right now. Single aircraft, 3000-gallon capacity, 10 year term with two additional 5-year options. A twenty year contract would be interesting to most operators, no?

      1. What province has that out? 3000 Imperial? or US?
        I dont think there are any 3000 Imp ret. tankers in Canada.

        1. Alberta. US gallons. It states 2400 imperial in the RFP. Closes at end of this month. 10 years plus options of five 2-yr extensions (I wrote that last part backwards earlier).

  21. The Be-200 certainly looks impressive in photos and videos. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of substantive statistical information on the Be-200 on the Beriev, Russian EMERCOM or Russian Aerial Firefighting Service websites regarding its actual long term performance as an operational firefighter since it went into service in Russia in the mid-2000s. Do you have any statistical data on its service over the last seven years fighting fires in Russia during their fire season? I would think that information on number of fires fought per year, amount of water dropped per fire over what number of days, average cycle times for drops, whether it was replenished as a scooper or filled at a land base over seven years would be compelling when making the case to build it and operate it in the United States. This would be particularly impressive if more than one Be-200 being used on the same fire used short cycle times as a scooper to quickly dispatch a fire.

  22. Better ask the County Sheriffs of Colorado what are there needs. They are the power brokers. Maybe we are too “hung up” on fixed wing large air tankers? Think 2000 gallon (28C@8000 feet) multi-use aircraft that can be utilized for multiple missions that is in surplus and today entering the private sector.

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