The once mighty fleet of Be-12 amphibians operated by the Russian naval air arm has dwindled to just a handful. In the forthcoming September issue of AFM, Alexander Mladenov provides an overview of the last survivors.
The Voyenno-Morskoy Flot Rossiyskoy Federatsii (VMF, Russian Navy) includes a few obsolescent and exotic aircraft types. Without doubt, the twin-turboprop Beriev Be-12 Tchaika (seagull) is the most unusual. Still in regular service with the Black Sea Fleet, the veteran aircraft continues its search and rescue (SAR), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), maritime patrol and peacetime fleet-support duties.
This odd-looking high-wing/twin-turboprop amphibian – also known by its NATO reporting name Mail and nicknamed Bekha by the Russian pilots and technicians who fly and maintain it – serves with the 318th Smeshannoy Aviatsionniy Polk (SAP, composite aviation regiment). The unit is stationed at Kacha airfield near the main Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula.
On October 12, 2013, Be-12PS ‘Yellow 18’ (c/n 3602903) experienced engine failure and was involved in a fatal crash on go-around at Kacha. Russia’s entire Mail fleet was grounded as a result.
The same year, plans were announced to replace the Be-12 with the four-engined – but equally outdated – Il-38 May landplane. This failed to happen for various reasons, mainly due to a shortage of serviceable aircraft within the two main fleets using the type – the Northern and Pacific.
Furthermore, the VMF still considered the amphibian Be-12 useful, especially for operations in the Black Sea. The surviving Mails were in good technical condition in terms of corrosion and fatigue and it was determined that their service life could be extended up to 50 years. Consequently, the VMF command authorities decided to go ahead with an in-depth refurbishment programme for its small Be-12 fleet.
Five aircraft were initially cycled through an airframe and systems overhaul at the TANTK Beriev plant in Taganrog while also receiving reworked engines and propellers. This relatively affordable effort ensured the amphibians could keep flying until the early 2020s.
The first of the five machines overhauled in Taganrog were returned to regular service in November 2014 and the last example was handed over to the VMF the following July. At this point, Be-12 overhaul was transferred to the EARZ aviation repair plant at Yevpatoria in Crimea. The first aircraft, ‘Yellow 28’ (wearing the Russian state aircraft registration RF-12012) arrived at the plant in June 2015 and work was completed in December 2016. The second Mail overhauled at the EARZ, ‘Yellow 76’, was handed over to the 318th SAP in November last year. There’s no confirmation of any follow-on orders for Be-12 refurbishment at the EARZ.
See the September issue of AFM for a full report on the Black Sea Berievs, including mission profiles and equipment.