After months of wrangling with the federal government, it appears a Russian-made air tanker is ready for its first U.S. demonstration at the Santa Maria Public Airport, according to a Santa Maria businessman with an aviation background.
David Baskett, president of American Ethanol Inc., said the Be-200 amphibious aircraft is expected to arrive in Santa Maria next month. The visit will mark the first display on American soil of the aircraft’s capabilities.
The Be-200, also known as Altair, and a Russian flight crew are tentatively scheduled to arrive at Santa Maria Public Airport — also known as SMX — on April 7 for a week-long stay and a demonstration flight for various government agencies and air tanker operators.
On Wednesday, the plane and its team had cleared customs in Anchorage, Alaska, and were on their way to South America.
The Be-200 is scheduled to fly to Santiago, Chile, for an international airshow this week, according to Baskett. It will also stop in Brazil and Venezuela before landing in the continental U.S. in Miami, he said.
Once in Santa Maria, the Be-200 will be parked in front of the Radisson Hotel.
The exhibition is meant to familiarize prospective air tanker contractors with the plane, Baskett has said.
Built by Russian aircraft maker Irkut, the Be-200 is a twin-jet engine “flying boat” designed specifically in the 1990s for air tanker operations. The Be-200 first flew in 2003, and is in service with Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations and Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Emergencies.
Piloted by a two-person flight crew, the Be-200 has eight tanks, located under the cabin floor, capable of dropping 12 tons of water or retardant in about a second at a minimum speed of 135 mph. Its turbofan engines are located above the wing and to the rear to avoid water spray into the engines.
The aircraft can drop 270 tons — one ton is 2,000 pounds — of water into a fire area without refueling, according to the Beriev
Aircraft Company Web site. Its four water scoops can pick up 12 tons of water in 14 seconds while gliding on the water surface.
A demonstration flight is in the works for April 13 at Lake Cachuma, Baskett said.
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Baskett is also the president of Santa Maria-based TTE International, Inc., which specializes in civil and military aviation from the former Soviet Union, according to the company Web site.
He also founded the now-defunct Pacific Skyway, a Santa Maria-based airline.
The task of clearing the Be-200 through the Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration, for example, has not been easy, Baskett said.
“Usually, we get it worked out,” he said.
Initially, the Be-200 was scheduled to arrive at SMX in September 2009 for a for a month-long visit.
At the time, Baskett cited bureaucracy as one of the delays as the aircraft needs U.S. government clearance before its arrival.
Baskett sees the Be-200 as a replacement for America’s aging air tanker fleet.
He also anticipates the creation of high-end aviation jobs in Santa Maria — where he pictures a fleet of 10 Be-200s based at the airport.
The planes would be owned by his firm and rented or leased to operators, he said.
SMX has been the aerial reload headquarters for fighting fires from Ventura County to San Luis Obispo County for the past few fire seasons. Tankers have used the base to refuel and to fill up with red-colored fire-retardant material.
The Central Coast Jet Center at SMX developed an air tanker base in 2007, and leases the facility to the U.S. Forest Service, which also contracts for air tankers and fire retardant.
Chris Hastert, airport general manager, said SMX looks forward to its role in future firefighting efforts, appreciates its place as the site for the Be-200 showcase, and is “committed to accommodating whichever aircraft are serving the area’s fire fighting needs.”