VVA-14: The 14-engined Soviet plane designed to take out US subs

(CNN) – The only surviving prototype of this unusual aircraft is now in disrepair in a field near Moscow, but it was once the Soviet Union’s hope against US submarine attacks.

The Bartini Beriev VVA-14 – the letters are an abbreviation for “amphibious aircraft with vertical takeoff” and 14 was the number of engines – was designed to take off from anywhere without a runway and fly directly over the surface of the water.

Designed in the 1960s, the aircraft was a response to the Polaris ballistic missile. The United States introduced them to its submarine fleet in 1961 as part of its nuclear deterrent. According to its designer Robert Bartini, the amphibious VVA-14 would be the perfect machine to search for and destroy the submarines with missiles.

However, the plan did not work. Only two of the proposed three prototypes were ever built, and only one was ever flown. When Bartini died in 1974, the project died with him and the second prototype was dismantled.

The first, mostly intact, was sent to the Central Air Force Museum near Moscow in 1987, but something went wrong with the delivery. The plane was looted and damaged and has not been repaired since.

Three headed dragon

The VVA-14 should lift vertically from water or land.

Courtesy of Andrii Salnikov

“The VVA-14 was a flying boat that was supposed to take off or land vertically from the water and then fly at altitude like a normal airplane,” says Andrii Sovenko, a Soviet aviation historian. In 2005, Sovenko met Nikolai Pogorelov, Robert Bartini’s deputy, during the design phase of the aircraft.

“According to Pogorelov, Bartini was a visionary with an unusual mind and character. It seemed that he was not from his time, but from another time – someone even called him an alien. Without a doubt, Bartini left his mark on Soviet aircraft construction. However, he mostly became famous for his ideas and concepts, and few of them actually became a reality, “says Sovenko.

Bartini, who left Italy for the Soviet Union in 1923 after the rise of the fascists, had envisaged several different versions of the VVA-14, including one with inflatable pontoons to land on the water and one with folding wings that served could be taken from ships at sea.

The first prototype blew up in 1972. He was later fitted with the pontoons and tested afloat.

“This aircraft had neither lift motors nor equipment for searching for submarines. It was only intended to study the characteristics of level flight and to test the aircraft systems. A total of 107 flights with over 103 flight hours were carried out from 1972 to 1975,” says Sovenko.

The strange appearance earned him the nickname Zmei Gorynich, after a dragon from Russian folk tales. “If you look at it from the ground, the VVA-14 causes understandable associations with Zmei Gorynych: It also had three heads, so to speak, and relatively small wings,” said Sovenko.

A short second life

VVA 14 airplane b / w-3

The Soviet military abandoned the project after realizing that its effectiveness would be limited.

Courtesy of Andrii Salnikov

The second prototype was to receive the engines for vertical take-off, but they were never installed in the almost completed aircraft because a suitable engine type was never developed. This condemned the project and the plane was dismantled.

Bartini attempted to breathe new life into the VVA-14 by transforming itself into an Ekranoplan, a type of aircraft that uses the ground effect to glide at high speed close to a surface like water like a hovercraft. The resulting tests, carried out immediately after Bartini’s death, informed the development of other such aircraft and made the USSR the undisputed leader in the field.

Despite this coda, the project had gotten out of hand.

“I think the Soviet military realized very quickly that the VVA-14 would have been poorly effective as an anti-submarine aircraft. It could only carry a very small number of missiles, and the technical challenges involved in making such an unusual one Vehicles were very large. Ultimately, the military relied on more conventional aircraft, “says Sovenko.

After his retirement, the original prototype was shipped from Taganrog in southern Russia, where it was built and tested, to a small town near Moscow, Lytkarino. Discharged ashore, left unattended and partially destroyed and dismantled.

Later transported by helicopter to the nearby Monino in the Central Air Force Museum, the aircraft remains badly damaged to this day.

“In fact, some fragments of the original prototype have been in the form of scrap metal in Monino for 33 years. I don’t know why the museum administration won’t take action to restore this very interesting aircraft,” says Sovenko.

Missing parts

VVA 14 airplane b / w-2

According to Russia’s Central Air Force Museum, the cost of restoring the aircraft would be around $ 1.2 million

Courtesy of Andrii Salnikov

The Central Air Force Museum is largely open-air, much like the other aircraft in its collection – the largest in the world for Soviet aircraft – the VVA-14 has sat outside. Hidden in a peripheral area of ​​the exhibition, the wings are conspicuously missing.

Parts of it and the airframe appear to be off, as can be seen on Google Maps. Alexander Zarubetsky, the museum’s director, confirmed to CNN Travel that several components of the aircraft were missing.

“In 2012, representatives of the Taganrog Aircraft Plant, where the VVA-14 was built, promised to help find replacement parts for the VVA-14, but the lack of funding did not allow for such requests,” he said.

He adds that the cost of the restoration would be around $ 1.2 million if funding was secured and that it would take anywhere from one to two years if done by flight specialists right at the museum.

If the VVA-14 had been fully completed and tested, it would have been a truly unique aircraft, according to Sovenko.

“It could have taken off and landed horizontally, vertically, on land and on the water. It could have stayed afloat as a ship for a long time and waged anti-submarine wars. And of course it could have flown like an airplane.” regular plane too, “he says.

“This versatility was the most unusual and outstanding quality. However, the VVA-14 never really reached its full potential.”

Inna Gavruseva contributed to this report

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