Ukraine Coaxes Its Ancient, Giant Seaplanes Back Into the Air
At least two Be-12s still functional
The Soviet Union designed the Beriev Be-12 seaplane in the late 1950s to hunt NATO submarines. Improving enemy air defenses doomed the slow, ungainly amphibian in that role, so it switched to patrol and search and rescue.
When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Ukraine inherited a handful of the 32-ton seaplanes. But Kiev could never afford to maintain the increasingly geriatric patrollers—especially considering what saltwater does to metal.
But it was the Russian invasion of Crimea in the spring of 2014 that really did in the Ukrainian seaplane force. And it was Russian … largess—for lack of a better term—that helped Kiev coax one Beriev back into the air.
In 2012, Ukrainian naval aviation possessed seven Be-12s at the Saky air base in Crimea, from where at least some of the twin-engine, gull-wing seaplanes patrolled the Black Sea. It’s not clear how many of the seven planes could actually fly.
One Be-12 with the fuselage number 02, painted in yellow, participated in the annual Sea Breeze war game with NATO in July 2012.
As Russian troops swept into Crimea in late February this year, Ukrainian crews raced to get as many of their planes as possible airborne and out of the way.
“The naval aviation brigade managed to evacuate a number of its assets to safety in early March before they could be seized, including a Kamov Ka-29 and three Mi-14 helicopters, two Antonov An-26 transports and one Beriev Be-12 amphibian,” Jane’s reported.
Kiev opened a new base for the maritime planes at Mykolayiv on the mainland.
In one fell swoop, the Russians apparently reduced Ukraine’s seaplane force to a single plane.
But in a curious display of conviviality—especially in light of Moscow’s overt support for Ukrainian separatists fighting on the mainland—the Russians actually returned many of the planes they had captured in Crimea … including venerable Be-12 Yellow 02.
On April 14, Russian troops on the peninsula allowed a Ukrainian crew to fly Yellow 02 back to Mykolayiv. “Despite the not superb state, the crew deemed the condition of the aircraft good enough for flight,” the blog Airheadsfly reported.
Kiev was working hard to get mothballed warplanes back in fighting condition. Mechanics appear to have paid some attention to Yellow 02, as well. When NATO ships returned to the Black Sea for Sea Breeze 2014 in September, Yellow 02 was there.
A U.S. Navy photographer spotted the aged Beriev soaring over the assembled warships.