Staff Writer (Updated: 9/6/2015):
Design work on the type began in 1983 to which the aircraft received its first flight on December 8th, 1986. The first flight came about in accidental fashion when a high-speed taxi run found the crew with no runway distance to stop, forcing them airborne. The flight was accepted for what it was and important data collection occurred. The aircraft came as a surprise to Western observers when it was identified as an all-new type in 1988 via satellite photography. The first public unveiling was during the 1989 Soviet Aviation Day event at Tushino, Moscow.
The outward design of the A-40 included a tubular fuselage section containing the cockpit at its extreme forward end. The fuselage incorporated a smooth, boat-like hull for the projected water landing while a wheeled undercarriage was used for land-based sorties. High, shoulder-mounted wing appendages allowed for increased lift and low-level stability while supported on water through wingtip pontoons. The pair of jet engines were also high-mounted while fitted aft of the main wing section and ahead of the tail unit. Each engine was seated atop structural extensions emanating from the wing trailing edges. The tail unit was a traditional "T" arrangement with high-mounted tailplanes. The wheeled undercarriage included a pair of four-wheeled main legs and a two-wheeled nose leg. A typical operating crew numbered eight to include a pair of pilots and systems specialists. An in-flight refueling probe was installed for extended endurance.
Power for the aircraft was granted through 2 x Aviadvigatel (Soloviev) D-30KPV turbofan engines delivering 24,500lbs thrust each. The aircraft also relied on 2 x Klimov/RKBM (Kolesov) RD36-35 series turbojet "boosters" for its shorter take-off quality and these produced an additional 5,180lbs of thrust. Maximum speed was listed at 500 miles per hour with an overall range out to 2,200 miles, a service ceiling of 31,825 feet and a rate-of-climb of 5,900 feet per second. The A-40 was cleared to take-off in Sea State 6 (very rough waves reaching 6.5 feet) conditions.
As an active-seeking "submarine hunter", the A-40 was cleared for a variety of naval weapons including the Kh-35 (AS-20"Kayak") anti-ship missile, the Orlan ("Sea Eagle") torpedo and the Korshun ("Kite") guided missile. Support was also made for the dropping of depth charges and naval mines as well as sonobouys. Ordnance is managed through external underwing hardpoints or an internal bomb bay.
Beyond the base A-40 designation (covering the two prototypes), the was to be evolved across several notable variants. The A-40M was intended for modernized versions with updated systems while A-40P was to be a dedicated fire-fighting platform. The A-40PM was a proposed dedicated passenger airliner-type model to which the Be-40PT was to serve in a modular passenger/cargo hauling fashion. A-42 would have marked a projected Search And Rescue (SAR) version and A-44 was to be a standalone maritime patrol platform. The A-42E was another proposed form, this intended as an export variant of the maritime patrol and SAR models.
Despite its unfinished testing phase in the late 1980s, and coupled with the resurgence of Russian military spending, it has been stated that the Beriev A-40 is in consideration once again to replace the wholly-aged Be-12 and IL-38 lines for the modern Russian Navy. The Navy expects to field at least four of the type in its ASW and SAR configurations. The original Soviet Navy requirement was for twenty aircraft before the Soviet collapse.
The Beriev Be-200 is a related A-40 development which utilizes the same basic configuration and stands as a more modern, refined offering. The Be-200 achieved its first flight in 1998 and entered service in 2003 to which nine of the series have been completed up to December 2013. Several variants of this aircraft exist though only Azerbaijan and Russia are its formal operators. While Beriev is the aircraft designer, Irkut is the primary manufacturer of the newer aircraft.