The "Polaris" submarine-launched missiles debuted by the West during the Cold War (1947-1991) caused enough consternation in the Soviet ranks that several measures were enacted in an effort to develop a counter to the perceived threat. One such venture became the Beriev-Bartinin VVA-14, an amphibious-minded Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft that appeared in the early 1970s. In the end, the aircraft only ever reached a prototype and testing stage with two examples completed. Design was attributed to Italian engineer Robert Bartini (1897-1974) who had partnered with the Soviet Beriev aircraft concern for the project.
Bartini, a member of the Italian communist party, found himself in the Soviet Union following the Fascist rise in Italy during the 1920s and worked his way through the ranks of aviation engineering within the Soviet military. In 1928 he was named head of an experimental group charged with development of new amphibious air vehicles. Like others serving during the brutal Stalin regime, he spent several years in prison but continued work in the aeronautics field, having joined the Beriev company even while still a prisoner. He was released in the mid-1950s and continued to push amphibious aircraft designs until his death in 1974.
The chief quality of his VVA-14 design was its use of "wing-in-ground-effect" travel. This allowed the aircraft level flight very close to the surface of the water and was trialled through many Soviet-era Cold War designs like the Lun Ekranoplan (detailed elsewhere on this site). Essentially these were sea-skimming aircraft able to fly just above the water, even taking off and landing as a traditional flying boat - all the while able to reach and maintain a useful high-speed over considerable operational ranges. The advent of practical jet engines only furthered the idea of such aircraft.
The Beriev concern was well-recognized for its long-running work in amphibious floatplanes and seaplanes for the Soviet Empire. Some of its designs proved record-breakers in their time.
Bartini and Beriev engineers developed a very unique aircraft showcasing a tubular, centralized fuselage. Blending was used to connect the main mass of the aircraft to the nacelles designed to hold the floatation hardware and shoulder-mounted wing mainplanes were in play (these being straight appendages with clipped tips). The cockpit, heavily glazed, was fitted at the extreme forward end of the fuselage. The two floatation nacelles straddled the fuselage and ran nearly the entire length of the aircraft. Horizontal tailplanes were used at the empennage and given noticeable rearward sweep while a twin-rudder arrangement completed the tail unit. Jet engines were used to offer the needed straight-line propulsion, these becoming 2 x Soloviev D-30M turbofan engines of 15,062lb thrust each. The nacelles were paired just ahead of the tail unit, aft of midships, and exhausted between the vertical tail fins through a dorsal mounting arrangement. While intended mainly for water operations, the aircraft was also fitted with a wheeled, retractable undercarriage for ground-based take-offs and landings. The operating crew numbered three.
It was planned that the design would carry no fewer than 12 x RD-36-35 PR "lift" turbofan engines, each developing 9,666lb of thrust, to raise the massive machine from the surface. However, the product never fitted these so the configuration was never truly tested.
Dimensions included a length of 85 feet, a wingspan of 98.4 feet and a height of 22.2 feet. Empty weight was 51,120 pounds against a gross weight of 114,400 pounds.
VVA-14M1 marked the first prototype which appeared in 1972 and saw its first flight occur on September 4th of that year (rigid pontoons being fitted). It used its wheeled undercarriage for the test and took off from a runway in a conventional sense. The prototype later received inflatable pontoons which allowed flight testing and on-water taxiing to be evaluated. M1 served as the primary aerodynamics and basic-functions testbed before attention would turn to the follow-up VVA-14M2 design form - this to be used for the required lifting tests. Control-assistance was to come from an early version of Fly-by-Wire (FBW) technology. Beyond this there was to be the VVA-14M3 which was to mimic production-quality models complete with the intended submarine-hunting armament and applicable equipment as well as feature all of the proven systems and capabilities of the preceding M1 and M2 offerings.
Despite the plans, only two M1 prototypes were ever completed as the death of Bartini in 1974 served to slow the program down and interest in such a special-mission aircraft ultimately waned among Soviet authorities. The design was never tested with its intended lift engines and 107 flights were seen by the prototypes in all. Only one of the airframes survived the test of time and sits in a terrible state under the ownership of the Russian Monino museum outside of Moscow. The Soviets moved on more practical submarine-hunting measures as a result.
Listed performance specs for the aircraft include a maximum speed of 472 miles per hour, a cruise speed of 400 miles per hour, a range out to 1,520 miles and a service ceiling as high as 32,800 feet.