The Bartini-Beriev VVA-14 was a machine born from the Cold War arms race between the Soviet Union and the West. This time of continuous one-upmanship meant governments were willing to fund ever increasingly more ambitious technologies and ideas in the hopes of gaining an edge over the other.
An edge the Soviets wanted was in the defence against US nuclear submarines around the borders of the Soviet Union.
In the 1970s, the VVA-14 was created as a highly versatile, vertical take-off and landing aircraft, that could operate from both land and sea, hunting US submarines.
The aircraft was the creation of Robert Bartini, an Italian scientist and aircraft designer, who moved to the Soviet Union after the Fascist takeover of Italy in 1922.
After moving, he was able to unleash his potential by developing a number of interesting and innovative designs for the Soviets that would become known throughout the world. Due to his family’s noble European heritage, he was nicknamed Barone Rosso (Red Baron).
Unfortunately, Bartini felt Stalin’s wrath in 1938, during great purge, when he was accused of being an Italian spy and sentence to a ten year imprisonment.
Despite his placement in a Gulag, Bartini continued designing aircraft for the Experimental Design Bureau. He assisted Andrey Tupolev with the designing of the Tupolev Tu-2 bomber aircraft.
He was released in 1946 after serving eight years, and again continued his work. He developed the, “Theory of intercontinental transport on Earth,” where he concluded that the optimum vehicle is amphibious vehicle with the advantages of ships, helicopters and aircraft. From here, Bartini designed the MVA-62, an amphibious aircraft that had vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities from virtually any surface.
Bartini and the Beriev Design Bureau continued researching this idea, which eventually culminated in the VVA-14, an amphibious aircraft built to hunt enemy submarines, and serve as a search and rescue platform.
The VVA-14 was to be constructed and tested as three separate prototypes. First, the VVA-14M1 would test the aerodynamics and flying characteristics. The VVA-14M2 second prototype would see two engines mounted near the nose to blast air under the fuselage and create lift, plus a battery of 12 RD-36-35PR engines that would give test the aircraft’s VTOL capability. The third and final version would be the VVA-14M3 which would add the aircraft’s armaments and weapon systems.
It would have been capable of VTOL with its 12 lifting engines, or conventional take-off from land or sea, riding on a cushion of air created by its forward engines blowing under the aircraft. At altitude, it would have used two engines on the upper rear surface to maintain cursing speeds.
The VVA-14 first flew in 1972, taking off from a conventional runway. It performed its first take-off from water three years later in 1975. The aircraft’s unique shape caused its designers to nickname it the “Zmey Gorynych” (A Slavic dragon), a mythical beast with three heads. The first prototype performed 103 hours of testing over 107 flights.
The VVA-14 was able to reach a maximum speed of 472 mph with a range of 1,522 miles. Its service ceiling was 26,250–32,800 feet (8,000–10,000 m).
The VVA-14M2, the second prototype, was partially completed, and was awaiting its 12 lifting engines for VTOL. Unfortunately, the supplier of the engines failed to deliver, causing the second prototype to be shelved and eventually dismantled.
After this, the project slowly ran out of steam. The VVA-14 was a radical aircraft, but would have been rather limited in its role in anti-submarine warfare, carrying a small amount of armaments on such a complex platform. Soviet top brass were already aware of this, putting doubt on the project’s future. With Bartini’s death in 1974, the fate of the VVA-14 was effectively sealed, and the programme would be cancelled just a year later.
Some time later, the VVA-14 was moved by a barge to from its testing location in Taganrog, southern Russia, to a town near Moscow. In 1087 the aircraft was moved by helicopter to the Central Air Force Museum in Monino. While waiting for this final move, the VVA-14 had been ruthlessly dismantled and looted by scavengers, leaving it in a poor state and missing many parts.
It is still in this condition today where its on outdoor display at the Central Air Force Museum. Many hope to see the aircraft restored to its former glory, but this seems unlikely for the time being with so many missing parts
In 2013, a group of enthusiasts emerged with the goal of restoring the VVA-14, but to no avail.