Japan has one godzilla of a seaplane.
- By Tim Wright
- Air & Space magazine, January 2003
(Page 3 of 4)
The UF-XS research showed that aircraft with such a system for boundary layer control (BLC)—as well as improved hull designs—could operate in much rougher seas than had been possible before. ShinMaywa incorporated the high-lift devices developed for the research program into the design of the anti-submarine PS-1 and the US-1/US-1A rescue aircraft.
The company built 23 PS-1 anti-submarine aircraft and 18 US-1/US-1A search-and-rescue aircraft. Although their BLC systems are unique, the amphibians inherited their configurations in part from their noted ancestor, the Kawanishi H8K-2 Emily. Their four General Electric T64 turboprop engines, license-built by Ishikawajima and each rated at 3,493-hp, are suspended from a wing set high on the fuselage. Seaplane designers place the engines as high off the water as possible to keep the air intakes from ingesting water. Also, saltwater is abrasive and corrodes propellers as well as the numerous rotating blades inside turbine engines. Besides mounting the engines high, ShinMaywa designers added a spray-suppressing chine around the forward hull.
All PS-1 and US-1 aircraft have been retired, but seven US-1As remain in service, and the type is still in production. As US-1A number 19 neared completion at the Kobe factory last year, the next generation of rescue amphibian was emerging right beside it.
The US-1A “Kai” is based on the 1960s technology of its predecessors and therefore has the same capabilities for STOL and rough-sea takeoffs and landings. But the Kai (Japanese for “modification”) also incorporates a pressurized hull that will allow the aircraft to fly at 30,000 feet instead of its current 10,000. At higher altitudes, the Kai will have greater range and will avoid the weather that limited US-1A operations. The Kai will also include modern satellite navigation and communication systems. The flight deck features a head-up display and night vision technology and resembles the glass cockpits of contemporary airliners. The first airframe was completed last month, and a rollout is scheduled for March 2003.
ShinMaywa managers believe the improvements will help the new amphibian compete for world sales, and they hope to market it not only as a search-and-rescue craft but also as an air tanker for fighting forest fires or a patrol aircraft for maritime research. “We think the Kai is the only aircraft capable of open ocean landing,” says ShinMaywa engineer Katsuhito Akashi. “There are other amphibious aircraft available, but none of them are capable of landing in those conditions.” Akashi points out that to investigate an ocean oil spill, a ship might need as much as a week to travel to the spill site and back. The Kai could make that round trip in a single day.
The Kai’s only competitors for such markets are amphibians produced by the Russian company Beriev, known for a long series of marine aircraft dating back to the 1930s (see “When Ships Have Wings,” Dec. 1995/Jan. 1996). Beriev, located in Taganrog near the border of Russia and Ukraine, received certification last year for its twin jet Be-200 and earlier this year for the smaller piston-engine Be-103. The company has built ten Be-103s, six of them for Russia’s forestry service.
The big Beriev, powered by two MotorSich D-436TP turbofan engines, each producing 1,650 pounds of thrust, can cruise at over 400 mph, but it is more expensive to operate than the Kai and can land only in seas with waves no higher than four feet. With the latter limitation, the Beriev is useful for lake and river landings but is not as capable as the Kai for ocean search and rescue. Beriev is marketing a transport version of the Be-200, which could seat as many as 70 passengers, and hopes to begin building as many as seven Be-200s each year.
If the Kai is to compete head to head with the Beriev, ShinMaywa will need export approval from the Japanese government. The Japanese constitution, written largely at the direction of the United States and its allies after World War II, prohibits any Japanese product capable of offensive military action from being sold to another country. Since the US-1 and US-1A began their lives as anti-submarine aircraft, ShinMaywa cannot sell them overseas.