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The Tupolev Tu-4 (NATO reporting name: Bull) was a piston-engined Sovietmarker strategic bomber which served the Soviet Air Force from the late 1940s to mid 1960s. It was a reverse-engineered copy of the U.S.marker-made Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

Design and development

Towards the end of World War II, the Soviet Union saw the need for a strategic bombing capability similar to that of the USAAF. The U.S. regularly conducted bombing raids on Japan, virtually in the Soviet Union's backyard, from distant Pacificmarker forward bases using B-29 Superfortresses. Stalin ordered the development of a comparable bomber.

The U.S. refused to supply the Soviet Union with B-29 heavy bombers under Lend Lease, despite repeated Soviet requests. However, on three occasions during 1944, individual B-29s made emergency landings in Soviet territory after bombing raids on Japanese Manchuria and Japan. In accordance with Soviet neutrality in the Pacific War, the bombers were interned and kept by the Soviets, despite American demands for their return. Tupolev OKB studied them and dismantled one airframe, while Stalin ordered Tupolev and his design bureau to copy the B-29s down to their smallest details, and produce a design ready for quantity production as soon as possible. Tupolev duly copied the B-29s bolt-by-bolt where possible, reverse engineering the design where necessary.

The Soviets used a different engine, the Shvetsov ASh-73, which had some parts in common with the Superfortress' Wright R-3350 but was not identical. The remote-controlled gun turrets were also redesigned to accommodate Soviet 23 mm cannons.

The Soviet Union used the metric system, thus 1/16th inch (1.6 mm) thick sheet aluminum and proper rivet lengths were unavailable. The corresponding metric-gauge metal was thicker; as a result, the Tu-4 weighed about more than the B-29, with a corresponding decrease in range and payload.

The Tu-4 first flew on 19 May 1947 piloted by test pilot Nikolai Rybko. Serial production started immediately, and the type entered large scale service in 1949. Entry into service of the Tu-4 threw the USAF into a virtual panic, since the Tu-4 possessed sufficient range to attack Chicagomarker, Los Angelesmarker and New York Citymarker with a worthwhile load on a one-way mission, and this fear may have informed the maneuvers and air combat practice conducted by US and British air forces in 1948, involving fleets of B-29s. Some limited attempts to develop midair refueling systems were made to extend the bomber's range, but these were fitted to only a few aircraft.

Public display surprises the West

The aircraft was first displayed during a flyover at the Aviation Day parade on 3 August 1947 at the Tushino Airport in Moscow. Three aircraft flew overhead. It was assumed that these were merely the three B-29 bombers that were diverted to the USSR during World War II. Minutes later, what appeared to be a fourth B-29 aircraft appeared. Western analysts then concluded that the Soviets were capable of, and actually had, reverse engineered the B-29 because the Soviets were known to have only three B-29s. The appearance of an obvious Superfortress-derived Tu-70 transport over the crowd removed any doubt about the success of the reverse-engineering task.

People's Republic of China

In 1967, China attempted to develop its first Airborne Early Warning aircraft, based on the Tu-4 airframe outfitted with turboprop engines. The project was named KJ-1, with a Type 843 rotordome mounted on top of the aircraft. However, the radar and equipment was too heavy and the KJ-1 did not meet PLAAF's requirements, thus the project was cancelled in 1971.

Operational history

847 Tu-4s had been built when production ended in the Soviet Union in 1952, some going to China during the later 1950s. Many experimental variants were built and the valuable experience launched the Soviet strategic bomber program. Tu-4s were withdrawn in the 1960s, replaced by more advanced aircraft: the Tupolev Tu-95 (starting in 1956) and Tupolev Tu-16 (starting in 1954). By the beginning of the 1960s, the only Tu-4s still operated by the Soviets were used for transport or airborne laboratory purposes.


Tu-4: Main production version.
Tu-4 AWACS: Chinese prototype with KJ-1 AEWC, "AWACS" radar and powered by Ivchenko AI-20K turboprop engines. External link with image
Tu-70: Airliner derivative, never reached mass production.
Tu-75: Cargo aircraft derivative, never reached mass production.
Tu-80: Bomber derivative, never reached mass production.
Tu-85: Bomber derivative, never reached mass production.



Tu-4 4114 (c/n 286501), ex-KJ-1 AEWC, "4114"
Stored at Datangshanmarker, Chinamarker
Tu-4 4134 (c/n 2205008), "4134"
Stored at Datangshanmarker, Chinamarker
Tu-4 unknown (c/n 2805103), "01"
Stored at the Central Air Force Museummarker, Moninomarker, Russiamarker

Specifications (Tu-4)

See also



  1. "Aircraft Deliveries." Retrieved: 21 September 2007.
  2. Soviet Union Impounds and Copies B-29. National Museum of the USAF. Retrieved: 21 September 2007.
  3. Archival RAF film of combat with B-29s
  4. Parade
  5. Chinese Airborne Early Warning (AEW)
  6. Photo of the Tu-4 (c/n 286501) at the website
  7. Photo of the Tu-4 (4114, cn 2806501) AWACS example exhibited in the Datangshan Museum, China
  8. Photo of the Tu-4 (4134, cn 225008) "missile carrier" exhibited in the Datangshan Museum, China
  9. Photo of the Tu-4 exhibited in the Central Air Force Museum in Monino, Russia


  • Bowers, Peter M. Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Stillwater, Minnesota: Voyageur Press, 1999. ISBN 0-933424-79-5.
  • Gordon, Yefim and Vladimir Rigmant. Tupolev Tu-4: Soviet Superfortress. Hinckley, Leicestershire: Midland Counties Publications Ltd., 2002. ISBN 1-85780-142-3.
  • Hess, William N. Great American Bombers of WW II. St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International, 1999. ISBN 0-76030-650-8.
  • Pace, Steve. Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire, UK: Crowood Press, 2003. ISBN 1-86126-581-6.
  • Rigmant, Vladimir. B-29, Tу-4 - стратегические близнецы - как это было (Авиация и космонавтика 17 (Крылья 4)). Moscow, Russia, 1996.

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