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The Tupolev Tu-95 ( ) (NATO reporting name: Bear) is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform.

First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Unionmarker in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040..

Commonly referred to even in Russiamarker by its NATOmarker designation, 'Bear', the aircraft has four Kuznetsov NK-12 engines, each driving contra-rotating propellers. It remains the fastest mass-produced propeller-driven aircraft and the only turboprop-powered strategic bomber to go into operational use. Its distinctively swept back wings are at 35 degrees, a very sharp angle by the standards of propeller-driven aircraft.

A naval development of the bomber is designated Tu-142.

Design and development

A Tu-95MS in-flight over Russia in 2007.

The design bureau led by Andrei Tupolev designed the Soviet Union's first intercontinental bomber, the 1949 Tu-85, a scaled up version of the Tu-4, a B-29 Superfortress copy. The Tu-4 was deemed to be inadequate against the new generation of Americanmarker all-weather interceptors.

A new requirement was issued to both Tupolev and Myasishchev design bureaus in 1950: the proposed bomber had to have an un-refueled range of 8000 km (4,970 mi) — far enough to threaten key targets in the United States. Other goals included the ability to carry an 11,000 kg (12 ton) load over the target.

The big problem for Tupolev was the engine choice: the Tu-4 showed that piston engines were not powerful enough to fulfill that role, while the fuel-hungry AM-3 jet engines of the proposed T-4 intercontinental jet bomber did not provide adequate range. Turboprops offered more power than piston engines and better range than jets, with a top speed in between.

Taking a cue from American aircraft builder Boeing, which used the recently developed Pratt & Whitney J57 jet engine in its B-52 Stratofortress, the Myasishchev bureau chose jets for its design.

Tupolev's proposal was selected and Tu-95 development was officially approved by the government on 11 July, 1951. It featured Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprops fitted with eight-bladed contra-rotating propellers, producing a nominal 8,948 kW (12,000 eshp) power rating. Unlike the advanced engine design, the fuselage was conventional: a high-wing cantilever monoplane with 35 degrees of sweep, an angle which ensured the main wing spar passed through the fuselage in front of the bomb bay. Retractable tricycle landing gear was fitted, with the main gear retracting rearwards. The Tu-95 first flew November 11, 1952 with test-pilot Alexey Perelet at the controls. Series production of the airplane started in January 1956.

For a long time, the Tu-95 was known to U.S./NATO intelligence as the Tu-20. While this was the original Soviet Air Force designation for the aircraft, by the time it was being supplied to operational units it was already better known under the Tu-95 designation used internally by Tupolev, and the Tu-20 designation quickly fell out of use in the USSR. Since the Tu-20 designation was used on many documents acquired by U.S. intelligence agents, the name continued to be used outside the Soviet Union.

Initially the United States Department of Defensemarker did not take the Tu-95 seriously, as estimates showed it had a maximum speed of 644 km/h (400 mph) with a range of 12,500 km (7,800 mi). These numbers had to be revised upward numerous times.

Like its American counterpart, the B-52 Stratofortress, the Tu-95 has continued to operate in the Russian Air Force while several subsequent iterations of bomber design have come and gone. Part of the reason for this longevity was its suitability, like the B-52, for modification to different missions. Whereas the Tu-95 was originally intended to drop free-falling nuclear weapons, it was subsequently modified to perform a wide range of roles, such as the deployment of cruise missiles, maritime patrol (Tu-142), and even civilian airliner (Tu-114). An AWACS platform (Tu-126) was developed from the Tu-114. During and after the Cold War, the Tu-95's utility as a weapons platform has been eclipsed only by its usefulness as a diplomatic icon.

Operational history

Cold War icon

The Tu-95RT variant in particular was a veritable icon of the Cold War as it performed a vital maritime surveillance and targeting mission for other aircraft, surface ships and submarines. It was identifiable by a large bulge under the fuselage, which housed a radar antenna that was used to search for and target surface ships. The US Navy placed high priority in intercepting the Tu-95RT aircraft at least two hundred miles from aircraft carriers with its interceptors, which would then escort the Tu-95 away from NATO airspace.

During interceptions, Tu-95 tail gunners typically kept their twin cannon pointed upwards so as not to antagonize the intercepting fighters. Similarly, NATO rules of engagement for interceptions restricted aircrews from locking onto the Tu-95 with fire control radar lest this be misinterpreted as a hostile act.

During the height of the Cold War, the long range of the Tu-95 was demonstrated weekly as a pair of Tu-95s would fly from the Kola Peninsulamarker to Cubamarker along the East Coast of the United States, escorted continuously along the way.

The Tu-95 carried and dropped the Tsar Bombamarker, the largest and most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated, in 1961.

Encounters in the air

Close-up of the tail of a Tu-95
An F-15C Eagle intercepting a Russian Tu-95MS off the west coast of Alaska on September 28, 2006.

NATO fighters were — and are — often sent to intercept Tu-95s as they performed their missions along the periphery of NATOmarker airspace, often in very close formation. In 1982, when a Tu-95 flew along the coast of Alaskamarker, intercepting F-15 pilot Richard Ellis held up a Playboy magazine against his cockpit glass for the Soviet crew to see. During the 1980s there were many well known anecdotes about U.S. and Canadianmarker pilots showing erotic magazines and beverages to the Russians, in order to make fun about communist moral principles.

There are tales of the Soviet pilots suddenly swerving to push the escorts off course or cause them to rapidly decelerate. This went both ways, however. In the 1980s, a Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16 collided with a Tu-95 while escorting it out of Norwegianmarker airspace. Apparently, the Norwegian pilot had been edging closer and closer to the Tupolev before being caught in the prop wash and having a wingtip torn off in the resulting collision. Both planes landed safely.

As late as 1999, Russian Tu-95s, usually flying in pairs, have come within striking distance both of the Icelandmarker/Greenlandmarker route of North Atlantic and Alaska/Bering Sea route of North Pacific. In June 1999, the Tu-95s, along with two Tu-160s, turned back after being intercepted by U.S. fighters. A similar incident occurred in September but the Tu-95s turned back without making contact.

Present and future status

All Tu-95s now in Russian service are the Tu-95MS variant, built in the 1980s and 1990s. On August 18, 2007, then-President Vladimir Putin announced that Tu-95 patrols would resume, 15 years after they had been terminated.

Russian Tu-95s reportedly took part in a naval exercise off the coasts of France and Spain in January 2008, alongside Tu-22M3 Backfire strategic bombers and airborne early warning aircraft.

In October 2008, during a Russian military exercise code-named Stability 2008, Tu-95MS aircraft fired live air launched cruise missiles (ALCM) for the first time since 1984. The long range of the Raduga Kh-55 ALCM means the Tu-95MS Bears have been transformed once again into a formidable strategic weapons system.

Variants and Derivatives


  • Tu-95/1 - Prototype.
  • Tu-95/2 - Prototype.
  • Tu-95K - Experimental version for air-dropping a MiG-19 SM-20 jet aircraft.
  • Tu-95M-55 - Missile carrier.
  • Tu-95N - Experimental version for air-dropping an RS ramjet powered aircraft.
  • Tu-95LaL - Experimental nuclear-powered aircraft project.
  • Tu-96 - long-range intercontinental high-altitude strategic bomber prototype, a high-altitude version of the Tupolev Tu-95 aircraft with high-altitude augmented turboprop TV-16 engines and with a new,enlarged area wing. Plant tests of the aircraft were performed with non-high altitude TV-12 engines in 1955-1956.[81458]
  • Tu-114 - Airliner derivative of Tu-95.
  • Tu-116 - Tu-95 fitted with passenger cabins as a stop-gap while the Tu-114 was being developed. Only 2 converted.
  • Tu-95/Tu-95M - Basic variant of the long-range strategic bomber and the only model of the aircraft never fitted with a nose refuelling probe. Known to NATO as the Bear-A.
  • Tu-95U - Uchebnyy - Training version. Known to NATO as the Bear-A.
  • Tu-95K/Tu-95KD - Designed to carry the Raduga Kh-20 air-to-surface missile. The Tu-95KD aircraft were the first to be outfitted with nose probes. Known to NATO as the Bear-B.
  • Tu-95KM - Modified and upgraded versions of the Tu-95K, most notable for their enhanced reconnaissance systems. These were in turn converted into the Bear G configuration. Known to NATO as the Bear-C.
  • Tu-95RTs - Razvedchik Tseleukazatel - Variant of the basic Bear A configuration, redesigned for maritime reconnaissance and targeting as well as electronic intelligence for service in the Soviet Naval Aviation. Known to NATO as the Bear-D.
  • Tu-95MR - Bear A modified for photo-reconnaissance and produced for Naval Aviation. Known to NATO as the Bear-E.
  • Tu-95K22 - Conversions of the older Bear bombers, reconfigured to carry the Raduga Kh-22 missile and incorporating modern avionics. Known to NATO as the Bear-G.
  • Tu-126 - AEW&C derivative of Tu-114, itself derived from the Tu-95.
  • Tu-142 - Maritime reconnaissance/anti-submarine warfare derivative of Tu-95.
  • Tu-95MS/Tu-95MS6/Tu-95MS16 - Completely new cruise missile carrier platform based on the Tu-142 airframe. This variant became the launch platform of the Raduga Kh-55 cruise missile. Known to NATO as the Bear-H and was referred to by the U.S. military as a Tu-142 for some time in the 1980s before its true designation became known.
  • Tu-95U - Training variant, modified from surviving Bear A's but now all have been retired. Known to NATO as the Bear-T.

Several other modification of the basic Tu-95/Tu-142 airframe have existed, but these were largely unrecognized by Western intelligence or else never reached operational status within the Soviet military. One of these modified Bears, known as the Tu-95V, was used to drop the Tsar Bombamarker.




  • Soviet Air Forces, Long Range Aviation - Passed on to Russia and Ukraine.
    • The first Tu-95 division, 106th TBAD (Heavy Bomber Air Division), was formed in 1956. The division commander was twice-Hero of the Soviet Union A.G. Molodchi. The 106th TBAD incorporated the 409th TBAP (Heavy Bomber Air Regiment ) (commander — Colonel M.M. Charitonov) which was raised late in 1956 and the 1006th TBAP (commander — Colonel V.P. Pavlov) raised in 1956. The 106th TBAD's base was Uzin near Kievmarker.
    • The 1223rd TBAP in Semipalatinskmarker, under the command of Hero of the Soviet Union Colonel V.M. Bezbokov, was raised in 1957, within the 79th Air Division (commander — twice-Hero of the Soviet Union General Major M.P. Taran). The 1223rd's targets were the north of the US and Canada.
  • Soviet Naval Aviation

Specifications (Tu-95MS)

Right view of the Tupolev Tu-95.

See also


Similar aircraft



External links

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