Heavy Bomber Prototype Aircraft
The Tupolev Tu-80 existed in a single prototype form born from the Tu-4 Bull program, itself a copy of the American Boeing B-29.
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In order to provide its bomber force with a long-range weapons delivery platform, Soviet engineers set to work on the new Tupolev Tu-80. The Tu-80 was a further development of the Tupolev Tu-4 (NATO codename of "Bull") which, itself, was nothing more than a direct, unlicensed copy of the technologically-laden Boeing B-29 Superfortress. The Soviets gained access to the technology when it confiscated three complete B-29 examples that were forced into landing on Soviet soil following raids on the Japanese mainland during World War 2 (1939-1945). While the crews were eventually returned to U.S. authorities, the aircraft were held and studied at length. Under Stalin's direct order, the B-29 was reverse-engineered down to the final bolt to become a Soviet Tu-4 product. About 847 Tu-4s were eventually produced from the span of 1949 to 1952 and these remained faithful to the original American design.
The Tu-80 was born primarily with endurance in mind as the Soviet air arm of the period lacked any long-range, high-altitude bombers to compete with the growing American/West stocks - particularly in the realm of nuclear weapons delivery. As it was forced to fight a short-ranged war with Germany during World War 2, little thought and resources were placed on developing long-ranged heavy platforms. Instead, the Soviet collection of aircraft revolved around fighters, twin-engined light bomber/strike types and the only four-engined Soviet-originated bomber of the war - the Petlyakov Pe-8. One of the primary targets during the Cold War for the Soviet Union would have been American soil some distance away and its current collection would not have sufficed while intercontinental ballistic nuclear missile technology was still some decades away.
Several other heavy bomber programs of the period fell to naught and it was the Tu-80 that gained some notable traction. Compared to the original Tu-4, the aircraft was granted more appropriate engines for the role, powerplants that allowed for greater output, range and hauling capabilities. Dimensions were increased for more internal volume. On the whole, the B-29 influence could still clearly be made out in the Tu-80s profile - the large-area single vertical tail fin, the tubular fuselage and the straight main wing appendages each mounting two engines along their leading edges. The most noticeable difference in the new design was the stepped cockpit which, unlike the B-29 and Tu-4, featured an extended nose assembly which was glazed for the bomber crew. The undercarriage was also revised, promoting a slight "nose-up" attitude with the aircraft at rest.
Structurally, the Tu-80 was given a running length of 112.6 feet, a wingspan of 142.5 feet and a height of 29.2 feet. When empty, the aircraft weighed 83,445lbs and sported a Maximum Take-Off Weight of 133,600lbs. Power was served through 4 x Shvetsov ASh-73FN 18-cylinder two-row radial engines developing 2,650 horsepower each. This provided the aircraft with a maximum speed of 340 miles per hour, a range of 5,100 miles and a service ceiling nearing 36,680 feet. Its operating crew was made up of 11 men including two pilots. The bomb-carrying capacity of the airframe was listed at 26,500lbs.
Work on the design began in February of 1948 and construction was ongoing by the end of the year. First flight of a Tu-80 prototype ("Aircraft 80") occurred on December 1st, 1949. However, this is where the story of the Tu-80 essentially came to a close for the type was given up in favor of the more promising Tu-85 venture - itself a direct predecessor to the famous Cold War-era Tu-95 "Bear" still to come. The Tu-85 was faster and carried a better bomb load further and higher, leaving the Tu-80 initiative stillborn. Soviet authorities then cancelled the Tu-80 during September of 1949, before the first flight had taken place, in an effort to further the Tu-85 initiative. The Tu-80, therefore, lived out the rest of her days as an engine and airframe testbed before being handed over to a Soviet ordnance range as a target. Thus ended the story of the Soviet Tu-80 heavy bomber.