Tupolev Tu-95 (Bear)
Strategic Reconnaissance / Heavy Bomber Aircraft
The Tupolev Tu-95 Bear evolved from several earlier Tupolev projects including the Tu-4 Bull, a copy of the American Boeing B-29.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Following the developmental Tupolev Tu-80 and Tu-85 programs was the famous Tupolev Tu-95 "Bear" which proved a common site in the skies over the Pacific and elsewhere during the Cold War decades. The aircraft owed much to the two preceding developmental designs, both of which were cancelled after just prototypes were completed and evaluated though all could trace their lineage back to the Tupolev Tu-4 "Bull". While the Tu-4 was produced under the Soviet Tupolev brand label, it was nothing more than an unlicensed copy of the American Boeing B-29 Superfortress of which three was force-landed on Soviet soil and confiscated during World War 2 (1939-1945) following raids on Japan. The B-29 offered Soviet engineers the necessary data on producing long-range heavy bomber types which were then lacking in the Soviet air arm amidst growing concern over the American reach and its nuclear program. The Tu-80 utilized conventional propeller-driven power which ultimately lacked the qualities desired when compared to the promising Tu-85 and its reciprocating engines. However, both eventually lost out to the turboprop-powered "Tu-95" development which went on to have a very healthy service life that continues even today (December 2013).
The decision to move towards the turboprop form over a turbojet configuration promised better endurance as jets still proved fuel-hungry propulsion systems. The offer for a new, swept-wing ,jet-powered strategic bomber initially fell to the competing concern of Myasishchev who sold the Soviet military on the idea of a 590 mile per hour bomber with 8,070 mile range. No to be outdone, engineers at Tupolev went hard at work on a competing type and this was initially based on captured war-time plans from Germany for a swept-wing , jet-powered bomber. The Myasishchev design was eventually adopted as the jet-powered, swept-wing M-4 "Bison" but Tupolev persisted in its own design goal nonetheless, and influenced, in part, by its existing large-body aircraft programs in the Tu-4 and Tu-85. Swept-wing design experience would be forged through the existing Tu-16 "Badger" and Tu-88 products.
Two Tupolev design forms then became apparent: one was a four-engined jet development competing against a four-engined turboprop variant. While logic of the time favored the jet, Tupolev was sold on the range of the turboprop approach with its propeller-driven configuration. The technology for this was formed through the captured German Junkers Jumo 022 system. By this time, the Tupolev product was granted the working designation of "Aircraft 95" - better known as the "Tu-95" - and offered official support from the government though, on several occasions, Tupolev owner A.N. Tupolev himself had to fight governmental hierarchy to keep his Tu-95 project alive - authorities still favoring a jet-powered design form.
First flight of a Tu-95 prototype was finally recorded on November 12th, 1952. The design exhibited a lengthy, tubular-yet-squat fuselage with wide-spanning, high-mounted, swept-back wings. Each wing managed a pair of turboprops in long nacelles found at the leading edges. These turboprops drove two four-bladed propellers in a contra-rotating fashion. The cockpit was stepped and sported heavy framing though all four engines could be clearly seen from the seat positions. The nose was glazed for the bomber crew. The fuselage tapered slight to form the empennage to which a single, high-reaching vertical tail fin was mounted along with low-set, swept-back horizontal tail planes. The undercarriage was fully-retractable and of the tricycle configurations - this traced back to the original Boeing B-29 approach. The prototype was recognized internally at Tupolev as the "Tu-95-1" and power was served through 4 x Kuznetsov 2TV-2F coupled turboprops. Standard armament included 1 or 2 x 23mm AM-23 radar-controlled cannons in the tail - a common fixture of large Soviet bombers of the period. The bomb-carrying capacity reached nearly 20,000lbs and eventually would include support for missiles.
With the program proceeding, the gearbox ultimately delivered trouble during testing and this led to the loss of prototype 95-1 when engine No. 3 caught fire in flight. It eventually broke free of its mounting and caused the aircraft to crash, amazingly killing only four of its eleven crew on May 17th, 1953. This particular event steered the design team away from the original Kuznetsov engines and towards the Kuznetsov NK-12 series instead. This move begat the "Tu-95-2" prototype.
After passing all of the requisite testing and evaluations, the Tu-95 was officially adopted for service in the Soviet military with production spanning from 1952 to 1994. Some 500 units would be built in all with formal introduction of the aircraft occurring in 1956. The aircraft carried the NATO codename of "Bear" once properly identified.