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.
Initial Bear forms were designated simply as "Tu-95" and these were paired with corresponding Tu-95M model forms. Tu-95Ms differed only slightly for they included additional intakes set upon the top face of the engines for additional cooling. Both versions served the basic long-range strategic bomber role and were given the "Bear-A" codename by NATO observers. These airframes were conventional bomber types lacking inherent nuclear delivery capabilities.
What followed was the Tu-95A mark which included the aforementioned nuclear payload delivery capability. These airframes were appropriately modified for the role to include a temperature-controlled bomb bay, cockpit windscreen panel visors and white undersides to protect from the ensuing blast. The Tu-95MA was nothing more than the Tu-95M mentioned above with the nuclear capability of the Tu-95A mark. This group was also marked as "Bear-A" by NATO.
Such a large, expensive and technological aircraft required dedicated training platforms that could be used in bringing about all-new generations of Bear pilots and crewmembers. This resulted in the Tu-95U crew trainer derivative, converted from existing Tu-95 and Tu-95M models. These airframes lost their weapons delivery equipment and bomb bays while being identified by a red stripe at the empennage to indicate their reduced forms.
A dedicated maritime reconnaissance variant was developed as the Tu-95MR and granted the NATO codename of "Bear-E". The model was born from a 1960 initiative calling for such an aircraft and testing began as soon as 1961. Photographic camera equipment took over the bomb bay while specialized electronic equipment was installed for data collection. These airframes were identified by the addition of a fairing and probe at the tail. The Tu-95MR was adopted by the Soviet Air Force in 1964 and eventually ended their days as dedicated trainers, appropriately converted to the Tu-95U standard mentioned previously.
The Tu-95V existed as a hydrogen bomb carrier and appropriately modified for the role. This aircraft ended its days as a transport after sitting idle for a time. From there, it became a static classroom.
The Tu-95K "Bear-B" was the first missile carrier form of the Tu-95. When coupled with its Kh-20 series air-to-surface missile (As-3 "Kangaroo") it was known collectively as the "Tu-95K-20". Two prototypes were developed and this led to 47 new-build aircraft being adopted. The Tu-95KM designated modernized, updated forms. Trainers were the Tu-95KU. The Tu-95KD "Bear-B" introduced a nose refueling probe for extended endurance. The Tu-95KM "Bear-C" was another missile carrier though with upgraded systems. Twenty-three examples were completed. The Tu-95K-22 upgraded the Tu-95KM line during 1973 with new a new weapons system. These saw a short service life when they were given up during the STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty ("START-1") between the United States and Russia.
Cruise missile-carrying capabilities were given to the upcoming Tu-95MS "Bear-H". First flight of a prototype was in 1979 and featured a new nose assembly with a target guidance radar. The added radome under the chin defined the shape of these Bears. To go along with the radar, new weapons were seated in a rotary launcher at the bomb bay. The series was also given more powerful Kuznetsov NK-12MP engines and manufacture began in 1981. The Tu-95MS was produced in two distinct forms as the Tu-95MS-6 andTu-95MS-16 - this indicated their missile load out capability (the MS-16 featuring underwing hardpoints in addition to its bomb bay). Thirty-one MS-6 models were adopted with 57 MS-16 types.
Several serviceable "one-off" platforms of Tu-95s existed over the course of the aircraft's storied career. This included the Tu-95 as a mothership for launching the Tu-130 hypersonic aircraft. Another mothership concept to see service was the Tu-95KM launching the Mikoyan 105.11. The Tu-95 "Vostok" was used in recovery of Soviet space capsules. The Tu-95LAL was a nuclear research platform and joined by the Tu-119. Many other Tu-95 forms were considered and either developed or coming to naught.
At the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Empire collapsed which led a stock of Tu-95s falling into possession of the Ukrainians. These were passed on back to Russia in exchange for the debt reconciliation amounting from Russian gas deliveries. The modern Russian Air Force continues support and manages at least 50 Bears in readiness status with a total of 60 believed available. Ukraine does not operate any Tu-95s anymore.
The Tu-95 line has since been evolved into the more capable Tu-142 ("Bear-F/-J") long-range, maritime Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) platform detailed elsewhere on this site. One hundred of the Tu-142 have been produced since 1968 (introduction coming in 1972) and used by the Russian/Soviet Navy, the Indian Navy and, for a time, the Ukrainian Air Force. While no longer in production, the Tu-142 still maintains an active presence in the Russian and Indian navies. The Tu-142 is outfitted with 4 x Kuznetsov NK-12MP turboprop engines of 14,795 horsepower with broadened performance capabilities.
Status Active, In-Service
Crew 11 to 13
Production 500 Units
Tupolev OKB - Soviet Union
Russia; Soviet Union; Ukraine
- Ground Attack
- Reconnaissance (RECCE)
174.11 ft (53.07 m)
164.17 ft (50.04 m)
39.76 ft (12.12 m)
202,384 lb (91,800 kg)
407,855 lb (185,000 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Tupolev Tu-95 (Bear-F) production model)
36,089 feet (11,000 m; 6.84 miles)
7,456 miles (12,000 km; 6,479 nm)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Tupolev Tu-95 (Bear-F) production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
1 OR 2 x 23mm AM-23 cannons in radar-controlled tail unit.
Up to 20,000lb of stores including support for internal rotary air-to-air / air-to-surface missile launcher and underwing hardpoints. Also anti-ship missiles and precision-guided munitions and general purpose drop bombs.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Tupolev Tu-95 (Bear-F) production model)
Tu-95/1 - Initial prototype; lost to engine failure.
Tu-95/2 - Second prototype; new Kuznetsov engines introduced.
Tu-95 ("Bear-A") - Base long-range strategic heavy bomber variant.
Tu-95M ("Bear-A") - Equal to Tu-95 forms with additional intakes over engines.
Tu-95K - Test mothership for air-dropping Mikoyan MiG-19 fighter.
Tu-95K22 ("Bear-G") - Raduga Kh-22 missile carrier
Tu-95K ("Bear-B") - Raduga Kh-20 missile carrier
Tu-95KM ("Bear-C") - Modernized Tu-95K models
Tu-95M-55 - Missile Carrier
Tu-95MR ("Bear-E") - Dedicated photo-reconnaissance model; camera equipment in bomb bay.
Tu-95MS ("Bear-H") - Cruise Missile Carrier based on airframe of new Tu-142 design; support for Raduga Kh-55 cruise missile.
Tu-95MSM - Modernized Bear form with new radar and other upgraded features; design proposal approved in 2009.
Tu-95N - Mothership for air-dropping ramjet aircraft.
Tu-95RTs ("Bear-D") - Maritime Reconnaissance Platform; SIGINT capability.
Tu-95U ("Bear-T") - Dedicated crew trainer variant; converted from Tu-95 and Tu-95M models; lacking weapons capability.
Tu-95V - Special nuclear payload delivery variant; shielded underside; windscreen visors; climate-controlled bomb bay.
Tu-96 - Proposed high-altitude, long-range strategic bomber.
Tu-114 ("Cleat") - Commercial passenger development of Tu-95.
Tu-116 - Interim passenger hauler for Tu-114 program.
Tu-95LAL - Proposed nuclear-powered variant
Tu-126 ("Moss") - AWACs derivative
Tu-142 ("Bear-F") - Maritime Reconnaissance/ASW variant.
Values are derrived from a variety of categories related to the design, overall function, and historical influence of this aircraft in aviation history.
The overall rating takes into account over 60 individual factors related to this aircraft entry. The rating is out of a possible 100.
Relative Maximum Speed
This entry's maximum listed speed (531mph).
Graph average of 562.5 miles-per-hour.
Tupolev Tu-95 (Bear-F) operational range when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era Span
Showcasing era cross-over of this aircraft design.
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