Success in completing the 216-strong fleet of Tupolev TB-1 heavy bombers for the burgeoning Soviet Air Force led Tupolev OKB to head another large aircraft project of the period - the "TB-3" (development designation of "ANT-6"). Development of this system also occurred in the mid-1920s but involved a dimensionally larger, heavier four-engined approach (as opposed to the TB-1's twin-engine arrangement). Tangible work began in 1926 and the Soviet Air Force finalized its requirements before the end of the decade.
A first-flight involving a prototype happened on December 22nd, 1930 and service introduction was granted in 1932. Pre-series aircraft arrived that same year (1932). In practice, the series proved heavier than anticipated and several actions were taken to reduce weight loads - though none were largely standardized. Nevertheless, the large bomber pushed on through to operational status.
As completed, the aircraft exhibited a length of 80.1 feet, a wingspan of 137.1 feet and a height of 27.10 feet. Empty weight was 25,000lb against an MTOW of 42,550lb. Power was served through 4 x Mikulin M-17F V12 liquid-cooled inline piston engines developing 705 horsepower each. Maximum speed reached 130 miles per hour with a range out to 1,240 miles and a service ceiling reaching 15,750 feet. Rate-of-climb was 245 feet-per-minute.
Self-defense was by way of five to eight 7.62mm DA series light machine guns. The bomb load equaled 4,400lb of conventional drop ordnance.
Its first combat actions were recorded during the Soviet-Japanese War at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol (1939). Additional service was then had against the Finns in the Soviet-Finnish War (1939-1940) and, from there, the type was forced to fulfill the demands of World War 2 (1939-1945) against Germany and her Axis partners - this despite the aircraft having been officially retired from frontline service in 1939 by the Soviet Air Force. Hundreds were still on hand when the Germans invaded the Soviet union in June of 1941 - indeed a quarter of the Soviet bomber arm strength was made up of these aging bombers and they fought on until final actions in 1945 in bomber (including night-bombing), transport (G-2 designation) and airborne assault roles as needed.
Like the TB-1 before it, the TB-3 was also involved in Soviet experimentations with the "parasite fighter" concept (Project "Zveno"). The bomber served as mothership to a pair of Polikarkov I-16 fighters (detailed elsewhere on this site), these slung under the wing mainplanes (one fighter per wing). The design was used operationally with limited success - owing largely to the bomber's own restrictive performance and inherently limited self-defense measures.
Initial production versions were designated TB-3-4M-17F and made up the definitive operational models. The TB-3-4M-34 carried Mikulin AM-34 engines with several other refinements. Production of this mark reached at least 24 aircraft. The TB-3-4M-34R improved performance figures through AM-34R engines and other refinements. The TB-3-4AM-34RD was a long-range form while the TB-3-4AM-34Rn was a proposed high-altitude development with four-bladed propeller units. Another proposed model included the TB-3D powered by diesel engines of 740 horsepower and promoting increased operational ranges.
Beyond the Soviet Air Force, the bomber was eventually used by Soviet Naval Aviation and Aeroflot, this in addition to operations conducted by the Nationalist China Air Force.
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Tupolev / Voronezh Aircraft Production Association - Soviet Union Manufacturer(s)
5 to 8 x 7.62mm DA defensive machine guns
Up to 4,400 pounds of conventional drop ordnance.
TB-3 - Base Series Designation
ANT-6 - Developmental designation
TB-3-4M-17F - Definitive / initial production models
TB-3-4M-34 - Fitted with Mikulin AM-34 series engines; refinements; about 34 produced.
TB-3-4M-34R - AM-34R engines fitted; improved performance model; improved defensive features.
TB-3-4AM-34RD - Long-range variant utilizing streamlining and metal propeller blades.
TB-3-4AM-34RN - Proposed high-altitude model with Am-34RN engines and four-bladed propeller units; not adopted.
TB-3-4AM-34FRN/FRNV - AM-34FRN/FRNV engines with four-bladed propellers; revised turret locations; improved performance.
TB-3D - Proposed model with Charomsky AN-1 series diesel engines of 740 horsepower; not adopted.
G-2 - Conversion transport models with M-17 and M-34 engines being used (by Aeroflot).
ANT-6-4M-34R "Aviaarktika" - Specialized model for North Pole expedition work.
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