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Tupolev TB-3

Four-Engine Heavy Bomber Aircraft

Soviet Union | 1932

"An interwar design, the Soviet Tupolev TB-3 served from 1932 into the fighting years of World War 2."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 05/26/2017 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
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.

Four American Curtiss V-1570 "Conqueror" engines were initially selected to power the aircraft until the locally-produced Mikulin M-17 engine (720 horsepower) could be gotten (these were license-produced German BMW VIz engines at their core). Outwardly the design adopted much of the form of the earlier TB-1 including its deep, slab-sided fuselage, low-set monoplane wings and single-rudder tail unit. The "tail-dragger" undercarriage (wheeled) was also retained though eventually modified with additional wheels during development. Unlike the TB-1's crew of six, the TB-3's human commitment numbered just four though, like the TB-1, the TB-3 relied on corrugated metal for skinning - a technique developed by German Hugo Junkers during World War 1 (1914-1918).

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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.

A total of 818 of these warriors were produced in all by Tupolev and Voronezh.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Tupolev TB-3 (ANT-6) Four-Engine Heavy Bomber Aircraft.
4 x Mikulin M-17F (BMW VIz) V12 liquid-cooled inline piston engines developing 705 to 720 horsepower each.
132 mph
212 kph | 114 kts
Max Speed
15,748 ft
4,800 m | 3 miles
Service Ceiling
1,243 miles
2,000 km | 1,080 nm
Operational Range
245 ft/min
75 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Tupolev TB-3 (ANT-6) Four-Engine Heavy Bomber Aircraft.
80.4 ft
24.50 m
O/A Length
137.1 ft
(41.80 m)
O/A Width
27.9 ft
(8.50 m)
O/A Height
24,692 lb
(11,200 kg)
Empty Weight
42,549 lb
(19,300 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Tupolev TB-3 Four-Engine Heavy Bomber Aircraft .
5 to 8 x 7.62mm DA defensive machine guns

Up to 4,400 pounds of conventional drop ordnance.
Notable series variants as part of the Tupolev TB-3 family line.
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.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Tupolev TB-3. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 818 Units

Contractor(s): Tupolev / Voronezh Aircraft Production Association - Soviet Union
National flag of China National flag of the Soviet Union National flag of Taiwan

[ China (Taiwan); Soviet Union ]
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Image of the Tupolev TB-3
Image from the Public Domain.

Going Further...
The Tupolev TB-3 Four-Engine Heavy Bomber Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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