Tupolev Tu-95

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Russian Bear 'H' Aircraft MOD 45158140.jpg
Tu-95MS Bear H RF-94130 off Scotland in 2014
Role Strategic heavy bomber
National origin Soviet Union
Manufacturer Tupolev
First flight 12 November 1952
Introduction 1956
Status In service
Primary users Russian Aerospace Forces
Soviet Air Forces (historical)
Soviet Navy (historical)
Produced 1952–1993
Number built 500+
Variants Tupolev Tu-114
Tupolev Tu-142
Tupolev Tu-95LAL

The Tupolev Tu-95 (Russian: Туполев Ту-95; NATO reporting name: "Bear") is a large, four-engine turboprop-powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 entered service with the Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Aerospace Forces until at least 2040.[1] A development of the bomber for maritime patrol is designated Tu-142, while a passenger airliner derivative was called Tu-114.

The aircraft has four Kuznetsov NK-12 engines with contra-rotating propellers. It is the only propeller-powered strategic bomber still in operational use today. The Tu-95 is one of the loudest military aircraft, particularly because the tips of the propeller blades move faster than the speed of sound.[2] Its distinctive swept-back wings are set at an angle of 35°. The Tu-95 is unique as a propeller-driven aircraft with swept wings that has been built in large numbers.

Design and development

A Tu-95MS.
A Tu-95 showing its swept wing and anti-shock bodies

The design bureau, led by Andrei Tupolev, designed the Soviet Union's first intercontinental bomber, the 1949 Tu-85, a scaled-up version of the Tu-4, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress copy.[3]

A new requirement was issued to both Tupolev and Myasishchev design bureaus in 1950: the proposed bomber had to have an un-refueled range of 8,000 km (4,970 mi)—far enough to threaten key targets in the United States. Other goals included the ability to carry an 11,000 kg (24,200 pounds) load over the target.[4]

Tupolev was faced with selecting a suitable type of powerplant: the Tu-4 showed that piston engines were not powerful enough for such a large aircraft, and the AM-3 jet engines for the proposed T-4 intercontinental jet bomber used too much fuel to give the required range.[5] Turboprop engines were more powerful than piston engines and gave better range than the turbojets available at the time, and gave a top speed between the two. Turboprops were also initially selected for the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress to meet its long range requirement,[6] and for the British long-range transport aircraft, the Saunders-Roe Princess, the Bristol Brabazon and the Bristol Britannia.

Tupolev proposed a turboprop installation and Tu-95 design with this configuration was officially approved by the government on 11 July 1951. It used four Kuznetsov[7] coupled turboprops, each fitted with two contra-rotating propellers with four blades each, with a nominal 8,948 kW (12,000 effective shaft horse power [eshp]) power rating. The engine, advanced for its time, was designed by a German team of ex-Junkers prisoner-engineers under Ferdinand Brandner. The fuselage was conventional with a mid-mounted wing with 35 degrees of sweep, an angle which ensured that the main wing spar passed through the fuselage in front of the bomb bay. Retractable tricycle landing gear was fitted, with all three gear strut units retracting rearwards, with the main gear units retracting rearwards into extensions of the inner engine nacelles.[4]

The Tu-95/I, with 2TV-2F engines, first flew in November 1952 with test pilot Alexey Perelet at the controls.[8] After six months of test flights this aircraft suffered a propeller gearbox failure and crashed, killing Perelet. The second aircraft, Tu-95/II used four 12,000 eshp Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprops which proved more reliable than the coupled 2TV-2F. After a successful flight testing phase, series production of the Tu-95 started in January 1956.[7]

A Tu-95MS simulating aerial refueling with an Ilyushin Il-78 during the Victory Day Parade in Moscow on 9 May 2008.

For a long time, the Tu-95 was known to U.S./NATO intelligence as the Tu-20. While this was the original Soviet Air Force designation for the aircraft, by the time it was being supplied to operational units it was already better known under the Tu-95 designation used internally by Tupolev, and the Tu-20 designation quickly fell out of use in the USSR. Since the Tu-20 designation was used on many documents acquired by U.S. intelligence agents, the name continued to be used outside the Soviet Union.[4]

Initially the United States Department of Defense evaluated the Tu-95 as having a maximum speed of 644 km/h (400 mph) with a range of 12,500 km (7,800 mi).[9] These numbers had to be revised upward numerous times.[4]

Like its American counterpart, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, the Tu-95 has continued to operate in the Russian Air Force while several subsequent iterations of bomber design have come and gone. Part of the reason for this longevity was its suitability, like the B-52, for modification to different missions. Whereas the Tu-95 was originally intended to drop free-falling nuclear weapons, it was subsequently modified to perform a wide range of roles, such as the deployment of cruise missiles, maritime patrol (Tu-142), and even civilian airliner (Tu-114). An AWACS platform (Tu-126) was developed from the Tu-114. An icon of the Cold War, the Tu-95 has served, not only as a weapons platform, but as a symbol of Soviet and later Russian national prestige. Russia’s air force has received the first examples of a number of modernised strategic bombers in Tu-95MSs following upgrade work. Enhancements have been confined to the bomber's electronic weapons and targeting systems.[10]


A Tu-116 preserved at Ulyanovsk Aircraft Museum.

Designed as a stopgap in case the Tu-114A was not finished on time, two Tu-95 bombers were fitted with passenger compartments. Both aircraft had the same layout: office space, a passenger cabin consisting of 2 sections which could each accommodate 20 people in VIP seating, and the rest of the 70 m³ cabin configured as a normal airliner. Both aircraft were eventually used as crew ferries by the various Tu-95 squadrons.[11] One of these machines is preserved at Ulyanovsk Central Airport.

Operational history

Cold War

The Tu-95RT variant in particular was a veritable icon of the Cold War as it performed a maritime surveillance and targeting mission for other aircraft, surface ships and submarines. It was identifiable by a large bulge under the fuselage, which reportedly housed a radar antenna that was used to search for and detect surface ships.[12]

A series of nuclear surface tests were carried out by the Soviet Union in the early to mid 1960s. On October 30, 1961 a modified Tu-95 carried and dropped the AN602 device named Tsar Bomba, which was the most powerful thermonuclear device ever detonated.[13] Video footage of that particular test exists[14] since the event was filmed for documentation purposes. The footage shows the specially adapted Tu-95V plane – painted with anti-flash white[15] on its ventral surfaces – taking off carrying the bomb, in-flight scenes of the interior and exterior of the aircraft, and the detonation. Along with the Tsar Bomba, the Tu-95 proved to be a versatile bomber that would deliver the RDS-4 Tatyana (a fission bomb with a yield of forty-two kilotons), RDS-6S thermonuclear bomb, the RDS-37 2.9-megaton thermonuclear bomb, and the RP-30-32 200-kiloton bomb.[16] The bomb was attached underneath the aircraft, which carried the weapon semi-externally since it could not be carried inside a standard Tu-95's bomb-bay, similar to the way the B.1 Special version of the Avro Lancaster did with the ten-tonne Grand Slam "earthquake bomb".

The early versions of this bomber lacked comfort for their crews. They had a dank and dingy interior and there was neither a toilet nor a galley in the aircraft.[16] Though the living conditions on the bomber were unsatisfactory, the crews would often take two 10-hour mission trips a week to ensure combat readiness. This gave an annual total of around 1,200 flight hours.[17]

The bomber had the best crews available due to the nature of their mission. They would undertake frequent missions into the Arctic to practice transpolar strikes against the United States. Unlike their American counterparts they never flew their missions with armed nuclear weapons. This hindered their mission readiness due to the fact that live ammunition had to come from special bunkers on the bases and loaded into the aircraft from the servicing trench below the bomb bay, a process that could take two hours.[18]

Present and future status

In 1992, newly independent Kazakhstan began returning the Tu-95 aircraft of the 79th Heavy Bomber Aviation Division at Dolon air base to the Russian Federation.[19] The bombers joined those already at the Far Eastern Ukrainka air base.[20]

A Tu-95 escorted by an RAF Typhoon

All Tu-95s now in Russian service are the Tu-95MS variant, built in the 1980s and 1990s. On 18 August 2007, President Vladimir Putin announced that Tu-95 patrols would resume, 15 years after they had ended.[21]

NATO fighters are often sent to intercept and escort Tu-95s as they perform their missions along the periphery of NATO airspace, often in close proximity to each other.[22][23][24][25]

Tu-95MS at Engels Air Force Base, 2006

Russian Tu-95s reportedly took part in a naval exercise off the coasts of France and Spain in January 2008, alongside Tu-22M3 Backfire strategic bombers and airborne early-warning aircraft.[26]

During the Russian Stability 2008 military exercise in October 2008, Tu-95MS aircraft fired live air-launched cruise missiles for the first time since 1984. The long range of the Raduga Kh-55 cruise missile means Tu-95MS Bears can once again serve as a strategic weapons system.[27]

In July 2010, two Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers set a world record for a non-stop flight for an aircraft in the class, when they spent more than 43 hours in the air. The bombers flew through the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans and the Sea of Japan, covering in total more than 30,000 km with four mid-air refuelings. The main task was to check the performance of the aircraft during such a long flight, in particular monitoring the engines and other systems.[28]

On 17 November 2015, Tu-95s had their combat debut, being employed for the first time in long-range airstrikes as part of the Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War.[29][30]


In 1968 two planes were lost over the Black Sea during a training flight. Both planes fell into the sea, one of them was to be salvaged later, and only one crew member out of 18 survived. These planes had been operating from AFB Uzyn (Ukraine).

On June 8, 2015 a Tu-95 ran off a runway at the Ukrainka bomber base and caught fire during take-off in the far eastern Amur region. As a result, one crew member was killed.[31][32]

On July 14, 2015 it was reported that a Tu-95MS had crashed outside Khabarovsk, killing two of seven crew members.[33]


Tu-95K22 Bear-G with massive avionics radome for guiding Kh-22 missiles
A Tu-95 performs a fly-over with an Il-78 and two MiG-29s simulating aerial refueling at the Victory Day Parade in Moscow on 9 May 2008
A Tu-95RTs Bear D (Door Number 17) of Soviet Naval Aviation in flight in May 1983
Tupolev Tu-95LL
The first prototype powered by Kuznetsov 2TV-2F coupled turboprop engines.
The second prototype powered by Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprops.
Basic variant of the long-range strategic bomber and the only model of the aircraft never fitted with a nose refuelling probe. Known to NATO as the Bear-A.
Experimental version for air-dropping a MiG-19 SM-20 jet aircraft.
Conversions of the older Bear bombers, reconfigured to carry the Raduga Kh-22 missile and incorporating modern avionics. Known to NATO as the Bear-G.
Designed to carry the Kh-20 air-to-surface missile. The Tu-95KD aircraft were the first to be outfitted with nose probes. Known to NATO as the Bear-B.
Modified and upgraded versions of the Tu-95K, most notable for their enhanced reconnaissance systems. These were in turn converted into the Bear-G configuration. Known to NATO as the Bear-C.
Experimental nuclear-powered aircraft project.
Modification of the serial Tu-95 with the NK-12M engines. 19 were built.
Missile carrier.
Bear-A modified for photo-reconnaissance and produced for Naval Aviation. Known to NATO as the Bear-E.
Completely new cruise missile carrier platform based on the Tu-142 airframe. This variant became the launch platform of the Raduga Kh-55 cruise missile and put into serial production in 1981.[34] Known to NATO as the Bear-H and was referred to by the U.S. military as a Tu-142 for some time in the 1980s before its true designation became known.
Capable of carrying six Kh-55, Kh-55SM or Kh-555 cruise missiles on a rotary launcher in the aircraft's weapons bay. 32 were built.[35]
Fitted with four underwing pylons in addition to the rotary launcher in the fuselage, giving a maximum load of 16 Kh-55s or 14 Kh-55SMs. 56 were built.[35]
Modernized version of MS16 with advanced radio-radar equipment as well as a target-acquiring/navigation system based on GLONASS. Four underwing pylons for up to 8 Kh-101/102 stealth cruise missiles.[36] 19 aircraft have been modernized as of late December 2018.[37][38][39][40][41] Its combat debut was made on 17 November 2016 in Syria.[42]
Experimental version for air-dropping an RS ramjet powered aircraft.
Variant of the basic Bear-A configuration, redesigned for maritime reconnaissance and targeting as well as electronic intelligence for service in the Soviet Naval Aviation. Known to NATO as the Bear-D.
Training variant, modified from surviving Bear-As but now all have been retired. Known to NATO as the Bear-T.
Special carrier aircraft to test-drop the largest thermonuclear weapon ever designed, the Tsar Bomba.
Long-range intercontinental high-altitude strategic bomber prototype, designed to climb up to 16,000-17,000 m.[43] It was a high-altitude version of the Tupolev Tu-95 aircraft with high-altitude augmented turboprop TV-16 engines and with a new, enlarged-area wing. Plant tests of the aircraft were performed with non-high altitude TV-12 engines in 1955–1956.[44]

Tu-95 derivatives

Airliner derivative of Tu-95.
Tu-95 fitted with passenger cabins as a stop-gap while the Tu-114 was being developed. 2 were converted.[45]
AEW&C derivative of Tu-114, itself derived from the Tu-95.
Maritime reconnaissance/anti-submarine warfare derivative of Tu-95. Known to NATO as the Bear-F.

Several other modifications of the basic Tu-95/Tu-142 airframe have existed, but these were largely unrecognized by Western intelligence or else never reached operational status within the Soviet military.


A lineup at sunset of Tu-95MS at Engels Air Force Base in December 2005.

Former operators

 Soviet Union

Specifications (Tu-95MS)

Right view of the Tupolev Tu-95

Data from Combat Aircraft since 1945[62]

General characteristics

  • Crew: six–seven; pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, communications system operator, navigator, tail gunner plus sometimes another navigator.[63]
  • Length: 46.2 m[64] (151 ft 6 in[64])
  • Wingspan: 50.10 m[64] (164 ft 5 in[64])
  • Height: 12.12 m (39 ft 9 in)
  • Wing area: 310 m² (3,330 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 90,000 kg (198,000 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 171,000 kg (376,200 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 188,000 kg (414,500 lb)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprops, 11,000 kW (14,800 shp)[65] each



See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists


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External links

  • "Bears prowl the Atlantic skies" video report from Russia Today
  • Tu-95 Intercepts From The 1960s Till Today
  • Tu-95МС
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