Air International 2002-06
A.Dawes - Tupolev's Bear /Military/ (1)
The Tu-95MS Bear-H, a continuous development from the early Tu-95 variants described in this article, is the ultimate ‘bomber’ in more ways than one. Given a new lease of life in the late 1970s as the carrier platform for a new generation of Russian cruise missiles, the Bear-H is currently the main strike weapon of Russia’s much revised long-range airforce, the 37th Air Army of the Supreme High Command.
One of the early production Tu-95M Bear-As in conventional bomber configuration. After some 20 years of service, some of the original batch of Tu-95Ms were converted into the Tu-95U trainer, with bomb doors sealed permanently shut. Others were simply cut up for scrap. The large airframe of the Tu-95 made it an ideal choice as a test-bed for various systems, and numerous examples served usefully in this role for many years.
Cockpit layout of the early Bear variants was of typical 1950s vintage, with a profusion of analogue instruments mounted on a black painted panel. Noteworthy are the cruciform radio channel selectors mounted on the cross frame of the central windshield panel.
The Tu-116 was an important development of the original Tu- 95 Bear-A concept, intended specifically as a high-speed long-range VIP transport for government and military VIP passengers. Two aircraft were built to this specification and were used regularly by the Russian Air Force until the early 1990s. Two early production Tu-95s were also converted to the Tu-116 configuration and were used by high-ranking military personnel.
Unquestionably the most radical modification of the Tu-95 was the Tu-95LAL (Lyetayushchaya Atomnaya Laboratoriya) airborne nuclear test-bed. The aircraft, converted to nuclear propulsion from a standard Tu-95M, using NK-14A (Atomny) engines, flew 34 sorties between May and August 1961 in connection with airborne nuclear powerplant research. Although generally successful and with radiation protection for the crew proving adequate, the flight tests revealed intolerably high costs for very little gain and it was decided to terminate the project.
This view of a Tu-95K Bear-B at the moment of lift-off accentuates the long cylindrical fuselage and the massive bulk of the undercarriage. Access to the weapons bay for the loading of the AS-3 Kangaroo cruise missile was greatly eased by the amount of free space under the fuselage in this area.
There is a certain quality of purposefulness in the appearance of the Tu-95K Bear-B shown here at Ryazan Air Base in 1992. Not having to observe the requirements of high-speed aerodynamics, the designers were able to add numerous antennae and observation blisters without seriously compromising the performance of this mighty aircraft. The large ‘platypus’ nose radome houses the antenna system of the YaD (Crown Drum) radar.
Marked with a red band around the fuselage to indicate that it was no longer combat-capable, this Tu-95KU Bear-B trainer is seen at Ryazan in 1992 against a typical Russian air base scene of the period. Noteworthy in view of its ‘disarmed’ status, this aircraft still has the guns fitted in the tail and ventral turrets.
In an effort to restore a conventional bombing capability to the missile-armed Tu-95KD, trials were conducted with a modified Bear-B equipped with two large external containers mounted on the aircraft’s centreline. These carried an unspecified number of free-fall bombs. The presence of the in-flight refuelling boom ahead of the cockpit distinguishes this variant as a Tu-95KD, which is externally similar to the later Tu-95KM Bear-C, the latter differing principally in its avionics fit and a pair of tear-drop antennae on the rear fuselage.