Frank Whittle
Hans von Ohain
Heinkel He 176
French ramjet experiment
commercial jet aviation
in search of speed
the Cold War
the B-52 Bomber
the Soviet Blackjack
Soviet vertical takeoff efforts
Curtiss LeMay and SACs
the aircraft carrier
cold war fighters
the B2 bomber early programme
US bombers - the future
post war British air defence
French nuclear deterrence
current air capability of China
helicopters at war
'small' wars
guided bombs
cruise missiles

the Soviet Blackjack
August 30th, 2007
Raul Colon
E-mail: rcolonfrias@yahoo.com
PO Box 29754
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico 00929

Ever since the days of the Wright Brothers, Imperial Russia, and later, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had a long and illustrious history developing huge and powerful bombers. From the Russian version of the venerable Vosin Heavy Bomber, to the amazing Tu-95 Bear, the Russians have designed some of the most massive aircrafts the world had ever seen. Now, after more than ninety years of aviation history under its wings, Russia still posses the biggest bomber on earth. The last heavy bomber design, developed and produced by the Soviet Union was the massive Tu-160 Blackjack. One of the biggest bomber the world has seen. On the afternoon of November 28th, 1967; the Soviet Ministry for Defense (SovMin) issued a Decree ordering the Myasishchev, Sukhoi and Tupolev Design Bureaus to submit detail design plans for the design and eventually the development of a new strategic missile carrier platform. The SovMin requirements for this new platform were extraordinary. The aircraft was to be able to cruise at speeds of 1,989mph at 59,055ft, with an operational range of 6,837miles at this speed. The range could be augmented to 9,944miles in sub-sonic speeds at high altitude. The aircraft was design from the its conception to deliver a deadly payload of four nuclear tip Kh45 Lightning cruise missiles The missiles were supplemented by an additional bomb bay payload of 4,409lb that could be use to deliver free-falling nuclear bombs.

The actual program concept for the development of a massive strategic bomber had its roots on a SovMin resolution of a year early. On November 21st, 1966; the SovMin authorized the establishment of the Ersperimentahl’nyy Mashinostroitel-nyy Zavod (EMZ), or Experimental Aircraft Works, with the purpose of devoting all the necessary resources to the development of the Soviet next-generation strategic bomber. The EMZ was placed under the leadership of Vladimir Myasishchev. Its first aircraft development project was the obscure M17 Stratosfera, a high altitude research and reconnaissance aircraft utilize mainly for data collection. The first official research into the new bomber commenced in late 1967 and was giving the codename of M20. The M20 research project received full authorization of the SovMin in February 28th, 1968. The M20 was actually three different multi-role platforms. The first version of the program envisioned an aircraft capable of recon. and bombing missions at the same time. Another variant would have given the M20 the ability to hit early warning radar planes usually on station near the Soviet borders, a third mission profile would had given the aircraft the avionics necessary to perform anti-submarine warfare. The original concept design was to utilize a Kuznetsov Bypass turbofan engine as its power plant. A series of designs were developed around the engine system. There were so many design modifications to the original M20 concept design that the project managers decided to sub-divide the entire program in to four main designs divisions. Of these sub-divisions, only the Sukhoi T4M concept survived the design team modifications.

The Sukhoi Design Bureau first supersonic missile carrying project was directly influenced by their experience with the T-4 platform. The new T4M concept programme was to receive the full backing of the EMZ. The T4M design departed from conventional Soviet design characteristics. The proposed aircraft would have had long, thin wings, swept at an angle of 15 and 72 degree; a fixed centre fuselage with leading edge root extensions. The engines would had being housed in packs beneath the airframe with two large and flat intakes each containing a pair of engine systems. The leading edges of the wings had extending slats along their entire length. The trailing edges had double slotted extending flaps in two sections plus the ailerons. As a whole, the T4M concept was a modification, hence the M designation, T4. Main modifications to the original concept included the installation on the airframe of a variable geometry wing mechanisms and state-of-the-art electronic and avionics systems that were to be installed on the aircraft. The concept would have carried a relatively big payload. As it is the case with many Sukhoi’s bomber designs, weapons system distribution was placed around the airframe to give the concept a more stable ride. Two hard points were to be fitted beneath the engine fairing, capable of carrying the latest in Soviet stand-off missiles. The bomb bay was located at the centre of the fuselage and it could carry a payload of 17,637lb. Ten fuel tanks were installed; they were to be able to carry 149,912lbs of aviation fuel. The T4M would have been able to cruise at speeds of 1,864mph with an operational ceiling between 65,617ft and 75,459ft. The concept subsonic range would have been 6,215miles, while supersonic range was estimated at 4,350miles. After extensive research that included thirty design modifications to the original concept, the T4M design was abandoned in late 1969. It had achieved its purpose of collecting valuable data. Data now destined to be incorporated into the bureau official proposal to the OKB: the amazing T4MS. The T4MS incorporated many of the features of its ancestor, but one major modification set it apart. The new aircraft had an extended fuselage with a streamline flight-deck canopy so that the upper airframe contour was virtually unbroken. The aircraft’s outer wings could be swept at a minimum angle of 30 degrees and maximum of 70 degrees. The T4MS were to be fitted with four massive Kolesov Stage B K101 engines that could have propelled the aircraft at cruising speeds of 1,865mph at a ceiling of 59,055ft, and 1,9898mph at sea level. Bomb load was estimated at 19,841lb and its operational range was 8,701miles without refueling. All in all, the T4SM was mostly an enhanced T4M, but those enhancements made it stand above the rest. It was destined to be Sukhoi’s finest heavy bomber design.

The other main proposal came from a familiar place, Tupolev. Tupolev’s Design Bureau was the top aircraft design outfit of the Soviet Union. It possessed vast experience in the development of heavy bomber design and development. At the time when the SovMin original Decree was issued, Tupolev was in no position to make a major contribution to the effort. It had a vast array of on-going programmes such as the Tu-144 supersonic transport, the Tu-22M Backfire bomber and the Tu-142 BearF long range anti submarine airplane. All were due to enter service in the late 1960s. This prevented the bureau investing its full resources on the project. However, by 1970 the situation had changed. Now Tupolev was in a position to drive full speed ahead into the program. The bureau began work in mid 1970 on an aircraft design that could meet the specifications requirements set down in the 1967 Decree. Originally, the design concept was codenamed Aircraft 156M, but after a few days the designation changed to 160M or Article 70, a name still in use today in some quarters. The programme’s first lead engineer was Aleksey Andreyevich Tupolev, the General Designer’s son and later, Valeriy Ivanovich Bliznyuk took overall control of the project. The design team began the project with the Tu-144 design as its base. Their first task was to designate a maximum speed and range as the project main performance targets and move from there. Data collected from various projects such as the Tu-144 and the Tu-244 demonstrated that it was possible to achieve a 7 to 9 lift/drag ratio in supersonic cruise and an impressive 15 in subsonic cruise. This data, added with advances in fuel efficient engines made the target operational range possible. The engineers, armed with this new data, commenced the difficult task of developing an airframe. The kinetic heat created while maintaining speeds above Mach level stressed the need to build the airframe with new composite material instead of conventional aluminium alloys. Another factor that heavily influenced the design team was the mission profile of the aircraft. The original mission profile for the new bomber, known as the “Hi-hi-hi” for high altitude supersonic penetration of an enemy’s defences, and “Hi-lo-hi” for low altitude penetration in subsonic mode; meant that the aircraft needed to sustain an appropriate balance between subsonic and supersonic performance. This could only be achieved by installing on the airframe a variable geometry (VG) wing system, augmented by the placing of compound engines capable of performing as turbojets in supersonic mode and turbofans in subsonic operations. Tupolev did extensive research on the wing configuration, testing the VG system against conventional, sweep wing designs. In the end, the VG configuration offered between 20 to 50 percent better lift to drag ratio at subsonic speeds, while on supersonic cruise it offered around the same ratio as a fix-sweep wing system. Next, the design bureau, armed with vast amount of data, started work on the airframe design. After studying many layouts and mock concepts, the designers settled on a tailless delta frame for the new bomber. Several designs systems were tested during the summer of 1970 and the spring of 1972 and eventually the 160M-L1 design was presented to the OKB for consideration in the autumn of 1972.

On November 1972, the OKB meet to study the various design proposals. Sukhoi’s T4MS drew the more praise and ultimately was declared the winner. However, to produce the T4MS, the SovMin would have to have control of one of the only two factories in the Soviet Union capable of producing such a large and complex aircraft. A development nobody in the Soviet aerospace industry, outside Sukhoi, wanted it. In addition, Sukhoi was already saturated with work because of its direct involvement in the production of the Su-Flanker multi-role fighter and the Su-24 Fencer tactical bomber. The SovMin decided that if an additional programme were to be assigned to the bureau, especially one as complex as the T4MS, it could jeopardize the quality of those other programs, a risk they were unwilling to take. Thus the T4MS development program was transferred to the Tupolev Design Bureau. Although ordered to take the full T4MS concept, Tupolev rejected out of hand the design, mainly because the high degree of technical difficulties associated with it. Having a massive amount of data relating to the T4MS program, on March 1973 Tupolev began the research into a new design with a VG configuration. They intended to use the data gained on the T4MS and use it on their own design, the 160M. What came out of that merger was an advanced T4M. The 160M’s VG configuration was developed so it can be moved from 20 to 65 degrees in flight without altering the aircraft’s cruising profile. The fuselage was 177ft 6in in length and 43ft in height. The wingspan for the 160M was placed at 182ft 9in un-swept and 116ft 9in in swept mode. Total wing area was determined at 3875sq ft. The initial power plant configuration called for four Kuznetsov NK25 engines, the same engines used by Tupolev’s Tu-22 M 3 bombers. But they could not supply the thrust requirements set forward by the OKB. Thus forcing a change, the aircraft now was to be fitted with a new four engine design. The Kuznetzov NK311 turbofan engine was a revolutionary three shaft system that would eventually give the new bomber 55,025lb of thrust. The four engines gave the 160M top speeds of 1,378mph on an operational ceiling of 49,235ft. The 160M could climb at a rate of 13,780ft per minute and it can operate, without refuelling, at distances of 7,638 miles. The 160M was designed to be able to take off with a maximum weight of 605,275lb. The aircraft was fitted with the latest on Soviet avionics and fly-by-wire systems. Possessor of no defensive armament, the 160M relies soley on its electronic countermeasure systems installed on the rear end of the fuselage. On June 26th, 1974 the Council of Ministers ordered Tupolev to develop the 160M as a multi-role, strategic bomber and missile carrier. On August 1977, Tupolev began construction of the first three prototypes.

image Air force World

The 160M, now known as the Tu-160 first took to the air in the afternoon of December 18th, 1981. After a series of taxing and airborne tests, the aircraft was ordered into full production mode in May 1987. Tupolev had set up a production line for one hundred samples, the last one to be delivered in 2008. However, by 2000 only 35 samples had been completed, with three more near competition. With the end of the Cold War and the economic realities that the Russian Federation faced in the early 1990s, the Tu-160 production line, already closed down, faced termination. But with renewal of the Russian military industrial complex and the new economic profiles in the country, the Tu-160 line could still be started.