Cold War Era

FAA ATC recalls when a Tu-95 passed 1,000 feet above a DC-8 flying over the Atlantic. The DC-8 pilot reported hearing the Bear passing by.

The Tupolev Tu-95

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 Long-Range Aviation of the Soviet Air Forces in 1956 and was first used in combat in 2015. It is expected to serve the Russian Aerospace Forces until at least 2040.

Its distinctive swept-back wings are set at an angle of 35°.

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.

Tu-95 passing 100 feet above a DC-8 flying over the Atlantic

Alan Buttery, former FAA Air Traffic Controller (ATC), recalls on Quora;

‘In the early 60’s, I was an FAA controller in San Juan center. The FAA had just started a program of using any available military radars to perform flight following because they did not have any of their own at that time. (This followed a couple of mid-air collisions over the Grand Canyon and New York City.) We worked with the Puerto Rico National Guard at Dorado.

‘One day I had an Eastern Airlines DC-8 inbound from NY, and a Russian Tu-95 crossing North of San Juan, enroute to Havana. The Bear was a thousand feet above the DC-8. Murphy’s law dictated that the Bear and the DC-8 would be exactly over the same place at the same time. I issued traffic to the Eastern and he said he was looking. After they passed, I asked him if he saw the Bear. His reply was “I not only saw him, I HEARD him!’

Photo credit: San Diego Air and Space Museum and Crown Copyright

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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