Cold War Era

Former P-3 NFO tells the story of when his Orion intercepted a Soviet Tu-95 Bear strategic bomber

‘We had been conducting operations at low level (200 – 300 feet) in the Norwegian Sea, when we received a message over our broadcast that Bears would be transiting our area from the Murmansk region…,’ Ross Hall, former P-3 Orion NFO.

When the Russian Air Force decommissions its fleet of Tupolev Tu-95 (NATO reporting name: Bear) strategic bombers sometime after 2040, the gigantic plane will have had a nearly 100-year service life.

The Tu-95 is a 164-foot-long, four-engine turbo-prop bomber that can fly more than 8,000 miles without refueling.

According to Military History Now, each of the Bear’s eight four-blade propellers break the sound barrier as they turn, making the Tu-95 perhaps the loudest plane on the planet. Fighter pilots sent up to intercept Bears have reported that the planes’ unmistakable drone can even be heard over the sound of their own jets. In fact, Bears are so noisy that they can be detected by US underwater sonar sensors and submarines.

‘Bears could be detected by SOSUS [SOund SUrveillance System that provides deep-water long-range detection capability. SOSUS enjoyed tremendous success during the Cold War tracking submarines by their faint acoustic signals. SOSUS consists of high-gain long fixed arrays in the deep ocean basins],’ Ross Hall, former Naval Flight Officer (NFO) on P-3 Orion anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft, says on Quora.

‘We even had the pleasure of intercepting a Bear in our trusty P-3.

‘The older P-3s had a service ceiling of 36,000 feet. Our relatively new P-3C (at least it was new at that time), had a service ceiling of 39,000 feet.’

Hall continues;

‘We had been conducting operations at low level (200 – 300 feet) in the Norwegian Sea, when we received a message over our broadcast that Bears would be transiting our area from the Murmansk region.

‘We did some quick calculations, and decided we had a shot of intercepting them. We climbed from 300 feet to our service ceiling of 39,000 feet, and we estimated we were in front of the Bears. Our speed was probably in the vicinity of 330 – 350 knots.

‘Sure enough, our observers spotted the Bears behind and above us. They passed us fairly quickly. We estimated they were probably around 42,000 feet, and probably in excess of 400 knots.’

Hall concludes;

‘In terms of noise … it was even noisy enough in our P-3, that I routinely wore earplugs under our headset. As I recall, the ambient noise at my station was approximately 95 dB. Over the course of a 9–12 hour flight, that can be quite a problem. I imagine the noise inside the Bear would be significantly worse.’

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. P-3C Orion VP-40 Fighting Marlins, QE733 / 161733 / 1991

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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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