Cold War Era

In Soviet Times the Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber established 78 world records officially recognised by the FAI

The Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack continued to establish records even after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Developed as the answer to the American B-1, the Tupolev Tu-160 was the Soviet Union’s most potent strategic bomber. Several project versions were rejected, and a highly controversial contest involving some of the Soviet Union’s top-class aircraft design companies took place before the Tu-160 variable-geometry bomber reached the hardware stage and then entered service in April 1987.

As told by Yefim Gordon & Dmitriy Komissarov in their book Tupolev Tu-160, Soviet Strike Force Spearhead, two and a half years after it entered service the Tu-160 demonstrated its high performance for the world to see when it established an impressive series of world records. On Oct. 31, 1989, a Soviet Air Force crew comprising aircraft captain Maj.-Gen. Lev V. Kozlov, co-pilot Col. Mikhail I. Pozdnyakov, navigator Col. V. S. Neretin and WSO Lt.-Col. S. N. Mart’yanov flew an in-service Tu-160 (f/n 3-04) grossing at 240,000 kg (529,110 lb) to set a total of 21 records in Group 3 under the World Air Sports Federation (FAI— Federation Aeronautique Internationale) classification — that is, turbojet/turbofan-powered aircraft. Two of these were an Class C-1 (landplanes with unlimited gross weight) speed records over a 1,000-km (621-mile) closed circuit; the rest were Class C- 1r (landplanes with a gross weight of 200,000-250,000 kg/440,920- 551,160 lb) altitude and speed records with various payloads.

(Note: Some sources say the aircraft in question was coded “14 Red.” However, in the 184th GvTBAP this tactical code was reportedly worn by Tu-160 f/n 6-04, which did not yet exist then, being built in 1991!)

Not to be outdone, on Nov. 3, 1989 a Tupolev OKB test crew (captain Boris I. Veremey, co-pilot Grigoriy N. Shapoval, navigator Mikhail M. Kozel and WS0 Anatoliy V. Yeriomenko) set a further 21 records in the second prototype (izdeliye 70-03, led “29 Grey”) with the maximum take-off weight of 275,000 kg , a (606,270 lb). Again, two were Class C-1 speed records over a closed circuit but the length of the circuit was 2,000 km (1,242 miles); the other 19 were Class C-1 s (landplanes with a gross weight of 250,000-300,000 kg/551,160-661,390 lb) altitude and speed records. In May 1990, the Blackjack continued its conquest of world on records.

On four non-consecutive days (May 15, May 22, May 24, and May 28) four different Air Force crews set 36 records between them —18 Class C-1r speed records and 18 Class C-1s speed records over 1,000-km and 5,000-km (3,105-mile) closed circuits. Interestingly, the crews were reduced to three persons in each case: captain Lev V. Kozlov, co-pilot V. P. Rudenko and navigator S. N. Mart’yanov on May 15; captain Col. Nail’ Sh. Sattarov, co-pilot Maj. Aleksandr S. Medvedev and navigator P. P. Merzlyakov on May 22; captain Col. Vladimir I. Pavlov, co-pilot Lt.-Col. Vitaliy P. Selivanov and navigator F. A. Ivlev on May 24; and captain Col. S. D. Osipov, co-pilot N. N. Matveyev and navigator A. S. Tsarakhov on May 28. Thus, in Soviet times the Tu-160 established no fewer than 78 world records which were officially recognised by the FAI.

That was not the end of it, though. On Jun. 9-10, 2010, two Russian Air Force/6950th GvAvB Tu-160 crews established a distance/endurance record while making a planned ultra-long-range combat patrol flight. One of the two aircraft was “06 Red”/ RF-94105 Il’ya Muromets (c/n 84308216, f/n 8-01). It was captained by deputy squadron commander Lt.-Col. Aleksandr I. Khabarov, with instructor pilot Col. Andrey V. Senchurov (a DA and Command Flight Safety Department inspector pilot) in the right- hand seat; the crew also included navigator Maj. Dmitriy V. Kirilov and instructor navigator Col. Oleg Yu. Baranov (the 6950th GvAvB’s Chief Navigator) in the WSO’s seat. The other bomber was “16 Red”/RF-94107 Aleksey Plokhov (c/n 82905836, f/n 5-03) which was flown by Lt.-Col. Mikhail N. Shishkin as captain, instructor pilot Col. Andrey A. Malyshev as co-pilot, navigator Maj. Flyur Z. lskhakov and instructor navigator Lt.-Col. Vladimir V. Sookhodol’skiy as WSO.

This was the second time the Tu-160 had undertaken such an ultra-long-range flight; the first occasion was in 2009 when two Blackjacks had stayed aloft for about 21 hours. This time, however the achievement was bettered. The bombers’ route took them along the Russian border over the Arctic Ocean and then out over the Pacific. Care was taken to stay over international waters, not intruding into the airspace of other nations. During the mission the crews practiced lengthy flight over featureless terrain with no landmarks and few navaids. They also practiced IFR techniques, topping up twice from IL-78M tankers; in so doing they achieved another “first” for the Tu-160, twice receiving 50 tons (110,230 lb) of fuel in a single sortie.

The flight went without a hitch, the Tu-160s covering a distance of some 18,000 km (11,180 miles) non-stop; part of it was flown at supersonic speeds. “06 Red” was airborne for 23 hours 32 minutes, while “16 Red” stayed airborne even longer — for 24 hours 22 minutes.

Tupolev Tu-160 Soviet Strike Force Spearhead is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: Dmitry Terekhov from Odintsovo, Russian Federation and Alex Beltyukov via Wikipedia

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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