This was not a specially arranged Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack “joyride” – being the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces, the President simply took the opportunity to witness cruise missile launches, in-flight refuelling, maritime reconnaissance and low-altitude transonic flight.
The Tupolev Tu-160 missile carrier bomber (NATO codification: Blackjack) is designed to destroy targets in remote geographic areas and deep in the rear of continental theaters of operations. It is the largest supersonic aircraft and variable geometry wing aircraft in the history of military aviation, as well as the world’s heaviest combat aircraft having the highest gross take-off weight among bombers. For its power and grace, Tu-160 was unofficially named “White Swan”.
Believe it or not, the Blackjack acted as “Air Force One” on a single occasion! On Aug. 16, 2005, Tu-160 “03 Red” Pavel Taran left Chkalovskaya AB a short way west of Moscow on a long sortie that included a launch of the latest Kh-555 cruise missile which the 121st GvTBAP had first received in 2004. However, this was not the only unusual thing about the mission – the then President of the Russian Federation Vladimir V. Putin was a passenger on this aircraft. Coming to the base straight from Zhukovskiy after the opening ceremony of the MAKS-2005 airshow, he made a flight in a strategic missile carrier. As told by Yefim Gordon & Dmitriy Komissarov in their book Tupolev Tu-160, Soviet Strike Force Spearhead, this was not his first flight in a combat jet – previously he had flown as a back-seater in a Su-27UB Flanker-C combat trainer.
Actually there were three Tu-160s at Chkalovskaya that day, and the planned flight was part of a tactical exercise whose aim was to build up a DA task force covering the north-western strategic direction and accomplish the designated objective. This was not a specially arranged “joyride” – being the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces, the President simply took the opportunity to witness cruise missile launches, in-flight refuelling, maritime reconnaissance and low-altitude transonic flight.
Prior to the flight Putin was briefed on the mission details by Lt.-Gen. Igor’ I. Khvorov, the then Commander of the 37th VA VGK (SN), using maps and placards. Next, the President was given a brief medical check, donned his flight suit and was given a briefing on flight safety procedures and how to use the ejection seat.
Shortly afterwards “03 Red” with the President in the captain’s seat took off and headed north to the area where the joint exercise of the DA and the North Fleet was to take place. The aircraft was piloted by the DA’s Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Anatoliy D. Zhikharev from the right-hand seat, with Col. Vladimir Adamov as navigator and Lt.-Col. Oleg Baranov as WSO. It was closely followed by the other two Blackjacks: “05 Red” Aleksandr Golovanov captained by Col. Aleksey R. Serebryakov and “07 Red” Aleksandr Molodchiy captained by Lt.-Col. Andrey V. Senchurov.
Near Nizhniy Novgorod the bombers changed course and went supersonic, then decelerated and descended. During the mission two of the Tu-160s launched four Kh-555 cruise missiles which hit their designated targets at the Pemboy target range near Vorkuta in the Komi Republic. In the course of the mission the “Presidential” Tu-160 was refuelled by an Il-78 tanker. After that, the Tu-160s headed to their destination – Olen’ya All near Olenegorsk, Murmansk Region, making a high-speed dash over the base at 900 km/h (559 mph) before landing.
As a matter of fact, the first case of the Tu-160 carrying a VIP was on Aug. 25, 2003. On that occasion the then Minister of Defence Sergey B. lvanov was in the left-hand seat of “07 Red” during another command and staff exercise; again, Anatoliy D. Zhikharev did the piloting from the right-hand seat.
Tupolev Tu-160 Soviet Strike Force Spearhead is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Presidential Press Service