Tupolev Tu-95

The Tupolev Tu-95 (NATO reporting name Bear) is the most successful and longest-serving Tupolev strategic bomber and missile carrier built by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 

The Tu-95 is still in service, as of 2008, and is expected to remain in service with the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. The Tu-95 is powered by four Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprop engines, each driving contra-rotating propellers, and remains the fastest propeller-driven aircraft to go into operational use. Its wings are swept back at 35 degrees, a very sharp angle by the standards of propeller-driven aircraft. 

To date, it remains the only turboprop-powered strategic bomber to have entered operational service. A naval development of the bomber is designated Tu-142.

Tupolev Tu-95
Class Aircraft
Type Bomber
Manufacturer Tupolev
Origin Russia (USSR)
Country Name Origin Year
Russia (USSR) 1952
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Russia (USSR) 1956 2008 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Tupolev 500 View

The design bureau led by Andrei Tupolev designed the Soviet Union's first intercontinental bomber, the 1949 Tu-85, a scaled up version of the Tu-4, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress copy.

A new requirement was issued to both Tupolev and Myasishchev design bureaus in 1950: the proposed bomber had to have an un-refueled range of 8,000 km (4,970 mi)—far enough to threaten key targets in the United States. Other goals included the ability to carry an 11,000 kg (12.1 ton) load over the target.

The big problem for Tupolev was the engine choice: the Tu-4 showed that piston engines were not powerful enough to fulfill that role, while the fuel-hungry AM-3 jet engines of the proposed T-4 intercontinental jet bomber did not provide adequate range. Turboprops offered more power than the piston engines and better range than jets available for the new bomber's development at the time, while offering a top speed in between these two alternative choices.

Tupolev's proposal was selected and Tu-95 development was officially approved by the government on 11 July 1951. It featured four Kuznetsov coupled turboprops, each fitted with two contra-rotating propellers of four blades each, producing a nominal 8,948 kW (12,000 eshp) power rating. The then-advanced engine was designed by a German team of ex-Junkers prisoner-engineers under Ferdinand Brandner. In contrast, the fuselage was conventional: a mid-wing cantilever monoplane with 35 degrees of sweep, an angle which ensured the main wing spar passed through the fuselage in front of the bomb bay. Retractable tricycle landing gear was fitted, with all three gear strut units retracting rearwards, with the main gear units retracting rearwards into extensions of the inner engine nacelles.

The Tu-95/I, with 2TV-2F engines, first flew in November 1952 with test pilot Alexey Perelet at the controls. After six months of test flights this aircraft suffered a propeller gearbox failure and crashed, killing Perelet. The second aircraft, Tu-95/II featured four of the 12,000 ehp Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprops which proved more reliable than the coupled 2TV-2F. After a successful flight testing phase, series production of the Tu-95 started in January 1956.

For a long time, the Tu-95 was known to U.S./NATO intelligence as the Tu-20. While this was the original Soviet Air Force designation for the aircraft, by the time it was being supplied to operational units it was already better known under the Tu-95 designation used internally by Tupolev, and the Tu-20 designation quickly fell out of use in the USSR. Since the Tu-20 designation was used on many documents acquired by U.S. intelligence agents, the name continued to be used outside the Soviet Union.

Initially the United States Department of Defense evaluated the Tu-95 as having a maximum speed of 644 km/h (400 mph) with a range of 12,500 km (7,800 mi). These numbers had to be revised upward numerous times.

Like its American counterpart, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, the Tu-95 has continued to operate in the Russian Air Force while several subsequent iterations of bomber design have come and gone. Part of the reason for this longevity was its suitability, like the B-52, for modification to different missions. Whereas the Tu-95 was originally intended to drop free-falling nuclear weapons, it was subsequently modified to perform a wide range of roles, such as the deployment of cruise missiles, maritime patrol (Tu-142), and even civilian airliner (Tu-114). An AWACS platform (Tu-126) was developed from the Tu-114. An icon of the Cold War, the Tu-95 has served not only as a weapons platform but as a symbol of Soviet and later Russian national prestige. Russia’s air force has received the first examples of a number of modernised strategic bombers Tu-95MSs following upgrade work. Enhancements have been confined to the bomber’s electronic weapons and targeting systems.

Cold War symbol

The Tu-95RT variant in particular was a veritable icon of the Cold War as it performed a maritime surveillance and targeting mission for other aircraft, surface ships and submarines. It was identifiable by a large bulge under the fuselage, which reportedly housed a radar antenna and that was used to search and detect surface ships.

In a series of nuclear surface tests that were carried out by the Soviet Union in the early through mid 1960s, on October 30, 1961 a modified Tu-95 carried and dropped the AN602 device named Tsar Bomba, which was the most powerful thermonuclear device ever detonated. The bomb was attached outside underneath of the aircraft, as it could not be carried internally inside the Tu-95's bomb-bay. Video footage of that particular test exists as it was filmed for documentation, and shows the plane taking off carrying the bomb, in flight scenes of the interior and exterior of the plane and the detonation.

Present and future status

In 1992, newly independent Kazakhstan began returning the Tu-95 aircraft of the 79th Heavy Bomber Aviation Division at Dolon air base to the Russian Federation. The bombers joined those already at the Far Eastern Ukrainka air base.

All Tu-95s now in Russian service are the Tu-95MS variant, built in the 1980s and 1990s. On 18 August 2007, President Vladimir Putin announced that Tu-95 patrols would resume, 15 years after they had ended.

NATO fighters are often sent to intercept Tu-95s as they perform their missions along the periphery of NATO airspace, often in close proximity to each other.

Russian Tu-95s reportedly took part in a naval exercise off the coasts of France and Spain in January 2008, alongside Tu-22M3 Backfire strategic bombers and airborne early-warning aircraft.

During the Russian Stability 2008 military exercise in October 2008, Tu-95MS aircraft fired live air-launched cruise missiles for the first time since 1984. The long range of the Raduga Kh-55 cruise missile means Tu-95MS Bears can once again serve as a strategic weapons system.

On July 14, 2015 it was reported that a TU-95MS had crashed outside Khabarovsk, killing two of seven crew members. In June of 2015 a TU-95 ran off a runway at the Ukrainka bomber base and caught fire during take-off in the far eastern Amur region.

Role Strategic bomber, missile carrier, airborne surveillance
National origin Soviet Union
Manufacturer Tupolev
First flight 12 November 1952
Introduction 1956
Status In Service
Primary users Soviet Air Forces
Soviet Navy
Russian Air Force
Produced 1952–1994
Number built 500+
Variants Tupolev Tu-114 passenger airliner
Tupolev Tu-142 maritime patrol
Tupolev Tu-95LAL nuclear-powered

General characteristics

  • Crew: Seven - two pilots, one tailgunner, four others
  • Length: 49.50 m (162 ft 5 in)
  • Wingspan: 51.10 m (167 ft 8 in)
  • Height: 12.12 m (39 ft 9 in)
  • Wing area: 310 m (3,330 ft)
  • Empty weight: 90,000 kg (198,000 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 171,000 kg (376,200 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 188,000 kg (414,500 lb)
  • Powerplant: 4 x Kuznetsov NK-12MV turboprops, 11,000 kW (14,800 shp) each


  • Maximum speed: 920 km/h (510 knots, 575 mph)
  • Range: 15,000 km (8,100 nm, 9,400 mi)
  • Service ceiling 12,000 m (39,000 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 10 m/s (2,000 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 606 kg/m (124 lb/ft)
  • Power/mass: 235 W/kg (0.143 hp/lb)


  • Radar-controlled Guns: 1 or 2 x AM-23 23 mm cannon in tail turret
  • Missiles: Up to 15,000 kg (33,000 lb), including the Kh-20, Kh-22, Kh-26, and Kh-55 air-to-surface missiles

End notes