This is what made the Tupolev Tu-16 badger so impressive

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was trying to acquire a huge military outweighs its Western rivals. Nuclear weaponry was of course underway, but the Soviets were keen to improve and massively expand their air force. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union produced remarkable airplanes. There was the Mig-25 Foxbat that completely puzzled America and can forget about the Tu-144 airliner, the Soviet direct copy of Britain and the French Concorde. But it was in the world of bombers that the Soviet Union excelled.

The Soviet Union produced some of the most impressive bombers in the world. Some of its most notable are the Tu-95 Bear, the Tu-160 Blackjack, and the Tu-22M Backfire. But one of the most iconic Russian bombers of all is the Tupolev Tu-16, named by NATO Badger. This strategic jet bomber has been in service for over 60 years, and the Chinese-built Xian H-6 is still in service to this day. At the time of its introduction, the Tu-16 was an incredibly impressive bomber, and one that became a mainstay of the Soviet Air Force.

Badger design and development

Tupolev Tu-4 in the Russian winter
via world wars

The Badger first flew in April 1952, but discussions about creating the aircraft came much earlier than that. In the late 1940s, the Soviet Union wanted to compete with the United States for strategic bombing capability. At the time, the Soviet Air Force had only the bull Tupolev Tu-4 in its fleet as a strategic bomber. And it was little more than a reverse engineered American B-29 superfortress. The Soviets needed something bigger, faster, and much better than an American copy. When the Mikulin company developed the AM-3 turbojet, things started to get serious.

Tupolev Tu-88 prototype of the Tu-16 badger
via twitter

The Tupolev aircraft company then began work on the Tu-88 bomber, the first prototype taking off on April 27, 1952. Tupolev competed with Ilyushin and his Il-46 for a contract, and the Tu-88 won. . , the production versions being designated Tu-16. What Tupolev had created was a large, swept-wing bomber powered by two of the Mikulin AM-3 turbojets, with one buried in each wing base. Most important to the Soviet Union, it could carry various nuclear weapons, or a massive 20,000 lb FAB-9000 bomb, in fact the Russian version of the British Grand Slam bomb used to sink the German battleship Tirpitz.

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The Tu-16 in Soviet service

Tupolev-Tu-16-Badgers air-to-air refueling
via Jaer Museet

The aircraft entered service with the Soviet Union just two years after the first prototype was flown in 1954. Its role in Soviet life began as a free-falling high-altitude bomber, much like its contemporary in the United States. United States, although the initial versions did not carry nuclear weapons, unlike the British V-bomber force. The second production variant of the Badger would be the Tu-16A. And this version would be capable of delivering nuclear weapons to a target. Nuclear weapons such as the RDS-4 would be carried by the Badger.

Tu-16 Maritime Version
via Cavok

The latest versions of the Badger have been deployed out of the factory with in-flight refueling systems, making them quite versatile compared to some previous examples. Small upgrades would follow throughout their lifespan as well, such as modifications to the bomb bay to carry 24 bombs, as well as an expansion of the aircraft’s nuclear arsenal. The Tu-16 would also become a missile carrier, with Tupolev building the Tu-16KS version which had a reinforced wing to be able to carry anti-ship missiles. Soon, however, technology would start to catch up with the badger.

More advanced bombers come into play

Tu-160 Blackjack in the bank
via Fighter Sweep

Like most planes, the Badger wouldn’t be in service forever. Badger’s had earned a reputation for being reliable and reliable bombers, after initial problems and a high crash rate, and it was certainly a big improvement over the Tu-4. But the Soviet Union would soon see a need for bigger and faster bombers, such as the Blackjack and the Tu-22M. The Tu-16 would continue to serve with other aerial weapons as in Egypt, and Xian H-6 built under license in China still flies to this day. The Badger was, however, a fairly important aircraft for Russia.

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A big step for Soviet air power

Tupolev Tu-16 at the Russian Air Museum
via Flikr

The leap the Soviet Union took with the badger was huge. They’ve gone from a copy of a four piston engine bomber to a twin-jet powered leviathan with massive bomb capacity. Its relatively simple design meant it could easily be adapted for other roles, which helped it remain in service for many years. It was only natural that one day the Badger would be replaced and taken out of service. But it was a massive improvement in Soviet air power and a big step in the development of strategic bombers in the country. It is probably one of the most important aircraft in the history of Russian aviation.

Sources: Wikimedia, The World Wars, Twitter, Jaer Museet, Cavok, Fighter Sweep, Flikr

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