There wasn’t much the Soviets couldn’t hang from this versatile bomber.
On April 27th 1952 Soviet test pilot N.S. Rybko flew the prototype that would eventually become the Tupelov Tu-16 Badger for the first time. The Tupelov Design Bureau had been drawing bombers since the 1920s. Old Andrei Tupelov (1888-1972) got his start working from designs penned by noted German designer Hugo Junkers. In fact Tupelov’s first facility started life as a secret Junkers facility outside Moscow in 1925. Tupelov’s early designs were said to be influenced by Junkers, but it didn’t take long for Tupelov to begin work on some of the Soviet Union’s finest bomber aircraft.
Building a Better Bomber
By June of 1950 the Soviet Union needed a bigger and more advanced jet bomber beyond the Ilyushin Il-28 Beagle. Tupelov’s design, the basis for the Tu-16, was initially designated Tu-88. The aircraft had swept wings and tail surfaces, was powered by two turbojet engines mounted in the wing roots, and boasted high-subsonic speed with 5,000-mile range and 11,000 pounds of payload. Defensive armament included 23 millimeter cannon twin-mounted in ventral, dorsal, and tail turrets. During State trials Tupelov received approval for full production of the bomber, now designated Tu-16.
Based on the B-29?
Although the initial Tu-16 prototype was an impressive aircraft, it was the second prototype that more closely met the design parameters. When first flown on April 6th 1953, again by the noted Soviet test pilot Rybko, the airframe was lighter, the nose was longer, fuel capacity was increased, and the defensive armament was installed. Trials commenced and were completed a year later with service acceptance another month after that. Tupelov’s design bureau had produced the Tu-4 Bull, which was the reverse-engineered Boeing B-29 Superfortress design. Observers believed the long thin fuselage of the Tu-16 might have had its origins in the Superfort.
Seeing the Light of Soviet Days
On October 29th 1953, the first production Tu-16 was rolled out at Tupelov’s Kazan factory. Nine Tu-16s flew over the May Day parade in Moscow on May 1st 1954. 40 Badgers flew over the Tsushino Air Show in August of the same year. Once NATO became aware of the new Soviet bomber the aircraft was assigned the NATO reporting name Badger. Thus began 40 years of service by the Tu-16 series to the Soviet Union, and later to its individual former states after the end of the Cold War. Including the Tu-104 civilian airliner version, the Tupelov design was adapted into some 30 individual variants.
A total of 1,507 Badgers were built at three Tupelov factories between 1953 and 1963. Tu-16s became missile carriers, torpedo bombers, inflight refueling tankers, electronic countermeasures (ECM) aircraft, antisubmarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, reconnaissance and maritime surveillance aircraft, and search and rescue (SAR) aircraft. And of course bombers as well. Many of the Badgers built were reworked to perform other or additional roles as their service lives went on. Several Tu-16s were used as experimental testing aircraft and for systems and weapons trials. By the early 1960s the advent of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) forced many of the Soviet Badgers into early retirement or career changes.
Equipped as Tasked
The bomber version of the Badger carried a six man crew: The pilot, co-pilot, radar navigator/bombardier, and navigator/gunner flew in the forward fuselage. The radio operator/gunner and tail gunner flew in the rear fuselage and tail. Badger bombers were used extensively during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. But Soviet bombers had to have range. They developed a way to extend range using inflight refueling, but the implementation was quirky. The tanker aircraft would trail a fuel hose off its starboard side wingtip. The thirsty Badger would try to link up with a receiver in its port wingtip. The Soviets tried the American hose-and-drogue method but couldn’t make it work at first. They eventually got their own system ironed out, and every Badger was equipped to receive fuel while airborne using the wingtip method. Later Badger tankers mounted a probe-and-drogue “basket” for refueling probe-equipped Soviet aircraft.
Not Your Father’s Orion
The Soviet navy developed the anachronistic Tu-16T torpedo bomber version of the Badger. Obsolete even before it was introduced, most of them were re-worked into the first versions of Badger anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. Equipped with primitive sonobuoy data processing systems and aerial depth charges, these aircraft eventually carried anti-submarine torpedoes. The Badger made an excellent ASW platform but the Soviets committed more Tu-95 Bear airframes to ASW than they did Badgers.
Many Badgers were used as missile carriers. The early Soviet missiles were large and heavy, requiring a bomber the size of the Badger to get them close enough to their targets (often times American aircraft carriers) for them to be effective. The Badger could carry two of the AS-1 Kennel missile, which was a truly huge weapon. Badgers were modified to add radar in the nose and radio antennae to the vertical stabilizer. Use of the Kennel also required another crew member, who rode in a dedicated bomb bay mission pod.