The Tu-95-Bear — Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


Airspace Invader — Even though the Cold War has been over for more than 20 years, Russian Bear bombers like this one still routinely probe western air defences.

WHEN THE RUSSIAN AIR FORCE decommissions its fleet of Tupolev Tu-95 bombers sometime after 2040, the gigantic plane will have had a nearly 100-year service life.

The Tu-95, designated ‘Bear’ by NATO, is a 164-foot-long, four-engine turbo-prop bomber that can fly more than 8,000 miles without refueling.

The Bear was designed in 1952 as a replacement for the Tu-4, the Soviet Union’s reverse-engineered copy of the American B-29 bomber of World War Two. At the time, military planners in the U.S.S.R. sought a long-range, heavy bomber that could deliver a 30,000-lb. nuclear payload to any point within the continental United States.

The Bear's most distinctive feature is its swept-wing design.

The Bear’s most distinctive feature is its swept-wing design.

Unfortunately for the designers, conventional piston engines simply didn’t provide the raw power necessary to haul such heavy ordnance. And while jet engines offered the needed thrust, those available at the time were too heavy and burned way too much fuel, thereby curtailing the plane’s range.[1]

Instead, the Tupolev bureau opted for a comprise: turboprops. The emerging technology would give the bomber speeds approaching that a jet, while still enabling the aircraft to fly long distances. For additional power, Tupolev outfitted each of the plane’s four 12,000-hp engines with a pair of contra-rotating, four-blade propellers. This gave the Tu-95 top speeds in excess of 500 mph. And to reduce drag, the Bear featured a jet-like 35 deg. swept wing design.[2]

The bomber’s size, payload and range shocked Western defence planners when it was introduced in 1956. And not surprisingly, the monstrous Tu-95, was a major source of national pride for the Soviet Union. [3]

Although rendered obsolete by the advent of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the 1960s, the Bear would go on to serve as a maritime reconnaissance platform as well as a potent conventional bomber for decades. [4] Armed with a full suite of sensors, torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, later variants posed a formidable threat to both NATO surface vessels and submarines.

Currently the Tu-95 Bear is operated by both Russia and the Ukraine.


Bear Facts:

• Throughout much of the Cold War, a pair of Tu-95s would fly a weekly long-range patrol from the Kola Peninsula in the Arctic, out into the Atlantic and down to Cuba. The planes would run parallel to the North American coastline and were invariably intercepted and escorted by U.S. and Canadian fighters. Even now, with the Cold War over for more than 20 years, Russian Bears still probe North American and European airspace. These incursions continue to make headlines. Just last summer (2011), a group of Russian Bears on an 11-hour flight, penetrated Japanese territorial waters. Tokyo scrambled F-15s and F-2s to intercept them.

• With a range of more than 8,000 miles, the Tu-95 can reach any point in the Northern Hemisphere without refuelling (and depending on where they are based – much of the Southern Hemisphere as well.)

• Each of the Bear’s eight four-blade propellers break the sound barrier as they turn, making the Tu-95 perhaps the loudest plane on the planet. In fact, Bears are so noisy that they can be detected by U.S. underwater sonar sensors and submarines. Fighter pilots sent up to intercept Bears have reported that the planes’ unmistakeable drone can even be heard over the sound of their own jets.

• The Soviets built a civil airline version of the Tu-95. Known as the Tu-114 Rossiya, it still holds the world record for the fastest propeller-driven aircraft, reaching speeds of 540 mph.

• A Tu-95 dropped the world’s largest nuclear device ever tested, the 50 megaton, 60,000 lb. AN602 Tsar Bomba. The detonation occurred in October of 1961 over the Russian Arctic. A Bear V, specially modified to carry the outsized bomb, delivered the AN602 from an altitude of more than 30,000 feet. The bomb descended using a massive parachute, enabling the bomber to fly nearly 30 miles out of range before detonation. The shockwave from the blast caused the Bear to instantly drop 1,000 meters. The explosion was visible for 160 km.

2. Ibid
3. Ibid
4. Ibid


12 comments for “The Tu-95-Bear — Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

  1. Robert Allen
    2 December, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    The Russians love to do things things big. That bomb was intended more to frighten the shit out the west than pose to any practical threat in real hostilities. For example how could anything of that size (28 tons) be humped to any meaningful target in the delivery systems available in those days? The Americans, nevertheless and not to be outdone, took the bait and did their own live .5 mt warhead firing of a Polaris missile over the southern Pacific ocean not long afterwards. They was hairy times alright. Latently still with us methinks.

    • admin
      2 December, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      You are right about that… the Tu-95 had to be retrofitted to carry such a huge load. No way it would have been able to penetrate U.S. airspace. And let’s not forget the damage a bunch of bombs that big would do to the planet.

    • anonymous
      30 July, 2015 at 3:20 pm

      Proton, originally UR-500, could launch such a large bomb. It was designed specifically for that purpose, but the silos it needed were massive, so they converted it from a military missile (UR-500) into a heavy-lift launch vehicle (Proton).

  2. John Q. Public
    23 April, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    This plane is so loud, it has been heard, by those on the ground, as far away as 60 miles!!!

Leave a Reply