First modernised Tu-95MSM Bear takes flight

Russia’s first deeply modernised Tupolev Tu-95MSM prototype flew for the first time from the Taganrog Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex (GM Beriev) in the country’s Rostov Oblast region on August 22.

Tu-95MSM [Beriev]
Tu-95MSM - serial RF-94121 '21 Red' (c/n 1000214834666) "Samara" - during the variant's first flight from Taganrog Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex (GM Beriev) in Russia's Rostov Oblast region on August 22, 2020. Beriev via Piotr Butowski

Yuri Slyusar, the general director of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), announced the milestone before the opening of the ARMY 2020 defence exhibition at Kubinka air base, near Moscow, on August 23. The turboprop-powered strategic missile carrier/bomber – serial RF-94121 (21 Red) “Samara” – was piloted by a crew led by Andrey Voropaev, a test pilot from Tupolev, during its maiden flight. According to the UAC, the flight took place in “normal mode” at an altitude of 29,528ft (9,000m) and lasted for two hours and 33 minutes.

When announcing the milestone, Slyusar said: “This is an aircraft with a new armament system, a new on-board electronic equipment complex, with newly modified engines and new propellers. The combat capabilities of the vehicle have double after this upgrade. After departure, tests will continue. Modernisation of the fleet of strategic missile carriers will continue along this path.”

Tu-95MSM [UAC]
A new lease of life for the Cold War veteran. Note the contra-rotating propellers, which are a notable feature of the world's only turboprop-powered strategic bomber that continues to see operational service today. UAC 

As part of the modernisation process, the Tu-95MSM-standard variant of the Soviet-era bomber has been integrated with new flight, navigation, targeting and weapons control equipment, along with a modern radar station and an onboard communications suite. The aircraft’s engines have also been modernised and new propellers have been developed and included in the upgrade. A fire control system and a new self-defence suite have also been added to the new variant.

The UAC stated that “the modernisation will significantly increase the [bomber’s] navigation accuracy and reliability indicators, extend the service life of the aircraft system, and improve its take-off and landing characteristics.”

Tu-95MSM [UAC]
Head on with the Bear. This offers a good view of the new propellers that were developed specifically for the Tu-95MSM modernisation effort. UAC

The Tupolev Tu-95 (NATO reporting name: Bear) entered service with the Soviet Union in 1956. The aircraft served as the backbone of Russian bomber operations throughout the Cold War. The modernisation to Tu-95MSM Bear-H standard will take place across the Russian Aerospace Force’s Tu-95MS Bear-H fleet.