Russia’s first newly manufactured Tupolev Tu-160M strategic missile carrier aircraft completed its maiden flight from the Kazan Aviation Plant at Borisoglebskoye Airfield in Tatarstan on January 12.
During the 30-minute test flight, the aircraft – which was still painted in various shades of primer – climbed to an altitude of 1,968ft (600m). The onboard crew of Tupolev test pilots performed routine test flight manoeuvres to check the stability and controllability of the aircraft during the sortie.
While all of the Russian Aerospace Force’s surviving Tu-160s are being progressively upgraded to Tu-160M standard, a further ten new-build examples of the upgraded platform have also been ordered under a contract awarded by the Russian government in January 2018. The decision to resurrect the long-closed Tu-160 production line for these new-build Tu-160Ms was made by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian Ministry of Defence (MOD) revealed in a news release (published on January 4, 2022) that it expects two newly modernised Tu-160Ms to enter service with the Russian Aerospace Forces before the end of this year.
Following the maiden flight of the first new-build Tu-160M on January 12, Denis Manturov - the Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation - said: “We have restored the full production cycle of the Tu-160, but already in the ‘M’ [standard], using modernised engines, modernised aircraft control systems, navigation systems and weapons control systems.”
As the production of the platform’s original Kuznetsov NK-32 afterburning turbofan engines ended some time ago, the company United Engine Corporation (UEC) has developed a modernised variant of the powerplant – the NK-32-02 – to drive the upgraded Tu-160Ms. According to Tupolev, the new engine will feature improved aerodynamics and will be more efficient, with enhanced range and reduced fuel consumption. The first flight of a Tu-160M equipped with the new powerplant took place in November 2020.
The modernised Tu-160M has also received the new NV-70M radar system, along with digital cockpit displays that have replaced the aircraft’s now-outdated analogue systems. The platform is also employing a modern flight control system and self-protection suite, as well as new navigational equipment and weapons control systems.
Manturov added: “The modernisation of the Kazan Aviation Plant played an important role in restoring the production of unique aircraft: the equipment of the shops, the flight test base was updated, the world’s largest installation for electron beam welding and vacuum annealing of titanium was put into operation. Today, we see significant prospects for the Tu-160 platform: further development will make it possible to use it for new types of weapons, including promising ones.”