On November 3, 2020, the Russian United Aircraft Corporation announced that the modernised Tu-160M strategic bomber had successfully completed its first flight with new-production NK-32-02 engines. Led by Tupolev’s test pilot Anri Naskidiants, the aircraft departed the Kazan plant on a mission that lasted for two hours and 20 minutes, reaching an altitude of 19,700ft.
Resumption of the Kuznetsov NK-32 engine production at Samara is one of the most ambitious stages of restarting the Tu-160 Blackjack bomber programme, in addition to modernising the current fleet. Samara’s Kuznetsov company was awarded a contract for the new NK-32-02 turbofan engines in 2014, after an almost 25-year hiatus. The current powerplant – a modernised NK-32-02 (or NK-32 series 02) – was built in 1987, but due to a lack of money it did not undergo a full test programme or enter production.
The improvements to the NK-32-02 include new blade profiles, both of the compressor and the turbine, as well as improved internal aerodynamics and more efficient cooling. As a result, the fuel consumption has been reduced, although the 25-tonne thrust remains unchanged. Tupolev claimed during tests with the new engine back in the 1980s that a Tu-160 achieved a range of 13,950km, with a nominal load of six cruise missiles dropped midway. That is more than 1,650km further than the basic version of the bomber.