Tupolev Tu-16 Versatile Badger


After some early troubles, the Tupolev Tu-16 proved an extremely successful design in a wide variety of combat and support roles. Alexander Mladenov and Krasimir Grozev trace its career

The Badger was an exceptionally versatile aircraft with a long and productive service in the bomber, missile-carrying, reconnaissance, electronic warfare and tanker roles, equipping frontline units of the Soviet Air Force and Naval Aviation from the mid-1950s to 1990s

By 1949, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had expanded his arsenal to include an atomic bomb and a heavy bomber type that could deliver it deep into enemy territory. However, both were copies of US-made originals: the RDS- 1 atomic bomb was a derivative of the Fat Man device dropped on Nagasaki, while the Tupolev Tu-4 bomber was a non-licensed Boeing B-29. It was clear to Stalin that nuclear parity with the United States had to be established as soon as possible and this would necessitate developing a much more capable heavy bomber for the country’s nuclear delivery role.

At the time, the design bureaux in the Soviet Union were actively working on a wide variety of bomber projects. In 1948, Sergei Ilyushin's team notched up a huge success with its Il-28 because comparative testing showed that it was significantly better than the Tupolev Tu-73 in the frontal bomber role. The twin-engine Il-28 (NATO reporting name Beagle) went into series production the following year, and Ilyushin received a new directive from the Soviet government. This called for the development of a twin-engined jet bomber capable of delivering three tons of weapons at a 1,620nm distance, while at maximum take-off weight it was required to carry a payload five tons at 2,700nm. This is how the Il-46 was born.


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