First taking flight in 1952, the Tu-95 “Bear” bomber is one of the loudest, fastest propeller-driven warplanes in service.
In 1948 the Tupolev OKB began work on a strategic bomber based on the Tu-4 “Bull”, which was an unlicensed copy of the Boeing B-29. The Bull, though state of the art during WWII, was unable to reach the US from the USSR, and a new plane was needed for the nascent Cold War. Starting with the Tu-4's fuselage, a new wing was designed by TsAGI was fitted, along with turbo-compound Dobrynin VD-4K engines. The resulting aircraft, designated the Tu-85 “Barge” had a range of twelve thousand kilometres and a speed of 638 km/h. Production was planned beginning in 1951, but experiences in the Korean conflict convinced the USSR that there was no future in piston powered bombers, and the project was canceled with only two planes completed.
Tupolev went back to the drawing board, eventually developing a new design incorporating a swept wing and turboprop engines. The resulting Tu-95 retained the 12,000km range of the Barge, but the top speed was now 830km/h. The new plane first flew in November 1952, though it crashed after six months after a gearbox failure. The second prototype incorporated updated engines, and after a successful test series, production was ordered in January of 1956.
Numerous upgrades and modifications have been made to the Tu-95 design over the years, including the Tu-95K/KD (“Bear-B”), designed to carry Kh-20 cruise missiles, Tu-95MR (“Bear-E”) photo reconnaissance planes, and the newest mod, the Tu-95MSM. Several aircraft were also derived from the Tu-95, including the Tu-114 airliner, the Tu-126 AEW&C platform, and the Tu-142 maritime recon and ASW aircraft.
One of the the constants of the last sixty years has been US, NATO and other Western aircraft intercepting and escorting Tu-95s: