Airborne Awesomosity

Imitation or Innovation:TU-4 Bull

File:346 B29.jpg

Tupolev TU-4

The victors get to choose the way that history is written. This is a true statement that has more then shown its way into how we Americans feel about Russian technology. Maybe its time we look at both sides of the story.



A TU-4 at rest


To the victor goes the spoils and along with this a chance to rewrite the way things are viewed.  In other articles we will go into how the Russians were accused of stealing technology when they hadn’t. As well as where they copied a look but were unable to reverse engineer the technology and yet others where they truly innovated.  So lets go back to the beginning and talk about the mother of all Russian imitations.



The past, present and future of Russian bombers


The Russian aviation industry was very strong in the nineteen fourties. Even under the conditions and fear they dealt with on a daily basis they had created some remarkable aircraft like the Il-2 Sturmovick and even their own rocket planes. This was more impressive considering it was before they had gotten their hands on the Germans documents and scientists postwar.  The Russian designers understood the needs of their massive country and were able to create native aircraft of a far sturdier design then we would get in the west. Still they lived in fear.



File:Tupolev Tu-4 front @ Central Air Force Museum.jpg

Looks familiar doesn't it?


Late in 1944 three B-29’s were forced to land in Russia after bombing runs on Japan.  The Russians had received an unusual gift from the west that the leadership saw only one option what to do with.  Although the Tupelov bureau had a new bomber on the drawing board waiting for approval to be produced they were tasked with creating exact copies of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Understand that during the nineteen thirties a large part of the nations aircraft designers had been purged leaving a gaping hole in their capability. When they were told to do something by Stalin himself there was no choice.  You do as you are told or face some serious consequences.

There are many reports of how close these copies were. I have heard that the steering yoke even got the Boeing B on it for the first prototype. The video from Discovery’s Wings episode below mentions the same about the rudder pedals. Until we see photographs of these they are mere heresy but are entirely believable.  The only part not directly copied was the engines but even these would be broken down and blueprinted by the Russian engineers.




We were surprised by the copies of the B-29 that when NATO gave it a codename they called it the “Bull”.  You can see the influence of the B-29 even today in the, still flying, TU-95. The reality is that the time spent copying our bomber cost the Russians far more then it gained. Any innovations that would have been created in that time were put aside. All the bomber design work leading up to the arrival of the B-29 Superfortress was tossed away to complete this task. It would also start the Russians down the path of imitation versus innovation.


[all images credit]

  • The Professor

    Hearsay is heresy to some people.

    • The hell you say?

    • fodder650

      Look autocorrect said this was correct at 2am. Are you trying to tell me that Google Chrome autocorrect is wrong?!

  • CaptianNemo2001

    Innovation, Its got 20mm cannons. So, on an plane vs plane dog fight it has a higher chance of "winning" against the B-29.

    • Where's the video game where I can dogfight a B-29 vs. a Tu-4? I want one NOW!

      • Number_Six

        This was the cool sort of scenario that used to happen in Air Warrior 3 back at the turn of the century. The bombers had real people manning the gun turrets, even on the ME110.

      • fodder650

        This is what Galaga is all about actually. The more you know and all that.

    • fodder650

      Well look if these two got into a dogfight the Boeing would win because it was built better. Plus I think the B-29 had a 20mm in its tail. Its all academic since they took guns out of everything but the nose for most of its time in service to lower weight.

  • The TU-4 project was well underway early in 1945. An increase in quality control and sheer perseverance moved things along. The end of the war with Japan made no difference in the production effort. It was full speed ahead. The U.S. had previously not believed the Russians had the capability to clone the B-29, it seemed totally inconceivable. The public Russian debut in the Aviation Day parade in 1947 changed their minds. The U.S. found itself in a panic situation when they learned the TU-4 was indeed a reality, capable of hitting any target in the U.S. There were reports of “one way” missions by hundreds of TU-4s carrying nuclear bombs attacking the U.S. This forced the U.S. to beef up their Radar systems, surface to air missiles, and interceptor jet fighters.

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