Airborne Awesomosity

Bears in the Air


The Cold War we all know and love hasn’t really been the same since the USSR sort of stopped being quite so united and quite so Soviet.  But as we have seen from our own engineerd™, the Russian still engage in a little bit of saber rattling, thanks to the extended range and patrol capability they have in the Tu-95 Bear.  Beginning production in 1956, the Bear has been coming to visit just off the shores of the US of A and O Canada both for a good many years, as well as our friends in Europe.  As such there have been a good number of times in which the country being patrolled has felt it was in their best interest to send out an escort plane, just to say hello.

Well, back when engineerd™ wrote about the Bears last year, a kind gentleman sent us a few photos that held a slightly different perspective on such intercepts, photos that we totally forgot about have been saving for a special occasion.  We are all used to seeing what it looked like from the perspective of the forces of good in the world, holding the hordes at bay.  As it turns out, the forces of the evil empire had cameras as well, albeit somewhat lower quality.  The pictures were collected and sent in to your Toasters staff by a fellow by the name of Miguel Vargas-Caba, who just happens to be working on a book covering the Bear patrols of the Cold War.  Hit the jump to take a look at the pictures, and I’ll give our friend a little free advertising.

Bear from the other Side 1

Mr. Vargas-Caba’s book in the works will be called “Chronicles of the Bear – Stories from the Annals of the Cold War”. A little search on the webs led me to a previous book of his, a fictional effort also involving the Soviet Bears:

In September 1976, Viktor Belenko defected to Japan in his MiG-25 Foxbat jet fighter, one of the most well-known defections from the Soviet block. But in that same year, there was another defection so embarrassing to the Soviets that its particulars remained a secret for more than twenty-five years.

All media accounts of Soviet TU-95 flights participating in the Okean 76 naval maneuvers mention only two planes. Whenever they were confronted in private, however, the Soviets acknowledged that in reality, three planes took off from Russia, with the third aircraft crashing at sea, killing everyone aboard. Since it sank in deep waters, no one attempted to salvage the wreck.

But what the Soviet authorities never acknowledged—publicly or privately—was that the third TU-95 made a bold and risky flight from the USSR to Canada. Because its crew defected, the Soviets never admitted that such an event happened. Bear: Flight to Liberty tells the third crew’s thrilling story. (

Bear from the other Side 2

Other fun facts about the Tu-95, from Military History Now:

• Currently the Tu-95 Bear is operated by both Russia and the Ukraine.

• Each week for decades during the Cold War, a pair of Tu-95s would fly from the Kola Peninsula, out into the Atlantic and down to Cuba. The planes would run parallel to the North American coastline and were invariably intercepted and escorted by U.S. fighters. Even now, with the Cold War over for more than 20 years, Russian Bears continue to probe U.S. and Canadian air space. These incursions continue to make headlines. During the summer of 2011, a group of Russian Bears on an 11-hour flight, penetrated Japanese airspace. Japan scrambled F-15s and F-2s to intercept them.

• With a range of more than 8,000 miles, the Tu-95 can reach any point in the Northern Hemisphere without refueling (and depending on where they are based – much of the Southern Hemisphere as well.)

• Each of the Bear’s eight four-blade propellers break the sound barrier as they turn, making the Tu-95 Bear perhaps the loudest plane on the planet. Bears are so noisy that they have been detected by U.S. underwater sonar sensors.

• The Soviets built a civil airline version of the plane. This model, the Tu-114, holds the world’s record for the fastest propeller driven aircraft, reaching speeds of 540 mph.

• A Tu-95 carried and dropped the world’s largest nuclear device ever tested, the 50 megaton, 60,000 lb. AN602 Tsar Bomba. The detonation occurred in October of 1961 in the Arctic. A Tu-95 Bear V, specially modified to carry the outsized bomb, delivered the AN602 from an altitude of more than 30,000 feet. The bomb descended using a massive parachute, enabling the Bear to fly nearly 30 miles out of range before detonation. The shockwave from the blast caused the Bear to instantly drop 1,000 meters. The explosion was visible for 160 kms.

Lede image via Wikipedia.

  • skitter

    With lots of people telling me to travel early and catch the Indy 500, tired as I am, I decided it would make me really, really jaded to not go. The flyover was, I'm likely to misidentify, a B-25 and five WWII escorts. A missile that can reach the other side of the world, coming out of nowhere at hypersonic speeds sounds like a boogeyman to keep your kids in bed at night. But an enormous plane with a monstrous drone hangining in the air above you is a whole different kind of terrifying.

  • carlo

    Hello Atomic Toaster,

    may be I'm wrong, but this plane with the long fuselage and double propeller seems to me the 1961 Tupolev TU 119, also known as the atomic flying laboratory.



    • Tom

      Here's something I found in Wikipedia:
      The Soviet program of developing nuclear aircraft resulted in the experimental Tupolev Tu-119, also known as the Tu-95LAL (LAL- Летающая Атомная Лаборатория- Flying Nuclear Laboratory). It was based on a Tupolev Tu-95 bomber.