tu95_03

Perusing the usual pull from a variety of sources, happened across this item:

Two Russian Tu-95MS Bear-H strategic bombers have carried out a record-breaking 40-hour patrol over three oceans, an Air Force spokesman said on Thursday, RIA Novosti reported.

“The Tu-95MS bombers carried out patrols over the Arctic, the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans and set a new flight duration record of about 40 hours, exceeding the previous record by four hours,” Lt. Col. Vladimir Drik said at a news briefing in Moscow.

The crews practiced instrumental flight and carried out four in-flight refuelings from Il-78 aerial tankers,

Tu-95 Flightpath (approximate) click on image to enlarge

the official said.

Russia resumed strategic bomber patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans in August 2007.

All flights are performed in strict compliance with international law on the use of airspace over neutral waters, without intruding the airspace of other countries. (Ria Novosti)

Some other sources noted the distance was in excess of 30,000 km.  Video of the flight was run on Russian TV providing some interesting views:

Rough translations follow:

(Presenter) two Tu-95 strategic bombers have set a new flight time record for this type of aircraft.  They have spent more than 40 hours in the air, to cover a distance of 28,000 km.  During the air patrol, the aircraft refueled in flight from air tankers four times.

(Yevgeniy Semenyuk – crew commander (captioned)) The difficulty was our rendezvous with tanker aircraft.  We had to rendezvous in the clouds.  There was turbulence.  We also had to approach the tanker aircraft.  Everything went off as normal.  We rendezvoused and took on the necessary amount of fuel.  (ed. I’d say he looks like he’s spent 40+ hours aloft – hope the box lunches were decent… – SJS)

(Vladimir Popov, commander of Ukrainka Airbase (captioned)) At first we performed 12-hour flights, during which we refueled once.  Then the duration was increased.  That is to say, we built up for this sortie gradually.  The main objective was to see how the aircraft behaved, that is their bombsight and navigation [corrects self] – flight control and navigation system, the work of the engines and all the other systems.

(Presenter) The Tu-95s left on their combat air patrol from an airbase in Vorkuta.  Their route took them over the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Sea of Japan.  Based on the results of the flight, the crews will be rewarded by the command of Long-Range Aviation, according to the spokesman for the Russian Federation Air Force.

For the record, the FAI database shows no entry under “duration” for the C-1q (landplanes with gross weight greater than 150,000 kg and less than 200,000 kg), turboprop subcategory.  The longest duration flight (refueled) was accomplished over the course of 64 days, 22 hours and 14 minutes in a Cessna 172 in 1959.

In the final analysis, while it was an interesting public affairs feat, the true question about the overall capabilties of Long-Range Aviation, like so much of the rest of Russia’s forces, remains to be seen.  Flight hours are falling off again following a rapid rise two years ago and material condition of the force, much less level of training is questionable as well, given how far it had fallen from immediate post-Cold War levels.  Worth noting is that some Canadian defense analysts seized on the occasion of the flight and corresponding CF-18 intercepts as justification for the recent Canadian decision selecting the F-35 as a replacement for their aging CF-18s.

So it remains to be seen if The Bear(tm) is back.  Still, there is a certain familiarity in seeing an old opponent flying again, bringing to mind previous escapades and encounters…