Part 1


1958 was a year of ups and downs. The world’s first satellite launched in October 1957, Sputnik, came crashing to earth with the New Year. The Cold War gets ever hotter as nuclear tests continue (35 by theSoviets alone) and the means for delivery become faster and more complex. Across the Atlantic two signatory events take place – the laying of the keel for the world’s first nuclear aircraft carrier, the ENTERPRISE, is performed in the graving dock at Newport News, VA and half a continent west, the F4H-1 Phantom takes to the sky for the first time.


Back in Russia, gleaming silver, needle nosed prototype, obviously built for speed also begins preparations for its first flight. Samolet 105, the most complex design ever undertaken by Tupolev has been ready since December 1957 for its first flight – with the exception of its engines. The powerful (for their day) NK6 engines, unconventionally housed at the base of the vertical stabilizer[1] were still in their design phase, so lesser engines would power the prototype. Even as this prototype was being readied for flight, another improved one was in production. For Tupolev, it was perhaps fortunate that newer prototype was next in line. The changes it promised, or at least were hoped for, would be needed, as it was apparent from the first flight that speed was disappointingly below expectations.


In the late 1950s, a bomber that was a sluggard would be a dead duck. “Speed is Life,” meant much to Soviet bombers in the late 1950’s. Across the Arctic ice cap, the US was building an extensive radar network that would support the surface-to-air missiles of the Nike family and family of interceptors led by the likes of the F-101 Voodoo, F-102 Delta Dagger, F-104 Starfighter and in the coming year, the F-106 Delta Dart, fast interceptors carrying missiles that packed a nuclear punch. For their part, the Americans were busy working out the bugs with their own Mach 2 supersonic bomber, the B-58 Hustler which had first flown in 1956. But more important to the leadership at Tupolev was the fact that Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Council of Ministers, was openly dismissive of the future of manned bombers, preferring instead ballistic missiles for their much shorter flight time and invulnerability to intercept. Continued failure would take the vaunted Tupolev name and industry and leave it relegated to fighting for transport and other aeronautical scraps with Myasishchev who had failed so spectacularly with the Mya-4 (despite what the Western analysts first thought). And so something had to be done.

Tu-22B Blinder

Tu-22B Blinder

Recent wind tunnel work was revealing the precepts behind “Area rule,” the design property that gave a supersonic aircraft a wasp-waisted or “coke bottle” mid-section that reduced drag at transonic speeds.   Discovered by NACA engineer Roger Whitcomb, it is a concept widely attributed to saving the F-102 from obscurity. Area rule was applied to the Samolet 105A. Taking flight a little over a year after the -105 prototype, the physical differences between the two were readily apparent, from the cockpit to the wing and landing gear. If it seems to the reader that there was a significant amount of “reinventing the wheel” going on here – you would be correct. A major issue affecting the progress of design at Tupolev (and others) was lack of access to data being collected in other design bureaus and by the military – there was no mechanism for sharing and indeed, the OKB[2] culture was steeped in secrecy with not so much the West in mind as other OKB. So it should come as no surprise that the 105A prototype crashed on only its seventh flight due to control flutter.[3] This was a harbinger of a variety of issues that plagued the Tu-22 program. The edge of known science and engineering practice was being expanded and like programs in other countries failures were happening in unexpected areas. Not long after the control flutter loss, another was lost this time due to an engine oil line that failed. Improvements were made in line with production – the most notable being a pitch-damping feature that sought to limit wing twisting. As the outer edges of the by now named Tu-22[4], it became clear limits would have to be imposed. By far one of the most serious was aileron reversal at high Mach, so a decision was made to limit the Tu-22 to Mach 1.4. For all that, there were no attempts to address one of the most egregious features, the downward ejecting seats for the crew of three. Clearly many crew were lost because of this design, but in the quest for the holy grail of speed, the cockpit was made impossibly narrow (also affecting pilot visibility straight out the nose) and the only way to exit the aircraft was through the underside. With many of the aircraft loses coming in the landing phase of flight, it should come as no surprise that the Tu-22 soon came to have a poor reputation with aircrew to match that held by maintenance crews. In all, the Tu-22 suffered about the same number of losses as the American B-58. The difference though, came with the loss per flight hour, which was substantially greater for the Tu-22 than the B-58 because the latter enter operational service earlier and enjoyed more flight time.

 Operational Service

Tu-22 Blinder C

Tu-22 Blinder C

Service entry by the Tu-22 was marked by its appearance at the 1961 Aviation Day flyover of Moscow. The Soviet Air Force intended for dual production of two versions – the Tu-22B that was armed with freefall bombs, and the Tu-22R reconnaissance aircraft with an initial batch of 42 aircraft to be procured for 1961. In truth, production was far short of that. The Tu-22B continued to be plagued by a variety of problems and were used initially for training, finally reaching an operational regiment by Sep 1963. The Tu-22R (Blinder C in NATO’s naming methodology) followed with cameras located in the bomb bay and nose of the aircraft. These were the first Tu-22s to be accepted into naval service and naval variants numbered 80 of the 311 Tu-22R produced. The value of a fast recce aircraft for naval service is highlighted in an article published in the Naval War College Review (Winter 2014) by LCDR Maksim Tokarev. Provocatively titled Kamikazes: The Soviet Legacy LCDR Tokarev wrote that a special reconnaissance-attack group (razvedyvatel’no-udarnaya gruppa, or RUG) would be detached from the MRA[5] division formation and consists of a pair of reconnaissance bombers with a squadron of missile-equipped bombers. The recce aircraft flew low and fat to avoid ship’s radar while the others launched their ASCMs at range (even without proper targeting) to draw off the AEW and fighter protection. Presumably undetected, the two recce aircraft flew to the center of the formation and marked on top the carrier with their only task being to send the exact position via radio before being vaporized. Small numbers when losses of up to 50% of a full strike – the equivalent of an entire MRA air regiment were expected to be lost. The reality of such a CONOPS required the design and integration of a supporting missile with the Tu-22, something that wasn’t envisioned with the original aircraft. The advent of the X-32 (Kh-22 is Westernized) missile complex would change this and provide a hint of the future.

Next week: Blinders in the Kitchen, Backfires on the Horizon.



[1] Much was still being revealed about flight in the transonic and supersonic regimes at the time of the initial design of the Tu-22 prototype. Early work indicated the aircraft would pitch up around Mach 1 – a characteristic attributed to the swept wings and tai of the aircraft, hence podded engines at the base of the vertical fin was thought to reduce this tendency. Little thought was given to the maintenance implications as crews later hated to work on the aircraft for the very fact of the engine location.

[2] “Опытное конструкторское бюро” – Opytnoye Konstruktorskoye Buro, meaning Experimental Design Bureau. During the Soviet era, OKBs were closed institutions working on design and prototyping of advanced technology, usually for military applications


[3] Structures exposed to aerodynamic forces — including wings and aerofoils, but also chimneys and bridges — are designed carefully within known parameters to avoid flutter. In complex structures where both the aerodynamics and the mechanical properties of the structure are not fully understood, flutter can be discounted only through detailed testing. Even changing the mass distribution of an aircraft or the stiffness of one component can induce flutter in an apparently unrelated aerodynamic component. At its mildest this can appear as a “buzz” in the aircraft structure, but at its most violent it can develop uncontrollably with great speed and cause serious damage to or lead to the destruction of the aircraft


[4] It’s unofficial nickname among the crews was “Shilo” (шило) – the Russian word for “awl” due to its resemblance with the tool when viewed from above

[5] MRA: Morskaya Raketonosnaya Aviatsiya – Naval Guided-Missile Aviation


  1. Kelly

    The first picture shows the B-58 as under 20 meters in length, which is nonsense – it’s 29.5 meters (96 feet 10 inches). Rest of the post is great 🙂 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convair_B-58_Hustler

  2. Ref: Footnote 3- two great examples of flutter/resonance:

    1. Tacoma Narrows Bridge circa 1940 (you can youtube it yourself)
    2. Lockheed L-188 Electra whirl mode on the propellers.

  3. Fixed it – thanks for the catch. W/r, SJS

  4. F-111A is 22 meters long…

  5. Ditto … thx 🙂

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