The USSR's First Supersonic Bomber Failed Harder than Soviet Communism

By Andrew Tarantola on at

In the early 1960s, when ICBMs were still in their developmental infancy, the Soviet Union figured its best option for delivering a nuclear strike was to build an intercontinental supersonic bomber. Fortunately, they only got the second half right.

The Tu-22 "Blinder" was the first supersonic bomber ever produced by the USSR and was built by Tupolev, entering service in 1962. The 136 foot long aircraft carried a crew of three (pilot, navigator, and weapons officer) at speeds approaching Mach 1.5 and altitudes up to 40,500 feet with a pair of Koliesov VD-7 turbojets and a fuselage-mounted afterburner.

A tail-mounted 23mm AM-23 provided the Blinder's only rear defense and was controlled remotely by the weapons officer, who was also in charge of deploying the aircraft's two dozen FAB-500 series dumb-bombs (20,000 pounds worth), though it was also capable of carrying nuclear-tipped armaments as well. Later in its service life, the Soviets upgraded its weapons capabilities, allowing the bomber to also carry a single AS-4 "Kitchen" stand-off missile (which could be fired while the bomber was still outside the range of American defenses.

Being able to drop 10 tons of munitions while speeding along faster than the speed of sound may sound like an awesome idea, but it also causes some severe aerodynamic issues as well. Like the fact that its high speed burned through fuel so fast that it limited the bomber's range to just over 3,000 miles—not nearly far enough for an intercontinental nuke strike (which was one of the plane's primary design objectives). What's more, the plane's skin tended to heat considerably above Mach 1, which distorted its control rods and made the Blinder difficult (read: nearly impossible) to control at speed. Landing the craft wasn't much easier. It had an aggravating tendency to pitch up while landing, dragging its tail along the tarmac like a dog scooting its itchy ass across a carpet. Though perhaps its most terrifying quirk was that the wing design caused rudder reversal. In all, the Blinder proved challenging to fly, crashed often, and demanded constant maintenance.

As such, only 250 Tu-22's were ever built, including the Blinder-A (conventional bombing), Blinder-B (cruise missile-equipped), Blinder-C (dedicated reconnaissance), and Blinder-RD (extended range through mid-air refueling) variations. The Soviets eventually began offloading its stock of Tu-22s to other nations, including Libya and Iraq—the latter of which employed them in the Iran-Iraq War, making it one of the few USSR-built bombers to actually see combat. Thankfully, the last of this albatross of an aircraft were decommissioned in the early 1990s. [Wikipedia - Spyflight - Military Factory - FAS]