Tu-95 Intercepts From The 1960s Till Today
The ‘Tupolev Tu-95 (NATO name ”Bear”) is the most successful Tupolev strategic bomber from the times of the Soviet Union. The Bear is the fastest propeller-driven aircraft ever built powered by four turboprop engines, each driving contra-rotating propellers.
The Tu-95 was originally intended to carry nuclear weapons but it was subsequently modified to perform a wide range of roles, such as the deployment of cruise missiles and maritime patrol (variant is known as the Tu-142 Bear-F).
The Tu-95 is one of the noisiest aircraft ever made. It was so loud that submarine crews could detect it during dives, picking up the clear signature of the plane’s eight contra-rotating propellers. This problem obstructed the plane’s effectiveness in maritime patrol.
During the Cold War, NATO fighter pilots intercepting Tu-95s found them extremely loud, even though these fighter pilots were in pressurised cabins and wearing head gear. The Tu-95’s contra-rotating propeller system was an incredible technological success and the plane had very good fuel efficiency and range, but the drawbacks of having an unbelievably loud plane were inescapable.
Due to the Tupolev 95 lumbering size and speed, many American and British fighters were often sent to watch the plane while it was in flight. Many stories abound from pilots where the Russian crew would wave to the intercepting planes. Eventually, the Russian command assigned a KGB officer on board to stop such displays of openness.
During the time KGB officers were placed on the planes, American and British pilots began to play games, where they would move their planes back and forth between the front and back in order to make the KGB officers work much harder to stop crews from waving.
According to one British Phantom pilot:
In the daytime the mission was straightforward, and there was time for a little play with the “Bears”. As far as the Soviets went, this got a little out of hand, for they started putting a KGB officer on board to stop the crew waving at us.
Some “Bear” variants had a crawl way between the front and back compartments — a long and uncomfortable journey that involved clambering over unprotected wing spars and other obstructions. We soon worked out that by moving our jet forwards and backwards we could get this poor idiot to spend hours crawling back and forth down this tunnel, just to stop the crew from waving at us.
On the American side, the stories sometimes involved American pilots using offensive signs and gestures in reply to the Russians waving.
Concerning the performance of the aircraft, it has been reported by many fighter pilots that the Tu-95 was able to out-accelerate them for a short distance, especially with the SEPECAT Jaguar. There are also tales of the Russian pilots suddenly swerving to push the escorts of course or rapidly decelerating. This went both ways however, in the 1980s a Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16 collided with a Tu-95 whilst escorting it out of Norwegian airspace. Apparently, the Norwegian pilot had been edging closer and closer to the Tupolev before being caught in the propwash and having a wingtip torn off in the resulting collision. Both planes landed safely.