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Could Russia's Most Formidable Bomber be Developed into a Supersonic Civilian Airliner? President Putin's Suggestion to Connect Kaliningrad to Russia's Far East Using the Tu-160

January 29th - 2018

Image Credit : Russian Defence Ministry

The Tu-160 'White Swan' strategic bomber is today the pride of Russia's fleet, and arguably the most capable long range bomber ever designed. Carrying up to twelve Nuclear cruise missiles, able to fly at Mach 2.05 and with a range of up to 12,300km the bomber is both faster and better armed than any rival platforms. In its efforts to strengthen its civilian aviation industries, Russia could potentially make use of its potent military design to develop a civilian supersonic airliner based on the design of the Tu-160.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, addressing officials at the Gorbunov Aviation Factory in Kazan, southwest Russia, raised to question whether a civilian aircraft based on the Tu-160 could be a viable idea. After watching the test flight of the Pyotr Deynekin, the latest and most sophisticated variant of the Tu-160, the President observed this possibility. He recalled the USSR's induction of the Tu-144, a supersonic platform designed in response to the British-French Concorde supersonic passenger airliner. The Tu-144 was the USSR's only supersonic passenger jet, designed by the same Tupolev Design Bureau. Putin noted that the supersonic airliner was, due to its high cost, "taken out of production because airline tickets must take into consideration average salaries in the country." He noted that the situation had changed, and today "big companies have appeared which could have used this aircraft."

The Russian President noted that a supersonic civilian aircraft based on the White Swan's reliable design could help solve the problem of crossing the country's vast expanses. He observed that a resident of Russia's western Kaliningrad could reach New York faster than he could Vladivostok in the country's Far East. While undertaking initiatives to connect the country's extremities by rail, a supersonic airliner with regular flights would also be a considerable asset. With challenges continuing to emerge to the effective monopoly of civilian airliners held by Boeing and Airbus, American and French manufacturers, a supersonic platform could well prove effective and highly promising for long range flights. Russia's civilian aviation industries have already entered into extensive cooperation with emerging Chinese manufacturers, and should such a platform be develop it could well be as part of a joint effort and benefit from Chinese funding and expertise. The Tu-160's relatively high maintenance requirements, particularly those stemming from its swept wing design, may need to be addressed to develop a civilian variant with lower operational costs. 


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