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The Tupolev Tu-4 was for all intents and purposes a Boeing B-29 Superfortress Intercontinental Bomber.

When they came into service on their first mission on June 5th, 1944, they were the baddest things to hit the skies. They were bigger, faster, could fly higher, longer and carry a heavier payload. To quote the History Channel, they were "Buck Rogers" at the time. The Russians saw this and wanted it for themselves, but more on that later.

They still, however, needed a place to land if and when they were damaged after a bombing run over Japan. The Russians had a peace, however fragile, with the Japanese. The peace with the western Allied forces was uneasy as well. They played nice until Hitler was gone. Understandably, he could not let these bombers that were burning down Japanese cities land in Siberia. Stalin did not want, and probably would have lost a 2 front war.

Well, bombs are falling and flak is being shot up over Japan. Lo and behold, 3 B-29's end up in Russia. Stalin kept the planes, but arranged "escapes" for the crews, to appease the Americans and Japanese. Stalin then ordered an exact replica of these aircraft that Americans spent $3 billion to develop.

The Tu-4 is almost a rivet by rivet copy of the B-29, with a few exceptions. The Russians were unable to replicate some of the more complex systems of the B-29 Superfortress. They had a tough time with the remote controlled guns among other things. They also had problems with the thickness of the aluminum skin, as the Russians used the metric system and the Americans used the imperial system. Also, some parts were just plain purchased in post war surplus sales or stolen.

This aircraft was introduced to the west during a parade that they attended with Stalin, during which 3 of them flew over head. The Americans thought these were just the 3 they landed there, until a 4th flew over head. The last one was actually a Tu-70, a passenger version.

This was just the beginning of a long and scary arms race, and brought new tensions to a very young Cold War.

A handful of Tupolev Tu-4s remain in occasional use in China as drone carriers and testbeds. Re-engined several years ago, with the same Zhuzhou WJ-6 turboprops as the Shaanxi Y-8, Tu-4s in the Chinese airforce museum are reportedly regularly put back into service for particular trials.

July 29, 1944
Vladivostok, Russia

Stealing the Superfortress

On this day, three of America's most advanced bombers, the Superfortresses, land at an airfield at Vladivostok, Russia. The bombers have just bombed targets in Japan, and are running out of fuel. Since Vladivostok is the closest allied city that they can land at, they decide to go there.

However, a few months before, the Soviets signed a pact with the Japanese that they would be neutral nations. According to international law, the neutral nation must take the arms (weapons) of the allied nation that is fighting the nation that it is neutral with. In plain English, it means that the Soviets got to take and keep the American's B-29s. If the Americans didn't follow this rule, news would leak out, and get to Japan, and Japan would think the Soviets were supporting the Americans. This would push Japan into war against the Soviets and millions more people would be killed in Vladivostok and other cites at the eastern end of Russia.

Stalin always had wanted a long range, strategic bomber of his own and assigned Andrei Nikolaevich Tupolev, the top Soviet airplane designer at that time, to exactly copy the Superfortress and to create/mass produce the plane.

  1. The first plane, the General Hap Arnold Special, was deconstructed and every part of it carefully examined and copied.
  2. The second plane, the Ramp Tramp was used as a trainer for Soviet pilots.
  3. The third and last plane, the Ding How and was used as a yardstick for the final design.

The Soviets modified and improved the plane by adding better remote gun turrets and more powerful, ASH-73TK engine designed by A.D. Shvetsov. This engine gave the Tu-4, or what Soviet version of the B-29 was called, a top speed 558 kmh (compare it to the American engines which gave the B-29 a top speed of 540 kph). Unfortunately, the American B-29 had a range of 6,000 miles with a payload of 3,000kt, but the Tu-4 had a range of 5,400 miles with a payload of 3,000kt. The first plane rolled off the Assembly line in the year of 1949 and eventually, about 300 were produced. The planes were scrapped in 1952 because they were too slow and jets were being used instead of propelers.

Of all the Tu-4s built, only one remains at display at the Russian Air Force Museum at Monio, Russia.


Source: || The History Channel: Stealing the Superfortress
Another Source: || www.FAS.org Version 1.0.1: Changed both the units so that they are the same.

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