|KIT:||Trumpeter 1/72 Tu-160 Blackjack|
In 1967, the Red Air Force announced a competition for a supersonic strategic heavy bomber, designed to have a speed of over Mach 3, in response to the U.S. XB-70 Valkyrie. It was soon obvious that such an aircraft would be too expensive and difficult to build - and it was known the USAF had canceled the XB-70 - with the result that the design demands were reduced to a maximum speed of Mach 2.3 in 1969. The competition was re-launched in 1973 in response to the then-thought-to-be-imminent introduction of the North American/Rockwell B-1A.
The Tu-160 - known by its NATO reporting name “Blackjack” - is the result of this 1973 competition, which originally included a Tupolev proposal for an aircraft design that utilized elements of the Tu-144 supersonic transport, the Myasishchev M-18, and the Sukhoi T-4. The Myasishchev proposal was considered the most successful, although the Tupolev organization had the best potential for completing this complex project. As a result, Tupolev was ordered to develop an aircraft that used some elements of the Tu-144 and also elements of the Myasishchev M-18 bomber design, under the engineering supervision of Valery N. Binznyuk.
The resulting design looked as much like the B-1 as the Tu-144 looked like its competition, the Anglo-French Concorde, though the Tupolev aircraft was considerably larger than its U.S. competitor. Although the B-1A was canceled in 1977, design and development work on the new Tupolev bomber continued. Two prototypes and one mock-up that was used for static tests were delivered by the Tupolev OKB in 1981. The first prototype flew on December 19, 1981, and it was spotted by U.S. spy satellites a month later - this was one reason cited by the Reagan Administration in approving the production of the B-1B. During flight tests, one of the two prototypes was lost. Shortly after flight tests began, series production started in 1984. Initial plans called for the construction of 100 airplanes but when production was stopped in 1992, only 36 bombers had been built.
While the Tu-160 is similar in overall configuration to the B-1, it is much larger overall, with a far different performance. The four Samara/Trud NK-231 afterburning turbofans, with 30,865 lb dry thrust and 55,115 lb in afterburner, are the most powerful engines fitted to any combat aircraft and are mounted in pairs under the inner fixed wings. The variable geometry air inlets are designed for a speed of Mach 1 at low level, and over Mach 2 at 40,0000. The variable-geometry wings have full span leading edge slats and double slotted trailing edge flaps, while the airframe is free of any protuberances other than the cockpit windscreen. The nav/attack radar is believed to have a terrain-following function, while there is a comprehensive ECM jamming system. The four-man crew sit on individual ejection seats and the pilots have fighter style sticks, operating a fly-by-wire flight control system. The variable-geometry wing has three positions: 20 degree sweep for landing, 35 degrees of sweep for cruise and 65 degrees of sweep for high speed flight. The wing span at full extension is 182 feet, 9 inches, with a span of 116 feet, 9 inches, at full sweep. Length is 177 feet, 6 inches, and height is 43 feet.
Weapons are carried in two internal bays, each of which is capable of holding 44,400 lb of free-fall weapons or a rotary launcher for six Kh-55 nuclear-armed cruise missiles.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to a halt in production of the Tu-160 after 24 aircraft were built instead of the planned 100. The worst blow to the Dal'naya Aviatsia (Russian air force long-range strategic bomber arm) came when Ukraine kept 19 operational Tu-160s and 21 Tu-95MS bombers, leaving the DA with only four Tu-160s on Russian territory. A fifth was completed at the Kazan factory in 1993. In 1999, Russia and Ukraine agreed on the return of eight of the 19 Tu-160s - which were by then in a bad state of repair due to the inability of Ukraine to maintain them - in exchange for a reduction in Ukraine's energy debts. Ukraine, which has officially renounced nuclear weapons, destroyed the other Blackjacks in its possession, except for one airframe that was kept for static display.
Early on in its career, the Blackjack became notorious for being unreliable and was considered generally defective, even to having unreliable ejection seats. The two that were flown as display craft for Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci's visit to the Soviet Union in 1988 both suffered engine failures that forced them to make their flights on three engines instead of four. This was during the period of late-stage glasnost, which resulted in widespread reports of the flight safety issues, leading to a scandal that nearly ended Tupolev as a design bureau. The airplane is now considered to have been brought to a better state of reliability, though the financial difficulties of Russia have meant only half of the 13 existing Tu-160s are usually operational at any time.
The airplane can certainly be considered the likely last of the line of great aeronautical dinosaurs known as “strategic bombers” that began with the German “Giants” of World War I.
Two other kits of the Tu-160 have been produced, one by Zvezda in 1/144 scale and one by A-Model in 1/72 scale. This new kit by Trumpeter effectively makes the other two kits obsolete on all grounds other than price. The kit is completely state-of-the-art, with delicate surface detail as good as that seen on the recent Me-262 kit, and flash-free molding with close-tolerance parts fit.
The 621 parts come on 19 sprues, with what looks to be a very good production design. Preliminary test-fitting of the fuselage parts reveals that fit is overall excellent. (Editor's note: because of the sheer size and number of sprues, I've shown some representative ones).
The cockpit is certainly “complete enough” in this scale, considering that not much can really be seen once the fuselage is closed up. Both bomb bays are open, with nicely-detailed Kh-55 cruise missiles on revolving launchers. The gear wells are also open, and the gear legs are metal with rubber tires.
Decals are provided for aircraft 06, “Ilya Mouromets,” and aircraft 02, “Vasiliy Reshetnikov,” the first two Tu-160s to be given names. Full national insignia markings and stenciling are provided.
Did I mention the model is going to be huge? With the fore and aft parts of the fuselage taped together, overall length is 31 inches, and will be longer when the tail is fully assembled. The wings, which can be assembled in any one of the three flight positions, have fully-separate flaps and slats with good detail, and overall wingspan with the wings in the fully-extended position is nearly 33 inches.
Given that the airplane is overall white, doing a model this size in one color is going to require some really good artistry from the modeler, with both pre-shading and post-shading and lots of little detail work, or there is going to be an awful lot of boring white plastic sitting on a shelf. Fortunately, there are lots of color photos out there on the internet, and it is clear the airplanes end up being “multi-hue,” so this kind of paint finish will result in a realistic model.
Did I mention this thing is close to being as big as a B-52? Finding suitable display space is going to be a major consideration. That said, the kit looks to actually be simple in regard to construction if you break it down into sub-assemblies, and with the detail provided should end up looking very impressive for more than mere size. The quality of the parts design means there will be little if any need for seam-filler, so the very nice surface detail will be easy to keep. The provision of metal landing gear is particularly welcome, because there is going to be quite a bit of weight crammed into that big radome to insure the resulting model is a nose-sitter.
$149 is lot of money for a plastic model kit, but for what’s in the box and what looks to be the likely result, the modeler who wants a great big (did I mention it’s huuuuuuge?) Russian jet bomber - likely the last of its kind of dinosaur to ever be designed and produced anywhere - will get good value for his money. When this baby gets set down at a model show, it will be its own category.
Thanks to Stevens International for the review copy.
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