In 1943, the Soviet Government launched a nuclear weapon program as a reaction to those being undertaken by the United States. The program focussed on creating and testing the first Soviet atomic bomb within a short time span in order to counteract the perceived post-war threat from the West. Not long after the program was launched a problem quickly surfaced, namely: how to deliver such a weapon to a specific target? Since none of the bombers in service with the Soviet Air Force at the end of the war had the capability to fly long distances or even stood a chance against Western fighter forces, the OKB-156 experimental design bureau led by Andrey Nikolayevich Tupolev was given the task to design a heavy bomber that had intercontinental capability. Although a number of ideas and designs were brought up, developement of these aircraft soon became a problem. Tupolev was therefore tasked with producing an exact copy of the already existing Boeing B-29 bomber. Most probably this decision was influenced by the availability of three B-29s which had to force-land in the Soviet Far East. Copying of the B-29 resulted in the Tupolev Tu-4 bomber and marked a turning point in the Soviet aviation industry. Making use of B-29 technology meant a great improvement on all future heavy Soviet bombers.
|Although the newly designed Tu-4 had the ability to carry a nuclear weapon its range limited the use of these weapons to a certain extend as its prime target, the United States, was unreachable. Tupolev therfore began looking for ways to obtain intercontinental range and eventually resulted into the Tupolev Tu-80 and Tu-85 bombers entering test programs in December 1949 and January 1951. The latter design, the Tu-85, later became the forerunner of the Tu-95. Although the Tu-85 met both performance and range targets, it was piston-engined powered and could become a problem when facing jet-powered US interceptors. It became clear that heavy bombers should therfore be powered by either turboprop or turbojet engines.
In 1950 proposals were made by Vladimir M. Myasischchev to design a jet-powered bomber which would have a top speed of 950 km/h and a range of over 13.000 km. The project, know as the M-4, was given high priority by the government. Tupolev soon found out about this project and wanted to compete for the heavy bomber order from the Air Force and it soon found itself narrowing engine possibilities while facing the decision for either turbojet or turboprop engines. Eventually, preliminary design studies showed that turboprop engines would be the best option in order to achieve a range of at least 13.000 km and a speed of approximately 800 km/h. In order to reduce propeller diameter, Tupolev decided to use contra-rotating propellers designated the 2TV-2F developed by Kuznetsov. In the mean time, Myasischchev progressed significantly with his design and work was approved to be continued by Iosif V. Stalin while at the same time development funding for the Tu-95 was granted as well.
Eventually, final engineering on the Tu-95 started on the 15th of July 1951. In accordance with Air Force demands, the aircraft should have a range of up to 15.000 km with payload. Cruising speed was determined to be within 750 and 820 km/h with a service ceiling expected to be at 14.000 m. Later these performance requirements were revised and included a cruising speed of 750 to 800 km/h at 10.000 to 14.000 m. Maximum range was set at 14.500 to 17.500 km while the aircraft was powered by TV-12 turboprop engines. The Tu-95 should carry a maximum bomb load of 15.000 kg and ranges from conventional bombs and torpedoes to mines. In total, the aircraft was operated by a crew of eight.
The first prototype powered by 2TV-2F turboprop engines (designated as the "95-1") was completed in early 1952 and flew for the first time on the 12th of November 1952. Unfortunately, an engine failure during the 17th test flight resulted in a loss of control and consequently crashed killing four of the eleven crew member aboard. Air crash investigation showed that metal fatigue in the No. 3 engine caused the gearbox to fail. After this, both Tupolev and Kuznetsov took steps in order to ensure that the actual engine installed would be thoroughly tested. The second prototype was completed in November 1952 although it took another two years before the TV-12 engines were installed which was caused by Kuznetsov's cautious approach in order to prevent a replay of May 1953.
The Tupolev Tu-95 was presented to the public in the summer of 1955 for the first time. It made strong impression on several Western aviation experts and the aircraft was soon designated as "Bear" by the NATO. Meanwhile, Tupolev continued the trials unabated. A maximum-range test showed that the aircraft had the ability to cover a distance of 13.900 km, which was approximately 1.100 km less than the specified range stated by Air Force but still sufficient to reach its primary target, the United States. In August 1955 the first production aircraft bearing the service designation Tu-95. These aircraft differed slightly from the prototype aircraft in having a 2 m fuselage stretch, a 5% increase in empty weight and complete systems fit. The 2 m stretch was necessary in order to increase fuel capacity as its engines, the NK-12, proved to less fuel efficient than predicted. As the performance figures obtained at that time were considerably lower than predicted Tupolev looked at other ways to improve them. In August 1956 - February 1957 Tupolev converted the first production aircraft into another prototype again of the Tu-95M. This new design featured more powerful 15.000-ehp NK-12M turboprop engines which had a significantly reduced fuel burn. MTOW was increased to 182.000 kg while fuel capacity increased to 89.530 kg. Test trials were completed in 1958 and showed a range of 13.200 km, a maximum speed of 902 km/h and a cruising speed of 720-750 km/h. In total 18 such aircraft have been delivered to the Soviet Air Force and were the first Tu-95s to enter service.