AM-34RN (4 X 970hp) – MTOW 22,600kg (49,8201b) – Normal Range 1,350km (840mi) – 12 SEATS. 180km/h (112mph). A special feature in the design was a tunnel that permitted air mechanics to crawl along the whole length of the wing, to inspect fuel tanks and cargo holds; and on one notable occasion, this was used to perform some unusual maintenance on one of the engines.

A Great Airplane

Bill Gunston, renowned technical aviation authority and compiler of encyclopedic volumes about aircraft, including a masterpiece on Soviet types, says this about the Tupolev-designed ANT-6, also known as the TB-3 or the G-2: “This heavy bomber was the first Soviet aircraft to be ahead of the rest of the world, and one of the greatest achievements in aviation history” and that, “the design was sensibly planned to meet operational requirement and was highly competitive aerodynamically, structurally, and in detail engineering.” This was in 1930.

A Big Airplane – and Plenty of Them

Give or take a ton or two, depending on the version, the ANT-6 weighed, fully equipped for take-off, about 22 tons. Most G-2s weighed 22,050-kg (48,500-lb). By comparison, the contemporary German Junkers-G 38 weighed 24 tons, but only two were built, compared with no less than 818 ANT-6s. Of these, the vast majority were for the Soviet Air Force, painted dark green, with sky blue undersides; about ten or twelve ANT-6s were allocated to Mark Shevelev’s Polar Aviation (Aviaarktika), and painted in the orange-red and blue colors. The four special versions prepared for the Papanin expedition, according to Tupolev historians, were in bare metal, probably to save precious weight. The British and French industries had nothing in the same league, and the U. S. A. had not yet thought of the B-17.

A Versatile Airplane

Too Designed primarily as a bomber, the type was adapted for other purposes. Design started way back in May 1926, wind tunnel testing was completed in March 1929, and Mikhail Gromov made the first test flight on 22 December 1930. Throughout its lifespan (production ceased early in 1937) it underwent many improvements, culminating in the ANT- 6A, specially modified for Dr Otto Schmidt’s Aviaarktika’s assault on the North Pole; and it was also used during the 1930s by Aeroflot, reportedly carrying as many as 20 passengers.


Item                                                    Kilograms

Empty Weight on Skis                          13,084

Radio and Navigation Equipment           297

Spare Parts and

Special Expedition Equipment                262

Crew of 8 (120kg each)                            960

Provisions for crew (20kg each)             160

Gasoline                                                  7,200

Oil                                                             640

Total                                                   22,603

(excluding cargo carried for ice station)

Weight Watchers

To equip the Papanin Expedition, every ingenious precaution was taken to avoid superfluous weight. Tents were of light-weight silk and aluminum. Utensils were of plastics or aluminum. The aircraft ladders were convertible into sleds. Special equipment such as the sounding line and the bathymeter were re-designed to save weight. Both the aircraft crews and the members of the expedition were eternally grateful for the innumerable contributions made by the ‘backroom boys’ in Leningrad, Moscow, and other sources of equipment supply.

How Much Extra

To carry even this finely tuned total weight of nine tons, divided between the four ANT-6 load-carrying aircraft, extra fuel also had to be taken, in addition to the provisions listed in the tables on this page. Almost two tons extra had to be carried by each aircraft. But the dome-shaped airfield on the plateau at Rudolf Island offered shallow slopes, down which the departing aircraft could gain speed and lift; and every item of nonessential equipment was stripped from the interior, and every non-essential item of personal effects was left behind.

Test Bombing

Landing a 24-ton aircraft on an ice-floe, no matter how big, was a speculative proposition. It was determined that the minimum ice thickness required was 70-cm (2-ft); engineers then devised a 9.5-kg (21-lb) ‘bomb’. It was shaped like a pear and fastened at its rear or trailing end was a 6-8-m (20-ft) line with flags attached. If the ice was less than 70-cm, the ‘bomb’ went straight through. If more, it stuck, and the flags, draped on the ice, indicated that landing was possible. This method was first utilized on the Papanin expedition.

The North Pole

The Preparations Aviaarktika had already reached ever northwards during the late 1920s and had spread its wings far and wide across the expanses of the Soviet Union, in those areas where Aeroflot had no reason to go, for lack of people to carry in a vast mainly frigid region that was almost completely unpopulated, except for isolated villages and outposts. Rather like expeditions on the ground, such as those to the South Pole, Otto Schmidt, assisted by his deputy, Mark Shevelev, pushed further beyond the limits, very methodically.

The northernmost landfall in the Soviet Union is the tiny Rudolf Island, an icy speck on the fringes of the island group known as Franz Josef Land (named after an Austrian explorer). At a latitude of 820 North, Rudolf is only about 1,300km (800mi) from the Pole and a good location for a base camp and launching site. Access to Franz Josef Land, while hazardous because of the severe climate and terrain, is feasible as the twin-island territory of Novaya Zemlya accounts for about 800km (500mi) of the distance from the Nenets region.

On 29 March 1936, Mikhail Vodopyanov set off with Akkuratov in a two-plane reconnaissance of the possible air route to Rudolf Island. Flying blind for much of the time, and having to contend with inconveniences such as boiling six pails of water before starting the engines with compressed air, they reached their destination, and reported that the conditions, while not ideal, were not impossible. On his return to Moscow on 21 May, Schmidt was sufficiently satisfied to make plans. He arranged for the ice-breaking ship Rusanoll to carry supplies to Rudolf, appointed Ivan Papanin to lead the assault on the Pole, and selected a combination of four ANT-6 (G-2) four-engined bomber transports, and one ANT-7 (G-l) twin-engined aircraft for the task. Vodopyanov was to be the chief pilot.

The Assault

The working party sent to Rudolf did their work well. In addition to setting up a base camp and a small airstrip on the shoreline, they rolled out a longer runway, with a slight slope to assist take-off, on a dome-shaped plateau about 300-m (I,000-ft) above the base camp. The squadron of aircraft flew up from Moscow, leaving on 18 March 1937. Reaching Rudolf, they began final preparations. The ANT-6s were estimated to need 7,300-liters (1,600-USg) of fuel for the 18-hour round-trip to the Pole, and 35 drums were needed for each aircraft. Ten tons of supplies of all kinds were to be taken, and elaborate steps were taken to design light-weight and multipurpose equipment.

There were frustrating delays, as they waited anxiously for Boris Dzerzeyevsky, the resident weather-man, to report favorable conditions, and for Pavel Golovin, pilot of the ANT-7 reconnaissance aircraft, to confirm Dzerzeyevsky’s forecasts, and to test the accuracy of the radio beacons. On one flight, Golovin was stranded for three days when he had to make a forced landing on the ice. But eventually, the expedition received the all-clear.

Flying an ANT-6 (registered SSSR-NI70), Mikhail Vodopyanov, with co-pilot M. Babushkin, navigator I. Spirin and three mechanics landed at a point a few kilometers beyond the North Pole (just to make sure) on 21 May 1937, at 11.35 a. m. Moscow time. Ivan Papanin, with scientists Yvgeny Federov and Piotr Shirsov, together with radio operator Ernst Krenkel, immediately established the first scientific Polar Station (PS-l) on the polar ice, on which they eventually drifted on their private ice-floe in a southwesterly direction until they were picked up off the coast of Greenland by a rescue ship on 19 February 1938.

Their Tiny Hands Were Frozen

During the final flight from Rudolf Island to the North Pole, Mikhail Vodopyanov realized that one of the ANT-6’s engines was leaking water from its radiator, with its precious anti-freeze liqUid disappearing into thin air. Vodopyanov’s trusted chief air mechanic, Flegont Bassein, together with co-mechanics Morozov and Petenin, crawled along the tunnel in the wing (see opposite and diagram below) and tried to stop the flow. They came up with an ingenious solution, by placing cloths over the leak, soaking up the outflow, squeezing them out into a container, and pouring the liquid back into the radiator. The engine kept going.

The mechanics did too, but barely. To reach the leak, they had had to force an opening in the leading edge of the wing, radiators obviously being exposed to the airflow. It was an act of fortitude that nearly cost them their hands.

Well-Earned Fame

After the various great flights made by Soviet aircraft, the pilots and crew were lavishly decorated, receiving many medals and testimonials in the Soviet tradition. Moscow witnessed receptions that were as impressive, if not quite so lavish, as those bestowed in New York on Lindbergh, Earhart, or Hughes. And they were well earned. Mikhail Vodopyanov, for example, had built up hundreds of hours of flying in remote parts of Russia, including the opening of the Dobrolet route to Sakhalin. He had pioneered the route to Rudolf Island, and had campaigned for aircraft landings on the North Polar ice, in opposition to other views that the Papanin party should be dropped by parachute. His crew members Mikhail Babushkin and Ivan Spirin had both flown big airplanes as early as 1921, in the Il’ya Murometsy, no less. Vasily Molokov had been one of the heroes of the Chelyuskin rescue, and his radio operator had been with him on the long Siberian circuit. Anatoly Alexeyev had flown on a relief party to the Severnaya Zemlya islands in 1934; while lIya Mazuruk and Pavel Golovin already had outstanding records. When the Soviet Union decided to Go For The Pole, it had the best cadre of trained and experienced pilots in the world to face the daunting challenge.


Thunderbolt in Chinese/Taiwanese Service

P-47D-23-RA Unit: 11th FG Serial: P-47014 Kangwan Field, Shanghai, circa 1947.

P-47D-30-RA Unit: 43rd FS, 11th FG Serial: 432917 (44-32917) Circa 1947.

P-47D-28-RE “Lady Maurene” Unit: 43rd FS, 11th FG Serial: P-47036 Nationalist’s P-47s were used during the Chinese Civil War.

P-47 Communist China CPR

ca. 1954, Taiwan — Pilots Looking at Instructions — Image by © Horace Bristol/CORBIS

After World War II, the Chinese Nationalist Air Force received 102 P-47Ds used during the Chinese Civil War. The Chinese Communists captured five P-47Ds from the Chinese Nationalist forces. In 1948-57, the Chinese Nationalists employed 70 P-47Ds and 42 P-47Ns brought by Taiwan in 1952. P-47s were used extensively in aerial clashes over the Taiwan Strait between Nationalist and Communist aircraft.

Although P-47 production ceased just weeks after Japan’s surrender, Thunderbolts (re-designated as the F-47) continued to serve for years (and in some cases decades) after World War Two. America pulled the plane from front line service in 1949, but NATO allies like Turkey, Portugal and Italy maintained squadrons of Thunderbolts into the 1950s, as did Iran. Taiwanese F-47s routinely engaged communist fighters off the coast of China. Surplus models were also liberally distributed throughout Latin America during the same period. Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic all maintained fleets for years. Peru didn’t retire its Jugs until 1966. When designing its formidable A-10 tank buster in the early 1970s, engineers at Fairchild Republic tore a page from history and dubbed their new twin-engine attack jet the Thunderbolt II in honour of the P-47. Today, at least 15 original wartime Jugs are still airworthy and can be seen on the North American air show circuit each summer.

Republic of China Air Force [ROCAF] General HQ was established in June 1946. Starting in August 1948, the Air Force started moving its equipment and institutions to Taiwan. This operation alone was a massive one. It took what is today the Air Force Institute of Technology 80 flights and three ships over four months to relocate. This did not include the other academies, training facilities, manufacturing plants, radio stations and military hospitals, which moved separately.

Chin-chang Chen writes that during this period, an average of 50 or 60 planes flew daily between Taiwan and China transporting fuel and ammunition.

By May 1949, the Air Force Command Headquarters was operating out of Taipei, having transported 1,138 officers, 814 pilots, 2,600 family members and about 6,000 tonnes of equipment and classified documents. The last group of pilots barely made it out of Shanghai as the Communists stormed the airport. Other military branches made their exits as key locations in China fell.

In October 1949 five battalions of the PLA’s 61st Division began an assault on the Nationalist-held Dengbu Island. But even with their crushing superiority, the PLA units could not prevent the introduction of enemy reinforcements by sea, and after suffering 1,490 casualties, the Communist troops retreated  in defeat. Later that same month, the PLA Tenth Army attacked the island of Quemoy, and again lost the battle at sea. It could not reinforce the initial invasion force. Taking more than 9,000 casualties, the stranded force perished, and ever after its defeat for lack of sea and air support constituted an oft-repeated “bloody lesson”.

From 1946 to 1948, during the Chinese Civil War, the ROCAF participated in combat against the People’s Liberation Army engaging in air-to-air combat on at least eleven occasions in the areas surrounding the Taiwan Strait. The ROCAF reportedly enjoyed a 31:1 kill ratio against the PLA. GHQ was evacuated to Taiwan along with the rest of the ROC Government in April 1949 following the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War. The ROCAF assisted in halting the PLA advance at the Battle of Kuningtou on Kinmen the same year.

The ROCAF regularly patrolled the Taiwan Straits and fought many engagements with its Communist counterpart (the PLAAF).

Bestfong decals: Airplane 1930~1950 ROCAF

ROCAF Combat Losses 1950-7 [F-47 = P-47]

11/05 34 Sq 3 POW B-26 Downed in
Fujian. The
crew were
released 8
months later.
07/01 3 Sq KIA F-47N “699” Downed by
04/15 12 Sq KIA RF-84F Crashed
to South
pursuit by
11/10 6 Sq 9 KIA C-46 Downed by
PLA MiG in
an airdrop
mission over
06/22 Spec. Op.
11 KIA B-17 Downed by
PLA MiG-17
in Jiangxi
07/16 1 Sq KIA F-84G “118” Downed by
near Kinmen
06/27 12 Sq KIA RT-33A “7” Downed by
PLA MiG-15 off coast of
02/20 3 Sq KIA F-47N “142” Downed by
PLA Navy
01/21 43 Sq KIA F-47N “209” Downed by
PLA Navy
01/19 1 Sq                            KIA F-84G “315” Downed by
First jet
aircraft lost.
11/17 12 Sq KIA RT-33A “2” Crashed into mountains in
when evading PLA MiG-15
11/01 5 TFG KIA F-47N “380” Crashed in a
mission in
10/15 27 Sq MIA F-47N “227” Failed to
09/12 35 Sq 9 KIA PB4Y “12” Downed by
near Xiamen
09/04 8 Sq KIA F-47N “369” Damaged by
PLA AAA in a
Crashed near
07/06 43 Sq KIA F-47N “313” Downed by
PLA MiG-15
06/03 26 Sq KIA F-47N “222” Downed PLA
05/26 Spec. Op.
4 KIA B-17 Downed by
over Fujian
03/18 26 Sq KIA F-47N “219” Downed PLA
02/09 27 Sq KIA F-47N “267” Downed by
12/17 26 Sq KIA F-47N “193” Downed by
over Jejiang
07/16 41 Sq KIA F-47N “335” Downed by
11/08 41 Sq MIA F-47N “129” Failed to
return from a
recce mission
07/29 41 Sq KIA F-47N “126” Downed by
over Xiamen
04/02 22 Sq KIA P-51 Downed by
stationed in
03/16 23 Sq KIA P-51 Downed by
03/14 12 Sq 6 KIA F-10 “07” Downed by
PLA aircraft

ROCAF Combat Losses Since 1950

Skorostnoi Bombardirovshik SB

On October 1936 the Republican Spanish Air Force received an infusion of about 50 Russian aircraft. SB[SD-2] Katuska bombers began operations before the month was out.

The well known workhorse of the Spanish Civil War and 1939-40 Russo-Finnish “Talvisota” (winter-war),  the Tupolev SB, which certainly fits the stated engine and armament criteria you proposed. The SB was obsolete by the outbreak of Barbarossa in June 1941, and many were shot-up on the ground by the Luftwaffe during the first hours and days of the attack. However, enough survived until at least early 1942 to have been employed as night attack aircraft, which was in fact, the only role they were actually suited for because of their vulnerability to German day fighters. In this role, the remaining SB’s reportedly did well, until phased into rear-area transport and target-tug duties.

The SB was driven by twin 850-horsepower M100 V-12 piston engines to a top speed of 255 miles per hour and a service ceiling of 27,885 feet. Its range was a modest 746 miles. Wingspan was 66 feet 8 ½ inches, and defensive armament consisted of two 0.3-inch machine guns in a nose turret, one in a dorsal turret, and one in the ventral position. Bomb capacity was 2,205 pounds, and the plane was crewed by three.

The two ANT-40 light bomber prototypes of Andrei N. Tupolev’s design bureau were years ahead of their time when they first flew in October 1934: the all-metal construction, enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear were then comparatively novel features. Indeed the ANT-40’s maximum speed of 325 km/h (202 mph) at operating height was faster than the biplane interceptor fighters that equipped most of the peacetime air forces. The initial production version as selected for export and service with the VVS was based on the second prototype, and was known as the Tupolev SB (skorostnoi bombardirovshchik, or fast bomber); the engines were two 830-hp (619-kW) licence-built Hispano-Suiza 12Ybr engines, termed M-100 by Soviet industry, and initially these were fitted with two-bladed fixed pitch propellers. The first SBs were passed to the VVS’s bomber aviation regiments in February 1936, and in October of that year the first of 210 were transferred with Soviet crews to Spain to fight on the side of the Republican air force against the insurgent Nationalists.

The theory that fast, well-armed bombers would survive (particularly if flying in tight formations protected by interlocking fire from their machine- guns) held water at first – but only because the fighters of 1936 lacked the speed to reach them and the, armament to do serious damage. For example, a Russian Tupolev SB [SB-2] twin-engine monoplane with a speed of 255 mph was a difficult target to intercept by an Italian biplane Fiat CR32 with a top speed of 233 mph – although on occasion this feat was performed. Evidence of this sort underlined the widespread opinion of those, such as the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, that `the bomber will always get through’. It was assumed that this technical imbalance would persist and that, in any case, fighter actions would be impossible if their speeds increased much beyond the extant 220-mph mark. A natural reaction was to build bigger, faster and heavily-defended bombers in the pious hope that their existence would deter an aggressor from using his bombers – in much the same way as it was hoped that the possession of gas would deter its use.

Familiarly called the Katyusha, the Tupolev SB was first flown on October 7, 1933. Intended as a high-speed bomber, it was at the time one of the Tupolev organization’s most advanced designs, based on a heavy fighter airframe rather than a bomber. Construction was all metal and, in service during the Spanish civil war, its 255-mile-per-hour speed outflew many enemy fighters-until the appearance of the German Bf- 109 fighter. A total of 6,656 SBs were built up to 1940, and some remained in service until 1943, despite heavy losses to the Bf-109s.

Fast-flying SBs were among the world’s best bombers when they appeared in 1936. They enjoyed a distinguished career in Spain, Mongolia, and Finland before suffering heavy losses in World War II.

In 1933 the Soviet government announced specifications for an entirely new light bomber, one so fast that it could operate without escort fighters. The Tupolev design bureau finessed the problem with great skill, and in 1934 it built two prototypes with radial and in-line engines respectively. The new SB was Russia’s first stressed-skin aircraft, a midwing, all-metal monoplane bomber. It was modern in every respect to Western contemporaries and possessed such advanced features as retractable landing gear and flush-riveting. A crew of four was comfortably housed, and the plane flew faster than any fighter or bomber then in service, including the highly touted Bristol Blenheim. In 1936 the in-line engine prototype entered production as the SB, and nearly 7,000 were produced. These modern, capable craft formed the bulk of Soviet tactical aviation over the next five years and played a major role in modernizing and revitalizing the Soviet bomber forces.

SBs were bloodied in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), where they proved impervious to slower Nationalist fighters. They also enjoyed similar success in Mongolia against the Japanese and were exported to China in quantity. Several new versions were also introduced with more powerful engines, but this robust design was growing obsolete in light of developments elsewhere. SBs again fought well against Finland during 1939-1940, but when Germany invaded Russia the following year they lost their speed advantage. The SB’s record as a day bomber came to an abrupt end during the fierce fighting following the German invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941. Those that were not destroyed on the ground ventured into the air on numerous and gallantly-flown missions over the front line and paid a heavy price to the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf 109F fighters. Thereafter the SB and SBbis bombers were relegated to night work with the VVS and the Soviet naval air arm. They did so in a wide variety of roles, including that of night intruder and torpedo-bomber. By the time SBs withdrew in 1943, they had sustained the heaviest losses of any Russian aircraft in World War II. Production amounted to 6,967 of all marks.

Specifications (SB 2M-103)

General characteristics

Crew: 3

Length: 12.57 m (41 ft 2¾ in)

Wingspan: 20.33 m (66 ft 8 in)

Height: 3.60 m (11 ft 9¾ in)

Wing area: 56.7 m² (610.3 ft2)

Empty weight: 4,768 kg (10,512 lb)

Loaded weight: 6,308 kg (14,065 lb)

Max. takeoff weight: 7,880 kg (17,370 lb)

Powerplant: 2 × Klimov M-103 liquid-cooled V12 engine, 716 kW (960 hp) each


Maximum speed: 450 km/h (243 knots, 280 mph) at 4,100 m (13,450 ft)

Range: 2,300 km (1,243 nmi, 1,429 mi)

Service ceiling: 9,300 m (30,510 ft)

Climb to 1,000 m (3,280 ft): 1.8 min

Climb to 9,000 m (29,500 ft): 32 min


Guns: 4 × 7.62 mm ShKAS machine guns (two in nose, one in dorsal and one in ventral position)

Bombs: 6 × 100 kg (220 lb) or six 50 kg (110 lb) bombs in bomb-bay, 2 × 250 kg (550 lb) bombs on wing racks


Index SB of Arkhangelsky’s high-velocity bomber comes from plain meaning:

“Skorostnoi Bombardirovshik”.

skorostnOi = high velocity

bombardirOvshik = bomber

Actual index must be like below



SB 2M-100

SB 2M-100A

SB 2M-103


the index reads “SB with TWO engines <namely>”.

I don’t know why west took TWO as a part of plane’s name.

It is not SECOND bomber or SECOND design.

All articles related to the Tupolev SB still carry the misnomer of SB-2 [including this one for familiarity]. It may well be that the Germans started this incorrect nomenclature.

Tupolev Tu-95 Bear

A Russian Tupolev Tu-95 Bear parting the clouds.
RAF Tornados escorting Tu-95MS ’20’ to IAT Fairford, 23 July 1993.

The Tu-4 Grows Up

By the end of the 1940s, the development of turbine engines had marked the closing of the piston era. Initially, the new turbojets were small, and were not of any use for long-range bombers, but by the early 1950s they had started to develop. So had turboprops.

In the West, the turboprop was confined mainly to commercial aircraft the Bristol Britannia, Vickers Viscount and Lockheed Electra helped to bridge a gap between the piston and jet ages. Some military transports would use turboprops. Particularly well-known is the Lockheed Hercules, and a few mainly carrier-borne strike aircraft such as the Fairey Gannet. But little thought was given to the possibility of using turboprops to power strategic bombers by anyone except Tupolev and his team.

In 1949, he set up a team headed by Nikolai Bazenkov to develop the Tu-85 and make use of the new developments in Soviet turboprops, specifically Nikolai Kuznetsov’s new NK-12, due to be available in 1953, which offered a power of up to 15,000 shaft horsepower (shp). Pending their availability, development work began using TV-2 and TV-12 engines of 12,000shpeach.

Two prototypes were constructed in factory N156 beside the design offices, using, as usual, the design bureau’s specialist engineers working alongside Bazenkov and his team, with Tupolev visiting the works almost every day as was the norm. Although substantially based on the Tu-85, a considerable amount of work was needed to adapt the design for the much higher speeds targeted for the Tu-95. Most important was the wing; the Tu-85 had a maximum speed of 563kph/350mph, but the -95 was expected to achieve 900 to 950kph/559 to 590mph, almost sixty to seventy per cent faster. In an effort to achieve this, Bazenkov developed a wing which measured 51m/167.33 feet from tip to tip, despite a 35° angle of sweep. The 6m/l 9.7-foot-long engines were installed in large nacelles on the wings, with the inner ones having a pod which extended eight metres to the rear into which the four-wheeled undercarriage legs retracted rearwards.

The cabin was pressurised, which improved crew conditions on long-distance flights — cruising at 750kph/466mph, patrols could last up to twenty hours. One thing missing was ejection seats. Although normal equipment in most high-performance military aircraft since the late 1940s, the Tu-95 did not have them. The crew in the forward section had to evacuate by using an emergency lift which would bring them from the cockpit and drop them through a hatch near the nosewheel door while those in the aircraft’s tail exited through escape hatches.

The prototype Tu-95 (called Tu-95/1) was completed by September 1952, and was brought by road to Zhukovski. After reassembly, it began its ground trials early in November; on 12 November, with Aleksei Pereliot in command, the first flight took place. As mentioned earlier, its engines were the 12,000shp TV-2FS. In state tests, they exceeded 900kph/559mph, something considered impossible by many aerodynamic specialists for propeller aircraft. Tupolev gave particular credit for the excellent performance to the design and production of Konstantin Zhdanov’s propeller and gearbox developed at Stupino, near Moscow.

Work proceeded on the second prototype relatively slowly, but late in 1953 the first aircraft crashed due to an engine fire which resulted in the engine falling off. Three people died: Pereliot, a flight engineer and a research scientist; nine escaped by evacuating the aircraft by parachute. The second was completed only in July 1954. Delays in engine production meant that it did not receive its TV-12s until the end of the year. Early in 1955, the Tu-95/2 was rolled out at Zhukovski for its pre-flight trials, including engine runs and taxying tests. It made its first flight on 16 February, flown by Mikhail Nukhtikov.

Meanwhile, serial production of the Tu-20, as the VVS designated it, had been set up at Kuibyshev factory N18 under General Director Mitrofan Yevshin. Work started in January 1955 and the first two production aircraft were completed in October and began state tests. They were powered by the first production examples of Kuznetsov’s NK-12, which gave 12,000shp. As was usual in the Soviet system, production examples were not built to the same standards as the virtually hand-made prototypes, and Soviet designers made allowances for this. The production Tu-95, with lower powered engines and higher weight, was measured to have a performance of 882kph/548mph in speed, a range with a five tonne payload of 15,040km/9,346 miles, and a service ceiling of 11,300m/37,075 feet – not quite up to VVS requirements. The second production aircraft was fitted with the NK-12M, a higher powered version which gave 15,000sph and a lower fuel consumption. With these, performance improved to a maximum speed of 905kph/562mph, range to 16,750km/10,408 miles, and ceiling to 12,150m/39,864 feet. These figures met the requirements.

The Tu-95 was first shown to the public at the 1955 Aviation Day air show at Tushino, in Moscow’s north-west, in August, when the second prototype made a flypast. The VVS accepted delivery of its first Tu-95s in August 1957, and it went into service as a long-range strategic bomber. It was armed with six pairs of AM-23 cannons, providing almost complete coverage: one pair was in the nose, two above the fuselage, just behind the cockpit and forward of the tail, one was in a tail turret and the others under the fuselage. Some of these could be remotely operated by a gunner who sat between two glazed blisters in the rear fuselage. The bomb load varied from a maximum range version with five tonnes to fifteen tonnes with a fall off in range; it was possible to carry two nuclear bombs, or conventional warheads.

An accident in March 1957, when the failure of one engine plus a problem in propeller feathering caused the loss of the aircraft and the death of the crew, resulted in the installation of NK-12MVs, modified versions of the engine with automatic and manual systems of feathering. Production of the Tu-95 continued until 1959, in several different versions listed below.

Production totalled 173 aircraft plus the two prototypes. All these were strategic aircraft. While most of them continued in service until the late 1980s/early 1990s, the effects of the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) caused many of them to be cut up in the 1990s. Some of the Tu-95s – or, to give them their worthy NATO codename, Bear – were modified after their withdrawal from front-line bomber units to carry missiles or for reconnaissance roles. Two Tu-95s were removed from the production line in 1958 and were completed as Tu-116s. By the mid-1990s all Tu-95s were grounded or scrapped.

Later, the Tu-95 would appear again as the nonstrategic Tu-142. Although differing mainly in equipment from the Tu-95, the -142 was not a bomber, and so did not come under the auspices of the SALT treaty. Its story is related later.

A Tu-95 was modified as a Tu-95LAL (=Letavshaia Atomnaia Laboratoriya = Flying Atomic laboratory). Although no engine power was generated from atomic sources, the aircraft carried a VVR-100 reactor, and made 42 flights to test ecological problems; after these tests, the decision was taken not to proceed with the Tu-119 which remained a paper project.



    The first prototype powered by Kuznetsov 2TV-2F coupled turboprop engines.


    The second prototype powered by Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprops.


    Basic variant of the long-range strategic bomber and the only model of the aircraft never fitted with a nose refuelling probe. Known to NATO as the Bear-A.


    Experimental version for air-dropping a MiG-19 SM-20 jet aircraft.


    Conversions of the older Bear bombers, reconfigured to carry the Raduga Kh-22 missile and incorporating modern avionics. Known to NATO as the Bear-G.


    Designed to carry the Kh-20 air-to-surface missile. The Tu-95KD aircraft were the first to be outfitted with nose probes. Known to NATO as the Bear-B.


    Modified and upgraded versions of the Tu-95K, most notable for their enhanced reconnaissance systems. These were in turn converted into the Bear-G configuration. Known to NATO as the Bear-C.


    Experimental nuclear-powered aircraft project.


    Modification of the serial Tu-95 with the NK-12M engines. 19 were built.


    Missile carrier.


    Bear-A modified for photo-reconnaissance and produced for Naval Aviation. Known to NATO as the Bear-E.


    Completely new cruise missile carrier platform based on the Tu-142 airframe. This variant became the launch platform of the Raduga Kh-55 cruise missile and put into serial production in 1981. Known to NATO as the Bear-H and was referred to by the U.S. military as a Tu-142 for some time in the 1980s before its true designation became known.


    Capable of carrying six Kh-55, Kh-55SM or Kh-555 cruise missiles on a rotary launcher in the aircraft’s weapons bay. 32 were built.


    Fitted with four underwing pylons in addition to the rotary launcher in the fuselage, giving a maximum load of 16 Kh-55s or 14 Kh-55SMs. 56 were built.


    Modernized version of MS16 with advanced radio-radar equipment as well as a target-acquiring/navigation system based on GLONASS. Four underwing pylons for up to 8 Kh-101/102 stealth cruise missiles. 19 aircraft have been modernized as of late December 2018. Its combat debut was made on 17 November 2016 in Syria.


    Experimental version for air-dropping an RS ramjet powered aircraft.


    Variant of the basic Bear-A configuration, redesigned for maritime reconnaissance and targeting as well as electronic intelligence for service in the Soviet Naval Aviation. Known to NATO as the Bear-D.


    Training variant, modified from surviving Bear-As but now all have been retired. Known to NATO as the Bear-T.


    Special carrier aircraft to test-drop the largest thermonuclear weapon ever designed, the Tsar Bomba.


    Long-range intercontinental high-altitude strategic bomber prototype, designed to climb up to 16,000-17,000 m. It was a high-altitude version of the Tupolev Tu-95 aircraft with high-altitude augmented turboprop TV-16 engines and with a new, enlarged-area wing. Plant tests of the aircraft were performed with non-high altitude TV-12 engines in 1955–1956.

HANDLEY PAGE HALIFAX HO-57/B-VI – Pakistan Air Force

Handley Page Halifax B.VI, 12º Squadron, Pakistan Air Force, 1949.

In Service (1948-1954)

Handley Page Halifax was one of the British front-line, four engine heavy bombers of the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War. A contemporary of the famous Avro Lancaster, the Halifax remained in service until the end of the war, performing a variety of duties in addition to bombing. The Halifax was also operated by squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, Royal Pakistan Air Force and Polish Air Force.

First two Halifax were delivered in 1948, used the aircraft was used during 1948 Kashmir War for night-time supply drop missions at Skardu and other northern areas of Pakistan. 6 ex-RAF Halifax B-VI were delivered in 1949, equipping No.12 Heavy Bomber Squadron raised in March 1950. Squadron converted to a composite squadron of four flights, including one flight of Halifax bombers, in September 1953.

Eventually all Halifax aircraft were transferred to long-term storage in 1954 and then disposed of as salvage.

H.P.61 Halifax VI

When the improved and more powerful Hercules 100 became available in 1944, the higher performance Mk.VI was introduced. With minimal changes from the Mk.III, the Mk.VI retained the same HP model number. Which featured Hercules 100 radials providing 1,250 kW (1,675 HP) take-off power, plus engine intake filters and a pressurized fuel system — the changes being mostly intended to support tropical operations in the Far East. They were otherwise similar to the B.Mk III in airframe configuration and equipment fit. Late production machines had a Boulton-Paul D.Mk II tail turret with twin 12.7-millimeter Browning machine guns.

A total of 643 B.Mk.VI machines were built.

During the war, many wondered why the Halifax remained in production when the Lancaster seemed the better bomber, but with the introduction of the B.Mk III, there wasn’t that much to distinguish the two in terms of range, ceiling, and speed. The Halifax did have a somewhat smaller bombload, about 85% that of the Lancaster, and the ultimate loss rate was higher — about one Halifax per 21 sorties, versus about one Lancaster per 27 sorties. However, this statistic was skewed by high losses of Halifaxes in the early days — the Halifax was in combat service about a year before the Lancaster became a real force — and in maturity, the odds of surviving being shot down in Halifax were almost twice as great as they were for a Lancaster. While the ultimate full load of bombs carried by the Halifax during the war was only about a third that carried by the Lancaster, it was still more than dropped by all other RAF bombers combined.

No. 217 Squadron RAF 1942-45

A Beaufort I in a dispersal pen at Luqa airfield in Malta, photographed in 1942. It has two Vickers K guns in the nose, operated by the navigator, an ASV radar aerial beneath the fuselage, and a large air filter above the engine cowling.

Beaufighter TFXs of 217 Squadron from RAF Vavuniya in Ceylon, practising formation flying in 1945 in preparation for Operation ‘Jinx’, the torpedo attack against the Japanese fleet in the Lingga Roads near Singapore

In mid-April 1942, 217 Squadron received orders to prepare flying to Ceylon, equipped in the torpedo-bomber role. The purpose was to help protect the island against a possible invasion by the Japanese forces which had conquered Malaya and occupied Singapore. But the squadron was unable to comply immediately, for it was not completely equipped with torpedo-carrying Beaufort IIs or with trained crews.

Moreover, on the first day of that month, Wing Commander ‘Mac’ Boal had failed to return from a torpedo attack against a German convoy near Stavanger Fjord in Norway. This convoy had consisted of ten vessels carrying supplies to the German forces occupying Kristiansand, escorted by three trawlers converted into flak ships. Boal had led two other Beauforts into the attack but had been shot down. He and the wireless operator Sergeant Stan Clarke had been killed. The navigator Sergeant John Sinclair and the air gunner Sergeant Maurice Mayne had been wounded but both had been picked up to become PoWs for the rest of the war. The other two Beauforts had dropped their torpedoes; these had missed but the aircraft had returned safely.

The preparation for the flight to Ceylon proved very protracted. Wing Commander W.A.L. Davies arrived to command the squadron. New crews joined from the Torpedo Training Unit, some after a rather skimpy course. New Beaufort IIs fitted with torpedo racks were slow to arrive. After several weeks, the crews began to fly down to Portreath in south-west Cornwall, where long-range tanks were fitted for the long flight ahead. The first leg of this was to be over neutral Portugal to Gibraltar. The next would be to the besieged island of Malta, and then a longer flight to Cairo in Egypt. It was not until 10 June that a first section of nine Beauforts arrived at RAF Luqa in Malta, with six more on the next day. Seven others eventually trickled in but another made a forced landing in Portugal, and the crew were interned. The arrival of these Beauforts was a bonanza for the Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice-Marshal Sir Hugh Pughe Lloyd, for he was able to employ them temporarily on operations which were far more urgent than a possible Japanese invasion of Ceylon. While heavily bombarded from the air, Malta was vital for the protection of Allied convoys carrying supplies to the British Eighth Army in North Africa. Some Beauforts of 22 Squadron had already arrived but the newcomers were also required to torpedo warships of the Italian Navy as well as to sink Axis vessels taking supplies to the Afrika Korps.

When the first Beauforts of 217 Squadron arrived in Malta, the island was so short of supplies that it could barely hold out any longer. Fuel and food were the most critical. However, two Allied convoys were approaching. One, code-named ‘Harpoon’, had left the Clyde and passed Gibraltar. The other, code-named ‘Vigorous’, had left Alexandria in Egypt and was also nearing the island. Both were under constant attack, mainly from the Luftwaffe, and had already suffered severe losses.

On 14 June the crew of a Baltimore reported spotting an Italian naval force converging on ‘Vigorous’. Nine Beauforts of 217 Squadron were ordered to attack at dawn the following day, led by Wing Commander Davies. Eight took off at about 04.00 hours but the other, flown by Flying Officer Arthur Aldridge, was delayed by another aircraft blocking the exit from his sheltering blast pen. Aldridge decided it was too late to link up with the other Beauforts and set course directly for the enemy fleet which, unknown to him, consisted of four cruisers and four destroyers. It arrived a few minutes before sunrise and the Italian gunners did not open fire, believing that a solitary aircraft flying out of the twilight must be friendly.

Aldridge circled and picked out a large vessel leading the formation. He flew at an angle of 45° ahead of it and released his torpedo from about 800 yards. The torpedo ran true while he turned away. It struck the 10,500-ton heavy cruiser Trento in the bows and exploded. At this point five of the other Beauforts arrived and attacked, while the remaining three headed north to hunt for two Italian battleships which had also been reported. Both formations flew into intense fire. All dropped their torpedoes but the Italians were able to ‘comb their tracks’. The action against the cruisers had been witnessed by the commander of the submarine HMS Umbra, which closed with the stricken vessel and put another torpedo into her. The Trento heeled over and sank, with heavy loss of life. The submarine then moved north to the Italian battleships and fired four more torpedoes, but all of these missed.

All the Beauforts returned to Malta but the crews were told to take off again, after replacing two damaged aircraft and one wounded gunner. They did so but found no targets, for the Italian warships had headed back to Taranto. Nevertheless, the ‘Vigorous’ convoy turned back to Alexandria, since its gunners had expended almost all their ammunition. Only two merchant ships from the ‘Harpoon’ convoy arrived at Malta, on the following day. The two convoys lost one cruiser, five destroyers, two minesweepers and six merchant ships, but they had brought some relief to Malta.

The next operation took place on 20 June when twelve Beauforts set off for an Axis convoy near the toe of Italy. Two aircraft which were last to take off were attacked by two Junkers Ju 88s. One flown by Sergeant Hutcheson managed to evade but the other, flown by Flying Officer Frank Minster, was shot down and there were no survivors. The other Beauforts did not find the convoy and returned without loss.

On the following day, nine Beauforts in three vics led by Squadron Leader Robert Lynn set off to attack a heavily-defended convoy bound for Tripoli in Libya. They were escorted by six Beaufighters of 235 Squadron. All three Beauforts in the first vic were shot down during the attack. Lynn and his crew lost their lives. The pilots of the other two managed to ditch; the crews were picked up by the convoy, some of them wounded. Two more Beauforts were hit, but they and the other five managed to return to Malta, albeit with some wounded. The formation had torpedoed and sunk the German merchant vessel Reichenfels of 7,744 tons.

On 23 June, Wing Commander Davies led seven Beauforts of his squadron, together with five of 39 Squadron, to another convoy off the toe of Italy. They hit and damaged the 6,835-ton Italian merchant vessel Mario Roselli but two Beauforts of 39 Squadron were shot down. One of the pilots in a Beaufort of 217 Squadron was wounded in the leg and crash-landed in Malta. A respite followed until 3 July, when Squadron Leader Patrick Gibbs led a mixed force from 39 and 217 Squadrons to attack a convoy off the south-west coast of Greece. Torpedo hits were claimed but two Beauforts of 217 Squadron were shot down; these were flown by Sergeant Russell Mercer and Sergeant James Hutcheson, and there were no survivors.

After this attack, 217 Squadron was released for over a fortnight. Its losses had been severe and there was a problem with sickness among the surviving aircrews in all three Beaufort squadrons, some of whom were suffering from tick fever, dysentery or scabies. Rations were down to near-starvation level, which exacerbated these problems.

The first attack after this recovery period took place on 21 July when Squadron Leader Gibbs led three Beauforts of 217 Squadron with four of 86 Squadron and two of 39 Squadron to a convoy near the Greek island of Cephalonia. They claimed some success and all returned safely.

On 22 July, Wing Commander Davies returned to the UK. Patrick Gibbs was promoted to Wing Commander and took over the remainder of 39, 86 and 217 Squadrons in Malta. These began to function as a single unit, sometimes with men from different squadrons flying in the same aircraft.

An attack with this composite unit took place on 24 July, with three Beauforts of 217 Squadron and three of 86 Squadron, escorted by nine Beaufighters of 235 Squadron. Their target was a large merchant ship which had been spotted near Cephalonia, escorted by two destroyers and two flak-ships. The Beaufighters and the three Beauforts from 86 Squadron attacked first, but all the Beauforts were shot down by an intense barrage. However, the three from 217 Squadron attacked from the opposite direction, taking the enemy gunners by surprise, and scored two torpedo hits on the Italian Vettor Pisani of 6,339 tons, which caught fire and burnt out. Four of the men from 86 Squadron were killed but eight were picked up to become PoWs.

An attack which took place on 28 July resulted in one of the most extraordinary events of the Second World War. Nine Beauforts were racked up with torpedoes and took off under the leadership of Gibbs to attack a merchant ship escorted by two destroyers south-west of Greece. Two Beauforts of 217 Squadron were shot down. Three crew members of the aircraft flown by Pilot Officer R.I.C. Head were picked up by one of the destroyers. The four men in the other Beaufort, flown by Lieutenant Ted Strever of the SAAF were picked up by an Italian Cant floatplane and taken north to the Greek port of Prevesa. On the following day, they were taken in another Cant towards Taranto in Italy, but managed to overpower the armed guard and the Italian crew. They flew the Cant to Malta and landed in a bay, despite being attacked by Spitfires.13

Another convoy for Malta, code-named Operation ‘Pedestal’, entered the Mediterranean via Gibraltar on 10 August. Five merchant ships reached Grand Harbour, the last being a crippled tanker on 15 August. The convoy had suffered the loss of an aircraft carrier, two cruisers, a destroyer and nine merchant ships, but it had brought enough fuel and supplies to keep Malta viable for two months. At last, 217 Squadron was released to continue its flight to Ceylon, but it could muster only eight crews and Beauforts from the original twenty-one which had landed at Luqa. The aircraft were fitted with long-range tanks for the flight ahead.

The last crew left Malta on 28 August. The flights to Ceylon took place in a series of hops to RAF landing grounds or stations. From Cairo the usual route was south to the northern tip of the Red Sea and then east across Iraq to Habbaniya, near Baghdad. The next stage was south-east down the Persian Gulf to Bahrein. Then they turned east once more, to Karachi in India. The final stages were south-east via Bombay and Bangalore to RAF Mimmeriya in central Ceylon. The squadron’s ground party had already arrived by sea and then overland.

After a few weeks, the crews converted from Beauforts to Lockheed Hudsons. New crews arrived and Wing Commander A.D.W. Miller assumed command in November. The squadron became employed in anti-submarine patrols over the Indian Ocean. Detachments were sent to Ratmalana, close to Colombo in the south-west of the island.

These patrols in Hudsons proved uneventful and in February 1943 the squadron moved about fifty miles north to RAF Vavuniya, where living conditions were slightly more comfortable. Wing Commander R.J. Walker took over the squadron in March and the crews converted to Beauforts again during April. Together with 22 Squadron on the same station, they formed a torpedo-carrying strike force against Japanese warships, but the latter were engaged on more urgent matters in the Pacific and failed to appear. One crew from 217 Squadron was lost during torpedo practice on 26 August 1943, having probably hit the sea while flying at very low level.

This inactivity with Beauforts lasted for over a year and became so irksome to the aircrews that they called themselves ‘The Ceylon Home Guard’. However, torpedo-carrying Beaufighter TFXs (‘Torbeaus’) arrived in June 1944 and the aircrews began to convert on to them. Wing Commander John G. Lingard DFC took over 217 Squadron in the following August. The aircrews began to train with deadly rocket projectiles (RPs) and by the end of the year their squadron became a very effective fighting force. At this time, 22 Squadron was similarly equipped and began moving to the Burma theatre.

In early 1945 a new operation was devised for 217 Squadron by the RAF’s No 222 Group in Colombo. This consisted of an attack against the Japanese fleet in Singapore and was code-named Operation ‘Jinx’. However, the Beaufighters could not reach Singapore from Ceylon, a distance of about 2,300 miles, and it was decided that they would operate from the tiny group of the Cocos Islands, about 1,040 miles from Singapore provided they crossed the mountainous range of Sumatra. The operation was sanctioned by Vice-Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Commander of South-East Asia Command.

Huge efforts were made to prepare a staging post on the Cocos Islands for the operation. There was already a small party of Royal Engineers in a cable station on one of them, named Direction Island, and an advance party of airmen from 217 Squadron was landed there by cruiser in early March. These were followed by three large transports bringing over 200 airmen with building materials and supplies which included eighty-one torpedoes. ‘Station Brown’, with buildings and a runway of pressed steel planking on crushed coral, had been cut from the jungle at the end of April, under the command of Air Commodore A.W. Hunt.

Meanwhile the aircrews of 217 Squadron were practising long-distance flights of about eight hours in twelve Beaufighters fitted with extra fuel tanks. They knew they had to fly to the Cocos Islands and were told that their targets in Singapore included three battleships, an aircraft carrier and several destroyers, protected by fighters from three airfields. It was obviously an extremely dangerous operation, and possibly suicidal.

On 3 May, the men of 217 Squadron learnt that the operation had been cancelled. They were not told of the reason and were furious at their wasted effort. In retrospect it seems that the directive came from Mountbatten, for he had become intent on Operation ‘Zipper’, an invasion of the Malayan mainland near Phuket Island planned to begin in late August. All secondary operations were cancelled to conserve resources.

No 217 Squadron was ordered to move to RAF Gannavarum, south of Madras on the east coast of India, and to practice rocket and cannon firing in preparation for this new operation. The ground and air parties completed this move on 22 June, but Operation ‘Zipper’ never took place. As the world knows, the atom bombs were dropped on Japan and the country surrendered unconditionally on 14 August. On 30 September of that year, 217 Squadron was disbanded.

Handley Page H.P.50 Heyford

The last of the RAF biplane heavy bombers

The Air Ministry had tried all it knew to persuade the aircraft industry to tender designs of all-metal aircraft – both bombers and fighters – for half a decade, yet it was the industry itself that had been unwilling or unable to comply fully with this dictate, companies producing composite wood-and-metal prototypes accompanied by undertakings to change to all-metal construction if the tender was accepted for production. It was now no longer a matter of the industry calling the Air Ministry’s bluff; the RAF was already disestablishing the woodworking trades. Vickers, for one, was hard at work rebuilding in metal almost every Virginia extant.

And it is worth mentioning here that one very large all-metal aeroplane, ordered by the Air Ministry as long ago as 1923, had flown in 1928 but, contrary to public reports issued at the time, it was not a bomber (and therefore not conventionally eligible for this work). This was the Beardmore Inflexible, a massive aeroplane powered by three 600hp engines. It handled remarkably well in the air but, to be realistic, only confirmed that a large all-metal aeroplane – and a monoplane at that – could be built and that it could fly, but it made no provision for a bomb load. Had there been the slightest suggestion that a bomber version was envisaged, every bomber airfield in Britain would have had to undergo considerable enlargement, not to mention revised hangarage. However, the Inflexible had already made its last flight before Sir John Salmond came to the helm.

The first of the two bomber Requirements referred to previously, B. 19/27, attracted design tenders from Vickers, Fairey, Handley Page, Hawker, Avro and Bristol, prototypes being ordered from the first three of these manufacturers. The second Specification, B. 22/27, brought forth design tenders from Boulton and Paul and de Havilland for even larger bombers, and prototypes of these had been ordered.

Until these heavy bomber prototypes could be evaluated by the Service establishments and squadrons there appeared to be no immediate need to issue further bomber requirements and, owing to the adaptability of the Hart, other categories, such as army co-operation and general purpose aircraft (the latter satisfactorily filled by the Wapiti) could be ignored.

Ironically, neither B. 19/27 nor B. 22/27 succeeded in producing a significant advance in bomber design. B. 22/27 was abandoned when neither of the two three-engine prototypes impressed the Air Ministry or the A&AEE. B. 19/27, however, produced two `winners’, the Handley Page Heyford and the Fairey Hendon. The former was a twin-engine biplane of singular appearance but possessed a mediocre performance; it was also found to display a number of aggravating design blemishes whose rectification delayed entry into service. The latter, a large twin-engine monoplane with a very thick wing, paltry bomb load and pedestrian performance, was ready for service so late that it had long been overtaken by more imaginative aeroplanes, and joined only one squadron – in November 1936!

By 1932, with neither heavy bomber Specification on the table about to produce any significant advance (heavy bomber performance having increased by about 10% in eight years), the Air Ministry decided to issue a new Specification for what, at the time, were referred to as night heavy bombers but which, by the time they reached the Service, were realistically no more than medium bombers. This Specification, B. 9/32, proved to be the long awaited catalyst of bomber advance, producing in due course the Handley Page Hampden and the Vickers Wellington. Neither of these monoplanes flew until 1936, well into the period of RAF expansion.

The performance demanded by B. 9/32 demonstrated the Air Ministry’s determination to introduce monoplanes into the RAF, even though the process was likely to occupy at least five or six years. The Hendon monoplane to Specification B. 19/27 had first flown in November 1930, but had crashed soon after, and although it was to gain the distinction of becoming the RAF’s first monoplane bomber, it was evident that the path being followed by the Fairey Aviation Company into the monoplane era was a cul-de-sac.

In retrospect, the Handley Page H. P. 50 Heyford had the appearance of something that only a mother (or perhaps designer) could love, its heavy-looking biplane structure and spatted main landing gear units suggesting low speed or inefficiency. This impression was heightened by the fact that the fuselage was mounted to the upper wing, strut bracing filling a large gap between the fuselage and lower wing. This layout had a purpose, of course, the lower wing centre-section being of almost double the normal aerofoil thickness to allow bombs to be stowed internally, and brought close to the ground to speed the business of re-arming after a bombing sortie. Other features of the configuration included wings of basic metal structure with fabric covering, a fuselage which was half metaland half fabric-covered, accommodation for a crew of four, robust tailwheel landing gear, and a braced tailplane carrying twin fins and rudders. Power was provided by two Rolls-Royce Kestrel engines, mounted in nacelles beneath the upper wing, outboard of the fuselage and directly above the main landing gear units. The armament had one more unusual feature to add to the appearance of the Heyford, one of its three defensive machine-guns being mounted in a ventral `dustbin’ turret that could be lowered beneath the fuselage, aft of the wing.

The prototype H. P. 38 was flown for the first time during June 1930, and successful service testing resulted in the type being ordered, initially as the Heyford Mk I. A total of 124 had been supplied to the RAF by the time that production ended in July 1936, these comprising 15 Heyford Mk I, 23 Heyford Mk IA, 16 Heyford Mk II and 70 Heyford Mk III aircraft; they differed primarily in installed powerplant. Entering service first with 99 Squadron at Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, they eventually equipped also 7, 9, 10, 38, 78, 97, 102, 148, 149 and 166 Squadrons until the last of them were displaced by Vickers Wellingtons in 1939. However, they continued in use for some time, especially in training units, until finally declared obsolete in July 1941 as the last biplane bomber to serve with the RAF.

Specifications (Heyford IA)

General characteristics

  • Crew: four (pilot, co-pilot/navigator, bomb aimer/air gunner, wireless operator/air gunner
  • Length: 58 ft (17.68 m)
  • Wingspan: 75 ft (22.87 m)
  • Height: 17 ft 6 in (5.34 m)
  • Wing area: 1,470 ft² (136.6 m²)
  • Empty weight: 9,200 lb (4,180 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 16,900 lb (7,680 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Kestrel II-S liquid-cooled V12 engine, 525 hp (392 kW) each


  • Maximum speed: 142 mph (123 knots, 229 km/h) at 13,000 ft (3,960 m)
  • Range: 920 mi (800 nmi, 1481 km)
  • Service ceiling: 21,000 ft (6,400 m)
  • Climb to 10,000 ft (3,050 m): 15.3 minutes


  • Guns: 3 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns (nose, dorsal and ventral ‘dustbin’ positions)
  • Bombs: 2,500 lb (1,134 kg) total