Let’s face it, the vast majority of aircraft to have been designed and built in the Soviet Union during the Cold War were largely fairly… ugly. But there were always exceptions to the rule. The Tu-160 Blackjack, known as the White Swan for its graceful and sleek shape, was one such aberration. Enjoy the -160 in all of its glory in this fantastic video which features a pair of the large white bombers during patrols over Arctic regions of Russia.
The Tupolev Tu-160 was the last strategic bomber designed and built for the Soviet Union prior to its collapse, having first flown in 1981, entering service six years later. It was created as a Soviet counter of sorts to the Rockwell B-1B Lancer, America’s brand new supersonic strategic bomber with low-level penetration capabilities. Similar to the Lancer, the -160 featured variable-sweep wings, a blended wing layout, and underslung podded engines, grouped in twos. However, when it came to structural size and performance characteristics, the Blackjack is actually taller, longer, and faster than the B-1B, and is able to carry a slightly larger combat payload. By the end of its production run, though, only 35 -160s were produced.
While the Russian Air Force retained the -160 after the fall of the Soviet Union, only a few were combat-ready, as the majority of their Blackjack fleet was stationed in Ukraine, and unluckily for Russia, the Ukrainian government decided to seize all military assets within its borders and claim them as Ukrainian property. The Russian government was offered a $3 billion deal that would see the Blackjacks returned to Russia, though this offer was quickly shot down due to the lofty price tag. Ukraine began chopping up -160s left, right and center, as they had no use for them, and by the mid-1990s, the Russian government finally agreed to buy 8 remaining aircraft for $285 million, a relative steal.
Today, the entire Russian -160 fleet has been put through a massive overhaul to keep the aircraft relevant as a strategic bomber, at least until the 2040s, by which time a replacement will have been built and fielded. Only 11 Blackjacks are considered combat capable, though the Russian Air Force has previously stated the intention of building a minimum of one -160 every two to three years to rebuild its long range fast-bomber fleet.
Also, since there’s a real picture of Vladimir Putin in a Tu-160 floating around on the internet, I absolutely had to include it here.