Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Tupolev TB 3 – the archaic look
Russian proclivities for giant aircraft dated back to the Sikorsky Ilya Muromets of 1914, and in time they accumulated sufficient knowledge and expertise to build even bigger machines. In 1925 Andrei N. Tupolev fielded the TB 1, an advanced metal monoplane that was the best in its class. Three years later he received orders to build a four-engine bomber with prodigious range and lifting abilities. He complied, and the new TB 3 emerged as an allmetal, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear and a crew of ten. Initial models were covered in corrugated metal, stressed to great strength. Consequently, in 1931 the TB 3 could lift more than 12,000 pounds on short flights—a payload unmatched until the Avro Lancaster and Boeing B-29 Superfortress a decade later. Stalin appreciated the propaganda value of such huge machines, and during the 1934 May Day parade no less than 250 TB 3s overflew Moscow. The production run concluded by 1938 with 808 machines built, with latter versions possessing smooth, stressed skin.
In service the TB 3s proved ruggedly adaptable and easily maintained. They made international headlines by transporting scientific teams during a number of expeditions to the Arctic Circle. TB 3s were also used during the mid-1930s to train embryonic Soviet parachute forces, who deployed by jumping off the aircraft’s broad wing. An even more controversial use was the so-called parasite experiments, whereby the lumbering craft carried their own fighter escorts. One TB 3 could successfully carry, launch, and retrieve no less than three I 15 biplanes and two I 16 monoplanes. The giant craft was marginally obsolete at the start of the 1941 German invasion and, being vulnerable to enemy fighters, served as a night bomber and transport. All these versatile machines were retired from service by 1944.