Taken on January 12, 2022 at the Kazan Aviation Plant, the video in this article features the maiden flight of Russia’s first Tupolev Tu-160M strategic bomber rolling the newly reconstructed Blackjack production line.
“The flight took place at an altitude of 600 meters [1,969 ft] and lasted about 30 minutes. Tupolev’s test pilot crew performed maneuvers to test the aircraft’s stability and controllability in the air,” Rostec said.
The Tupolev Tu-160 Beliy Lebed is a supersonic variable-wing strategic bomber. The Blackjack is the largest and heaviest fighter aircraft, the fastest bomber currently in use, and the largest and heaviest variable-wing aircraft ever flown.
The Tu-160 entered operational service in 1987, and as of 2016 the Russian Air and Space Force (RuASF) fielded 16 Tu-160s. The Blackjack fleet has been undergoing electronic systems upgrades since the early 2000s.
According to Janes, the restart of production of the upgraded Tu-160M variant was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2015 to boost the Air Force’s strategic bombing capabilities at a time of growing tension with the West and to compensate for delays in the future PAK-DA bomber program.
Russia plans not only to eventually purchase about 50 Tu-160M bombers, but also to upgrade 16 existing airframes to standard. Serial production is to begin by 2023 at a production rate of at least three aircraft per year. This would fit with the order for 10 aircraft in the period 2023-2027.
The Tu-160M upgrade is being rolled out in two phases, with the first phase of the Tu-160M1 including the new K-042K-1 navigation system and ABSU-200-1 autopilot, as well as the removal of some previous systems, such as bomb targeting systems. The first upgraded Tu-160M1 was delivered in December 2014.
The second phase of the Tu-160M2 includes the new Novella NV1.70 radar, a digital “glass” cockpit, modern communications and anti-jamming equipment, and modern conventional and nuclear weapons.
The new bomber will also be powered by upgraded versions of the existing Kuznetsov NK-32 afterburner turbojet. Upgraded engines are more fuel efficient and more reliable than stock engines.
Photo credit: United Aircraft Corporation