In the mid-1960s, the Soviet Navy developed a requirement for a long-range anti-submarine and maritime patrol aircraft to supplement the IL-38 medium-range aircraft. With the Tu-95 and Tu-114 in operation, Tupolev was asked to prepare proposals.
Nikolai Bazenkov was appointed chief designer for the project, which was given the number 142. He took the basic Tu-95 design but omitted all the strategic equipment. The wing was redesigned with increased span, up from 50.05m to 51.10m, which allowed more fuel to be carried, and with increased camber. Much of the defensive weaponry was also removed. Then he added the electronic equipment needed for its new role.
Featuring lengthened forward fuselage and Mod II (Tu-142M) and successive Bear-F variants having redesigned nose with revised cockpit. Bear-J is SovNavAir VLF communications version. SovAir strike version (with fuselage lengthening omitted) is Bear-H. All are powered by four NK-12MV turboprops, 14,795 ehp.
The crew in all versions is accommo-dated in nose and rear-fuselage pressurized cabins, as well as the pressurized but isolated rear turret, fitted to most versions. Most operational variants have an inflight-refuelling probe on the nose, but even on internal fuel it is possible to fly missions lasting 26 hours.
The prototype Tu-142 made its first flight from Zhukovski in July 1968. After flight tests by the designers and the NIl VVS, the aircraft was put into production at Kuibyshev and later at Taganrog. It entered service with Naval Long Distance Aviation in 1972; it was then the world's largest anti-submarine aircraft. It served as Bear-F alongside the smaller IL-38 but its long-range capability made it able to launch an attack on a submarine 5,000km from the aircraft's base. With improvements in electronics, work began in 1973 on an improved version, the Tu-142M, and its first flight was made on 4 November 1975.
The -142M was fitted with electronic equipment capable of early detection of low-noise submarines, a new and more accurate INS navigation system and automated radio communications. Its surveillance system worked on a 360 degree arc, and was more capable than that of the IL-38 at detecting magnetic abnormalities. Data was transferred immediately by satellite link back to base. With a capability to patrol for seventeen hours, the aircraft was provided with bunks for crew rest. Its internal fuel load was seventy tonnes, and it was equipped for in-flight refuelling which could extend the patrol duration beyond the seventeen hours when needed.
The VMS based its Tu-142s, which were given the NATO codename 'Bear F', in the Northern and Pacific regions; some were also based in Cuba and Vietnam until 1990, when political developments prompted their return to Russia.
Production was running at ten a year until 1983, when output was split between Bear F and Bear H, with five of each being produced. Bear F was identified in 1973, and later aircraft have a MAD sensor at the top of the fin.
A new version of the long-range four-turboprop Bear, carrying the subsonic 3,000km range AS-is Kent cruise missile, entered service late in 1984, according to the Pentagon. The new Bear H carries at least four AS-b5s, two under each inboard wing section, and may carry more internally. According to US estimates, some 40 Bear Hs were in service by 1986.
Production continued at Taganrog until 1988 suspended by President Yeltsin as a unilateral arms limitation measure, with one aircraft per month being completed. Total production run at both factories was 225 aircraft, including eight delivered to the Indian Navy starting in the mid 1980s and continuing until 1988.
The standard armament of the Tu-142 was two GSh-23 cannons mounted in the tail for defensive use. It could carry up to eight Kh-35 anti-shipping cruise missiles (NATO code AS-17) mounted on pylons under the wing, and internally, 450mm calibre anti-submarine torpedoes and/or 533mm calibre anti-shipping torpedoes. Depth charges could also be dropped. With a combat load of 11,340kg, its maximum range was 12,550km. Normal take-off weight was 170 tonnes, but 188 was possible with little difficulty.
Engines: 4 x NK-12MP, 15000hp
Max take-off weight: 188000 kg / 414471 lb
Empty weight: 80000 kg / 176371 lb
Fuel capacity: 73,000 lt
Wingspan: 51.10 m / 168 ft 8 in
Length: 49.50 m / 162 ft 5 in
Height: 12.12 m / 40 ft 9 in
Wing area: 295 sq.m / 3175.35 sq ft
Max. speed: 925 km/h / 575 mph
Ceiling: 13500 m / 44300 ft
Range: 12550 km / 7798 miles
Endurance: 25 hr