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The 10 Best Strategic Bomber Aircraft In The World

The strategic bombing role came to the fore during WW2 with increased needs for military aircraft to carry large ordnance loads over medium-long ranges, into hostile territory reducing the targets operational abilities.

By the end of WW2, conventional free-fall weaponry had been superseded by the atomic age, with the peak of strategic bombing missions culminating in the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Unleashing levels of devastation never seen before, it started a global arms race to develop more advanced aircraft capable of flying higher, faster, and further with heavy loads.

Basic designs have reached a stage physically where any future updates tend to be electronic affairs improving the aircraft’s navigation, radar, and precision while airframes remain unchanged.

10. Tupolev TU-95 Bear

Unlike modern fighters, strategic heavy bombers have longer operational lifespans, in the case of Tupolev’s TU-95 Bear, dating back to 1956. Influenced by the successful B29, Tupolev scaled up the design to create the “Bear” a four-engined intercontinental bomber. Powered by four Kuznetsov NK12 turboprops provides impressive performance, capable of up to 574mph while reaching targets in excess of 9,000 miles away.

A regular sight in the west with the type being deployed on training exercises the TU-95 is easily recognizable due to its unique double propeller contra-rotating propeller arrangement.

9. Boeing B52 Stratofortress “BUFF”

Affectionately dubbed “Big Ugly Fat Fella”, Boeings B-52 remains in service 70 years after being introduced, replacing SAC’s piston-engined heavy bomber fleet. Unique engine placement with eight Pratt & Witney TF33 series engines mounted in twin pods, giving a combined 136,000lbs of thrust allows a mixed payload of up to 70,000lbs. A higher cruising speed of 650mph with a similar range to its Soviet-era rivals reflects the flexibility and ruggedness of the types design.

Expected to remain in service until 2040, Boeing has continually updated the existing B52 fleet of 58 units extending its operational lifespan.

8. Tupolev TU-16 Badger

Serving for over 60 years with the former Soviet states, Tupolev’s TU-16 Badger became operational in 1954 in response to US Forces’ superior strategic bombing platforms. Initially introduced in conventional free-fall bombing speciations, later in the mid-1950s, the Badger B appeared with nuclear capability designed to carry the Soviet AS-1 cruise missiles. Twin RD-3M turbojets provided 41,000lbs of thrust enough sufficient to cruise around 600mph over ranges of 4,500 miles.

Soviet states retired the Badger from active service in 1993, though other foreign operators still operate the TU-16. Still, these are license-built, modified, and given new designations.

7. General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark

Variable geometry wings, when combined with Pratt & Witneys TF30 engines, provided General Dyanmic’s F-111 with fighter levels of performance capable of reaching Mach 2.5 at high altitudes. Impressive performance compromised the F-111’s payload and endurance with internal fuel limiting range to 3,100 miles with a maximum take-off weight of 100,000lbs. No longer in active service, with the last operational aircraft with the RAAF retired in 2010, 43 years after the type’s introduction.

Early requirements included “B” spec variants for carrier use, though the USN would later adopt Grumman’s F-14 Tomcat proving capable to carry the larger Phoenix weapons system rendering the F-111B unnecessary.

6. Tupolev TU-22M Backfire

Early design deficiencies led Tupolev to return to the wind-tunnel to improve the aircraft’s handling flaws, extensively updating its design to the Tu-22M specification finally able to meet its designed role. Unusual variable geometry applied to the outer half of its wing profile gives the TU22M its distinctive appearance while improving short take-off capabilities. Operating at high altitudes up to 43,000ft enabled Backfires to reach their maximum 1100 mph, though typically cruising around 500 mph for maximum range.

Produced between 1969-1997 over 490 examples have been completed with the type undergoing modernization in the early 2000s, over 100 aircraft remain in service with the Russian Air Force

5. Tupolev TU-160 Blackjack

Supersonic capabilities and variable geometry wings provide Tupolevs TU-160 very similar design characteristics Rockwell’s B1 Lancer program, with the Backfire having a more angular overall appearance. Entering service in 1987 becoming the largest and heaviest supersonic military aircraft weighing in at 242,000lbs while maintaining its ability to reach speeds of near 1,400mph.

Surprisingly in 2018 Tupolev designers proposed to develop and build a civilian airliner version of the TU-160 design creating a modern super-sonic transport, no further reported developments have been announced.

4. Avro Vulcan B2

Originally intended to carry nuclear-armed Blue Steel missiles, AV Roe’s Vulcan formed part of the UK’s “V” bomber force with the type the most advanced of the three designs. Delta wing designed, with four Rolls-Royce Olympus jet engines Vulcan’s possessed excellent high-speed performance and maneuverability negating the need for defensive armaments relying on its top speed of 644mpg to evade interception.

Proving invaluable during the 1982 Falklands conflict carrying out 7 raids against Artgentian held targets, at the time the longest bombing raids in history. Scoring direct hits on critical airfields reduced fast jet operations.

3. Xian H-6

Looks familiar? It should, Xian H-6 is a license-built variation of Tupolev’s TU-16, with later H6A models designed to be nuclear-capable, used to test China’s ballistic nuclear missiles. Externally identical to Tupolev’s design fitted with more powerful D-30KP turbojets with larger air intakes being the only clue to its updates, while Xian completely redesigned the type’s flight deck.

Securing foreign orders from Egypt and Iraq Xian completed 180 H6’s before production ended in 1969, with the PLAAF the only remaining operator.

2. Rockwell B1 Lancer

As a stop-gap interim design entering service in 1986, Lancers still form a vital part of SAC’s arsenal combining heavy payloads and supersonic flight capability. High-performance can be attributed to two areas, variable-geometry wings provide better aerodynamics at high-speed while four General Electric F101 engines provide a combined 120,000lbs of thrust. Intercontinental range, a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 while hauling its internal load of 70,000lbs makes the Lancer a formidable tool.

Always a popular attraction at airshows, B1’s despite their design dating back to 1974 still look modern often exhibited in a menacing matt black paint scheme leading visitors to believe the type is a recent product.

1. Northrop Grumman B2 Spirit

Futuristic in appearance the B2 first flew in 1989 before finally entering operational service in 1997,  with the type being actively deployed over Kosovo in 1999. Designed to be a strategic nuclear bomber the B2 utilizes stealth technology to “hide” from enemy radar, something that remains a closely guarded secret today. With the USAF being the only operator, just 21 examples have been completed with plans to remain operational until 2032.

The integration of the four General Electric F118-GE-100 engines into the upper wing surface helps to mask the thermal signature while providing long-range cruising speeds of 630mph.


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