Russian B-29 Clone The TU-4 Story
by Wayland Mayo
Probably the most significant development in aviation history is one which most Americans dont even know happened. We worked hard to get our B-29 built so we could reach Japan, the retaliation that President Roosevelt so badly wanted. The Russians also wanted and badly needed a long range bomber as much as we did. The difference is, we engineered ours with ingenuity and perseverance, the Russians stole it. Read this fascinating story and you will find it hard to believe, but it actually happened. The B-29 is now as much a part of Russian aviation history as it is to American aviation history.
RUSSIAN B-29 CLONE- THE TU-4 STORY
After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, President
Roosevelt had a burning desire to retaliate by bombing Japan. This
soon became an obsession with him, but how were we going to accomplish
this seemingly impossible feat? The only long range bomber in our
arsenal was the B-17, and the idea of reaching Japan became increasingly
remote. We needed a Super Bomber, but did not even have one on the
drawing board. Roosevelt fortunately had a solution to his problem,
with time almost ruling out such an undertaking. His solution was
Gen. H.H. Arnold, better known as HAP. Gen. Arnold was
already pushing for a more sophisticated Air Force with long range
capability. He sent request to all the aircraft companies seeking
designs for a Super Bomber. Boeing had been working on such a design
and won the contract. They were to deliver two flying prototypes by
1942. It was to be the fastest, largest, heaviest plane ever mass
produced. The U.S. ordered 250 sight unseen. Then Germany attacked
Russia. The number was increased to 500 planes. On Sept. 21st, 1942,
the Boeing XB flew out of the Seattle plant. This three billion dollar
gamble was the largest government commitment ever to a single project,
including the Atomic Bomb. There were residual benefits to this contract.
It brought the country together. Boeing had four assembly plants,
and hundreds of smaller plants making subassemblies. Finally in 1943
the first production model
B-29 rolled out of the Wichita plant. Eventually over 4000 were produced,
1600 at the Wichita plant which employed 26,000 workers working seven
days a week.
A U.S. made version of the B-29
About the same time three B-29s with emergencies landed in Vladivostok. One of the planes was the Ramp Tramp, another was the Ding Hao. Ironically the third plane was completely intact was the Gen. H.H. Arnold Special.
The crews assumed the planes would be refueled and they would return to China.
They were never to see their planes again. The crews and aircraft were
all interned. Now the Russians were holding four crews and three complete
B-29s. Desperate negotiations by the U.S. for the release of the
crews and the aircraft were ignored.
The TU-4 project was well underway early in 1945. An increase in quality control and sheer perseverance moved things along. The end of the war with Japan made no difference in the production effort. It was full speed ahead. The U.S. had previously not believed the Russians had the capability to clone the B-29, it seemed totally inconceivable. The public Russian debut in the Aviation Day parade in 1947 changed their minds. The U.S. found itself in a panic situation when they learned the TU-4 was indeed a reality, capable of hitting any target in the U.S. There were reports of one way missions by hundreds of TU-4s carrying nuclear bombs attacking the U.S. This forced the U.S. to beef up their Radar systems, surface to air missiles, and interceptor jet fighters.
The Russian version of the U.S. B-29 Russian designation to be known as the TU–4 NATO designation was “BULL”
Meanwhile, back in the Soviet Union, problems continued to plague the TU-4 project. The advanced avionics of the central fire control gunnery system remained unsolved. There were problems with the pressurization system, and the R-3350 copy was overheating, had short engine life, runaway props, and in general the total unreliability of the entire aircraft.
The Russians toiled endlessly on solving these problems,
and it was not until 1949 that the TU-4 became fully operational with
some 300 in service.