Low flying Tupolev in Smolensk

If you are a bit of an airplane fanatic (like me) and you visit Smolensk, then you just have to go and see the Tupolev Tu-16 monument just a few hundred meters (about a quarter mile) due West from the center of town, at the southern “vertex” of a small triangular shaped park.

The monument is actually not a replica, but a real retired Tu-16 from the the 46 VA VGK (SN) heavy bomber unit that was based in Smolensk. The presence of long range Soviet bombers in Smolensk actually dates back to right after the Second World War, when strategic bombers were regrouped within the Long Range Aviation of the Armed Forces (DA VS) in April 1946. The DA VS (Dal’naya Aviatsiya Vozdushnikh Syl – Long Range Aviation of Air Forces) comprised the 1st Air Army DA in Smolensk.

I always have mixed feelings about monuments and memorial dedicated to machines that were intended to bring death and destruction. On the other hand, though, the historical significance of this airplane in undeniable. For instance, delivery of the Tu-16 to China began in 1958, and the Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation (XAC) was license-produced under the Chinese designation Xian H-6. At least 120 of these aircraft remain in service. On 14 May 1965, one of the PLAAF Tu-16 bombers carried out the first airborne nuclear weapon test inside China. Moreover, a civilian adaptation, the Tupolev Tu-104, saw passenger service with Aeroflot.

Seeing this bomber so close, you can appreciate its large dimensions: it is 34.80 m (114 ft 2 in) long with a wingspan of 33.00 m (108 ft 3 in) and a wing area of 165 m2 (1,780 sq ft). It also starts to make sense why the NATO reporting name of the plane was “badger” (which the Oxford dictionary defines as “a heavily built omnivorous nocturnal mammal […] typically having a gray and black coat”).

Туполев_Ту-16_-,_Смоленск_-_прочее_RP27511
A different perspective of the Tu-16 monument in Smolensk. Picture source.

As you can see from the picture above, the plane actually stands on two concrete platforms under the mail landing gears and a metal pole under the tail section, but the impression you get when you see it in person is that it really is flying over you. This is why for the feature image of this post I played a bit with Photoshop and removed the platforms, creating the illusion that the plane is actually flying or “hanging from the sky”.

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