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The Tupolev Tu-95 is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Commonly known by its NATO designation, 'Bear' the aircraft has four Kuznetsov NK-12 engines, each driving contra-rotating propellers. It remains the fastest mass-produced propeller-driven aircraft and the only turboprop-powered strategic bomber to go into operational use. Its distinctively swept back wings are at 35 degrees, a very sharp angle by the standards of propeller-driven aircraft. The Tu-95 carried and dropped the Tsar Bomba, the largest, most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated, in 1961. The Tu-95RT variant in particular was a veritable icon of the Cold War as it performed a vital maritime surveillance and targeting mission for other aircraft, surface ships and submarines. It was identifiable by a large bulge under the fuselage, which housed a radar antenna that was used to search for and target surface ships. The US Navy placed high priority in intercepting the Tu-95RT aircraft at least two hundred miles from aircraft carriers with its interceptors, which would then escort the Tu-95. During interceptions Tu-95 tail gunners typically kept their twin cannon pointed upwards so as not to antagonize the intercepting fighters. Similarly, NATO rules of engagement for interceptions restricted aircrews from locking onto the Tu-95 with fire control radar lest this be misinterpreted as a hostile act. During the height of the Cold War, the long range of the Tu-95 was demonstrated weekly as a pair of Tu-95s would fly from the Kola peninsula to Cuba along the east coast of the United States, escorted continuously along the way. In October 2008, during a Russian military exercise code-named Stability-2008, Tu-95MS aircraft fired live air launched cruise missiles (ALCM) for the first time since 1984. The long range of the Raduga Kh-55 ALCM means the Tu-95MS Bears have been transformed once again into a formidable strategic weapons system. In September of 2009, two Russian Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers carried out a routine patrol flight over the Arctic Ocean. The bombers had spent over 10 hours in flight, and were shadowed by two U.S. F-15 fighters. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]
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