Could a Tu-95 Bear bomber be landed on a Nimitz class carrier?

I’m pretty sure the answer is a very firm “No”, but I’ve been surprised before.

I’m currently reading ‘Bear: Flight to Liberty’ by Miguel Vargas-Caba which has as its premise a fictional Bear bomber crew defecting to the West. At one point, after the crew has decided to defect but are still working out the details of their plan they are on a routine intelligence gathering flight over a US carrier battle group.

What if the pilot just decided, “Screw it, that’s US territory, I’m taking this baby down”, having checked the relative sizes of ship and aircraft I’m guessing it would be a pretty impressive boom, especially with a complement of planes onboard, but is there any way he could pull it off?


Haven’t read the book, but just wondering if you could make radio contact (to avoid being blown out of the sky) and ditching the bugger and hoping one could be rescued before everyone drowned.

That’s an idea, and I’d be interested in if someone more knowledgeable than myself could say if its feasible.

I’ve heard of a C-130 (a 4 engine turboprop cargo plane) landing on a carrier, but nothing bigger.

Not even remotely close. The TU-95 is a very large bomber developed to be a Soviet response to U.S. bombers like the B-52. The TU-95 is 151 feet long and has a wingspan of 164 feet. I haven’t been able to find any data on its minimum landing distance but it has to be at least in the several thousand feet range based on its class. A Nimitz class aircraft carrier only has a total landing area less than 800 feet long and and a runway that is less than the TU-95’s wingspan. It also doesn’t have the necessary arresting hook to catch the wires for the very short stop needed. The result of any attempt like that would simply be a flaming ball of airplane that destroys a lot of other planes on the deck before it falls into the ocean at the end of the runway.

Width of the Nimitz’s flight deck, at its widest, is 78.4 m. It looks like the widest spot is forward of the island. Beam at the waterline is 41m.

Wingspan of the Bear is 50.1 m. Empty weight is 90,000 kg, which is comfortably more than the max takeoff weight of the KC-130 mentioned above. Emergency landing length for the Bear was guessed by the CIA to be at least 1200m. (Go to page 8 of the .pdf link)

Even with some idealized arrester gear and hook on the Bear, I’m going to say, “No.” Be interesting to watch it try though. From a distance.

That is assuming the carrier strike-force would even let it get that close to them.
Not gonna happen.

I’m pretty sure you’re right, but I can’t prove it yet.

I found this description of some tests that were conducted in 1963 when they landed a C-130 on the USS Forrestal. It says there was 15 feet of clearance between the plane’s wingtip and the carrier’s island (the superstructure on the right side of the deck). According to Wikipedia, the wingspan of the Tu-95 is 31’10" greater than the C-13, 15’11" longer on each side. However, the Nimitz class is wider than the Forrestal class. I haven’t found a cite for the distance from the landing center line to the island. If you needed a few extra feet, you could land a few feet left of center. It sounds like it would be pretty close, one way or the other.

There’s also runway length to worry about. The C-130 was made for short takeoffs and landings, so it had good low-speed performance, braking, and could reverse the propeller pitch. The cite above says they had plenty of distance to spare during the carrier trials. A swept-wing bomber like the Tu-95 is going to need a much longer runway, although I can’t find an exact spec. If anyone does find that number, remember that the carrier can turn into the wind, so the wind speed, plus the carrier’s own speed will be a significant relative headwind for the plane on approach.

Maybe the biggest problem with your scenario is that the carrier is not expecting the Bear. The bomber is going to need all the help it can get. I think carriers typically do keep planes and equipment on deck (again, read the cite about the C-130 trials). And if they’re not doing flight operations, they won’t necessarily be pointing into the wind.

The Tu-95 is a land-based aircraft. If I wanted to defect, I surely would not want to risk being shot to smithereens from 200 miles out, or risk a flaming death on an aircraft carrier deck even if I got that far.

A Tu-95 is no C-130 either in size, mission or design. C-130’s are rather unique in their takeoff and landing capabilities. The heavy bombers do not compare in that regard.

The minimum emergency landing distance given as an official estimate by the CIA above is at least 1200m (3900 feet) and that sounds reasonable for the class. That so many times greater than the runway length on a Nimitz class carrier that I am willing to call it impossible.

It is true that the carrier could be pointed directly into the winds of an incredible storm like Katrina with perfectly steady, sustained winds in the 110+ mile an hour range so that the Tu-95 comes in at an effective speed of 20 - 30 mph relative to the runway but I think we all know that a ship bouncing around in seas like that isn’t going to make any sort of a workable landing platform for any plane.

I may be more pessimistic than you but I am more than willing to declare this one effectively if not completely impossible. It would make a good cheezy action movie though.

Hey - there’s always “chop and drop” - a huge bomber pulling a full-up, power-off stall 10’ above the deck!
It COULD work! (but only if the flag has RED fringe).

Even if the carrier group had CIA confirmation that the crew was defecting there’s no way they’d let them even attempt a landing on a US carrier. They’d demand that they ditch nearby and have rescue forces standing by to assist. Or just have them all eject/bail out and do the same (letting the plane crash). An intact Bear bomber would not be so much of a desired prize as to be worth losing a supercarrier for it. As long as it didn’t sink in deep water you could still retrieve all the important tech from it.

Hmm, I tried posting this before, but I guess it’s Hamster Chow now.

Re-read the first line of my post. I agree with you and the OP. It wouldn’t work, but figuring out exactly why is an interesting exercise.

What’s the landing speed needed to get that 3900’ runway length? What’s the highest sustained wind an aircraft carrier can operate in, and how fast can it travel into that wind? What’s the relative wind speed across the deck of the carrier, and what does that do to the length of the landing roll?

It’s like fifth grade math; it’s not enough to get the right answer, we have to show our work.

And if we had a POH for the Tu-95, we might be able to extrapolate the curves on its wind v weight v density altitude v runway length. Reading Cyrillic would help. Also, would something so heavy put a hole in the flight deck? Or just dent it, if it even damaged it at all?

I was just surprised that the wingspan on that beast would still be within the bounds of the flight deck.

I don’t think the Bear could pull off a Yukikaze, but it would be worth a watch!

*(about 5 mins 55 secs in)*

Agreed, this why after checking the relative sizes it went from ‘absolutely impossible’ to ‘what if’ in my head.

Thanks for the answers everyone!

I am such a friggin’ dork. Anyway, I’ve found what purports to be the 1970s era flight manual for the Tu-114. It was largely based on the Tu-95, but has a bigger fuselage, as it was intended to be an airliner… The manual may be downloaded from here. I haven’t caught the creeping bit rot from the download yet, but do be careful.

Naturally, the flight manual is in Cyrillic, and I don’t read it yet. It does look like though it has performance charts and descriptions that look like they might answer in sufficient detail Machine Elf’s questions. For a Tu-114 anyway.

I feel compelled to point out that a carrier flight deck is not “US territory.”

I agree it’s “no” and by a large margin. But as the OP said, let’s show our work.

It’s clear that in the real world an actual USN carrier on patrol would never consent to a supposedly-defecting TU-95 getting close. So we’ll assume this is some sort of pre-arranged test, USN observers aboard the TU-95, RusNav observers aboard the carrier, etc. So we’re just interested in the flight-ops issues of landing, not the whole military/tactical perspective.

I think it’s also pretty clear we’re going to need the full deck area of the carrier, so 100% of the carrier’s aircraft need to be airborne or on the hangar deck. Anything left sitting out on the flight deck will be struck during the TU95’s landing attempt. This is not a problem for our pre-planned test scenario, but would be an insurmountable obstacle in a surprise defection scenario.

We have three issues to contend with: wingspan vs. island clearance, runway weight-bearing capacity, and available runway length.
As to wingspan:

The limiting factor is distance from the left main gear to the right wingtip. Too far right and the wingtip hits the island; too far left and the left main gear runs off the ship’s port side. Either one is game over in spectacular fashion. Unlike a C-130 or similar, the TU-95 has very wide track main gear. See the 3-view diagrams here:

It’s about 85’ from right wingtip to aircraft centerline, and another 20-ish feet from aircraft centerline to the left main gear. So that’s 105’

This was the best Nimitz diagram I was able to find, and it doesn’t have dimensions. But we know from wiki that the deck width is about 250’ at the widest. We see from the diagram it’s a pretty rectangular deck amidships, more so than older carriers were.

I assess the island to consume just over one fifth of the deck width at its location, leaving about 190-200 feet from the port deck edge to the port edge of the island.

That gives us 80-90 feet of slop. Which is frankly a lot more than I expected. I’d seen pix and vid of that C-130 on the Forrestal test, which left me real doubtful about this scenario before I did this research. The Nimitz class carriers’ flight decks are vastly wider than Forrestal was.

Setting aside the pucker factor of landing a big aircraft on a pretty-small boat, we routinely land similar-sized aircraft with left/right accuracy of ±5 feet. ±15 feet off centerline is pretty sloppy but does happen. Given the vagaries of landing on a moving target, some crosswind, etc., I’d give us ±5 feet for a really brass-balled test pilot in a test, ±15 for a more typical test, and even more (±25’?) for a defector trying to wing it.

So speaking just to wingspan, IMO we can do this in a test. And will probably fail 1 in 4 defection attempts. But see the end below for more.
Landing weight: We need to consider both the effect on the airplane and on the carrier.

Airplane: Working from wiki, I ballpark minimum practical landing weight at 205,000 lbs. for a pre-planned test close to shore and a nearby divert airport. That weight is about half of max takeoff weight. At that relative load, I’d expect the landing gear could survive a no-flare landing once without catastrophic failure. I know US airliners can. Oops. It’d probably survive several such landings, but you’d be abusing it pretty good. So this is not an obstacle for our test either.

Unless the aircraft is, as I suspect they really are, a 50 year-old, poorly maintained bucket of bolts with lots of incipient cracking. We’ll ignore that real-world consideration though. Likewise, if we’re doing this on a day with rough seas and the deck is rising while the plane is falling at impact it’ll be a real close shave. On a nice sunny day in flat water, this won’t be the limiting factor. Another vote for OK in test, probable epic fail in a defection.
As to the carrier deck: The heaviest modern carrier aircraft I could find is the C-2 / E-2. Which have empty, useful load, and max takeoff weights which lead me to expect their max landing weight is around 50,000 lbs.

So we’re looking at the TU-95 being about 4x heavier than the heaviest aircraft the carrier typically accepts. The carrier has to be designed for the worst case of rising deck, falling aircraft, and to survive doing that over and over for 20+ years. We’re trying a one-time event under totally benign conditions where minor damage is acceptable. The TU-95 also has extra-large tires versus typical US practice. The Soviets liked their aircraft to handle rough fields & poor snow-plowing. This will spread the impact loads a little bit.

I’m gonna score this one as: We’ll leave wheel dents in the carrier deck on impact, but we won’t break through. But it’ll be iffy. If this was being done in less-than benign test conditions, we’re almost certain to break through the deck and have a spectacular climax.

Aside: I’m assuming the deck strength is engineered based on aircraft landing loads. If instead the deck is built of, say, 10" of armor steel for battle-worthiness then TU-95 landing impact loads are a total non-issue.
Which leaves us with landing length: And this one is truly an epic, epic fail, IMO.

I have detailed performance data handy for 757 & 767. For all practical purposes a Tu-95 is a 757 fuselage connected to a 767 wing. The TU-95 wing has more sweep than a 767, which is bad for landing speeds. But it has more area, which is good. Typically airliners have great brakes, whereas bombers don’t. And the 767’s brake design and materials are 30+ years newer. But the TU-95 huge props are reversible, and that’s a huge drag increment over the thrust reversers on a 767.

For lack of better data, I’m gonna call all those factors a wash. My gut is that’s artificially favoring the TU-95, but that’s just gut, not even the arm-waving math we’ve been doing.

The no-slop, perfect pilot, perfect day, maximum effort landing & stopping distance of a 757 at the relevant percent of load is 3,410 feet from touchdown. For a similarly loaded 767 it’s 4,080 feet. We can save about 1% of stopping distance for each knot of headwind, at least for airliner-typical amounts of wind. The ship can do about 30 knots. And we can probably find smooth-enough water with wind speeds up to about 20 knots. So ballpark we can arrange 50 knots of headwind and save ballpark[sup]2[/sup] 50-ish % of landing distance.

Which gets us down to 1700-2000 feet from touchdown to stopped for 757 & 767. Per our earlier (questionable) assumptions the TU-95 is somewhere near there.

We typically have a fore-aft touchdown dispersion of about +/- 500 feet. If not flaring much and really bearing down on target accuracy we can hit +/- 100 ft. A test pilot dude who’s practiced the maneuver on a runway could do better. A typical Russian bomber squadron pilot who makes one flight and landing every 2 months couldn’t do as well as we do every day.

To avoid the catastrophic error of the main gear hitting the face of the fan-tail instead of making the deck area we’re going to have to aim a little long. So I’m gonna WAG the getting stopped point as 2000-2300 past the fan-tail.

The ship is 1100’ long, and the flight deck is the longest part. So the ship is about 50% too short or the airplane needs about 200% too much runway.

We’re not gonna arm-wave this difference away. IMO the TU-95 goes off the bow in max reverse with max wheel braking while still doing 50+ knots compared to the ship. And is immediately run over by 100,000 tons of high speed steel. Epic Fail. But it will be spectacular.
Wrapping up …

There’s one last practical objection. A look at the ship’s schematic I linked to above shows there’s a notch in the deck at the port aft corner. So to obtain the full deck width we need to touch down well forward of the stern, about 200’ by my estimate. Alternatively if we touch down at the leftmost edge of the true stern, we’re going to have a lot less wingtip clearance going by the island. Say 30 feet instead of 80. Which pretty well eats our error budget for left / right alignment versus wingspan clearing the island.

Given the certainty of going off the bow, I’m not sure how to handicap choosing between aiming for the very stern and having a 50/50 shot at catching a wingtip on the island, but getting an extra 200 feet of run-out versus aiming for the beginning of the wider part of the deck and landing 200’ closer to the inevitable bow drop into the sea.

As Martin Brody (Roy Schneider) famously said about another debacle at sea

Colloquially, what’s the distinction? Considering that a warship, (quoting from The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations, chapter 2.1.2, International Status):

What further powers would the ship have if it were actually “U.S. Territory”?

On the high seas, it’s as close as you can get.

Yes, you could land a Bear on the Nimitz. But only once. And it would depend on your definition of landing. :wink: