The first newbuild Tu-160M made its maiden flight on 12 January. (United Aircraft Corporation)
Russia has flown the first Tupolev Tu-160M ‘Blackjack' strategic bomber to roll of its newly reconstituted production line.
The flight took place at Kazan Aviation Plant on 12 January.
“The flight took place at an altitude of 600 meters [1,969 ft] and lasted about 30 minutes. The crew of test pilots of Tupolev performed manoeuvres to test the stability and controllability of the aircraft in the air,” Rostec said.
The Tu-160 first entered into Soviet service in the late 1980s, with production running through to 1995. In 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the restart of production of the upgraded Tu-160M variant to bolster the air force's strategic bomber capabilities at a time of increasing tension with the West, and to offset delays to the PAK-DA future bomber programme.
Russia plans to eventually buy about 50 Tu-160M bombers and is upgrading 16 existing Tu-160s to the standard. With the first Tu-160M set to be delivered imminently, series production is to begin by 2023 at a production rate of at least three aircraft a year. This would fit with the order for 10 aircraft in the 2023–27 timeframe
The Tu-160M upgrade is being rolled out in two phases, with the first Tu-160M1 phase comprising the new K-042K-1 navigation system and ABSU-200-1 autopilot, as well as the removal of some previous systems, such as bomb sighting systems. This Tu-160M1-variant has been operational with the air force since late 2014.
The second Tu-160M2 phase includes the new Novella NV1.70 radar, a digital ‘glass' cockpit, modern communications and anti-jamming equipment, upgraded NK-32 engines (designated NK-32-02), and modern conventional and nuclear weapons.