January 2, 2011: In December, 2010, Russia grounded its force of 65 Tu-95MS and Tu-142 heavy bombers, because of a possible problem with the NK-12M turboprop engines. An AN-22 transport, which uses the same turboprop engine as the bombers, had recently crashed because of engine problems. These groundings usually last a few weeks or a month. In 2009, a Tu-142 crashed at sea, apparently because of engine problems, which led to a grounding. All these aircraft types are elderly, and care must be taken when components fail unexpectedly. For example, in the 1990s, cracks were found in the wings of some very old Tu-95s, and those aircraft were scrapped. Like all old aircraft, Tu-95/142s undergo constant inspection for age related problems.
The Tu-95 aircraft (called "the Bear" in the West) entered service over half a century ago, and is expected to remain in service, along with the Tu-142 variant, for another three decades. The Tu-142 was introduced in the 1970s, as the maritime patrol version. Over 500 Tu-95s were built, and it is the largest and fastest turboprop aircraft in service. Russia still maintains a force of 50 Tu-95MSs (a missile carrying version from the 1980s), and fifteen Tu-142s. There are dozens of Tu-95s in storage, which can be restored to service as either a bomber or a Tu-142.
The 188 ton aircraft has flight crew consisting of a pilot, copilot, engineer and radioman, and an unrefueled range of 15,000 kilometers. Max speed is 925 kilometers an hour, while cruising speed is 440 kilometers an hour. Originally designed as a nuclear bomber, the Tu-142 version still can carry up to ten tons of weapons (torpedoes, mines, depth charges, anti-ship missiles, sonobuoys) and a lot more sensors (naval search radar, electronic monitoring gear). There are two 23mm autocannon mounted in the rear of the aircraft. The mission crew of a Tu-142 usually consists of eight personnel, who operate the radars and other electronic equipment. Patrol flights for the Tu-142 can last twelve hours or more, especially when in-flight refueling is used. Maximum altitude is over 14,000 meters (45,000 feet). The Tu-95MS is designed to carry four or more large cruise missiles.