Although it may not stand out in the annals of Soviet aviation, the Tu-12’s contribution is an important one. She, although less dignified than her bomber counterparts, holds the mark as the Soviet Union’s first jet-powered bomber. Converted from piston-engine Tu-2s of World War II fame on short-notice in 1947, the Tu-12 was built simply as a stopgap aircraft to the ‘73’ project (which would evolve into the Tupolev Tu-14) that was experiencing delays. She, however, would serve as a successful transitional and instructional aircraft, giving aeronautical engineers suggestions on successful future jet bombers, and giving V-VS pilots basic experience in flying a jet-powered bomber.
In 1946, the Soviet Union’s first jet aircraft, the Yak-15 and MiG-9, took to the skies on the same day, providing the V-VS with their first jet fighters. In the following year, the Tupolev design bureau entered the jet arena, starting work on their ‘73’ project. This was initially a short-range bomber incorporating the British Rolls-Royce Nene engines that had been supplied to the USSR in 1946. Andrei Tupolev had planned for the aircraft to complete for the Tushino flyby in Moscow, an annual airshow that demonstrated the V-VS’ capabilities. However, delays with the design had meant that the aircraft would not be ready to participate in the airshow. Tupolev needed a solution, and immediately.
It was then decided to convert a small number of available Tu-2 piston-engine bombers into jet bombers, removing the Shvetsov M-82 engines and fitting two Rolls-Royce Nenes in their place. This was done even before Tupolev received the directive from the government to do so, as Tupolev was desperate for a ‘jet bomber’. Other changes from the standard Tu-2 included a lengthened fuselage by a factor of 16 inches, a heightened tail by a factor of 12 inches and a decrease in dihedral (upwards angle of wings) by 3 degrees, along with a tricycle landing gear, as opposed to the Tu-2’s tail-dragger configuration. The aircraft’s structure was strengthened to hold the more powerful Nene engines, and the Tu-2’s offensive armament was replaced with a slightly larger Nudelman-Suranov NS-23 23mm cannon (which was found to cause stress to the airframe). The plane took to the skies on July 27, 1947.
Two aircraft were available for the planned flyby, which took place on August 3rd, 1947. The aircraft were then admitted to the V-VS to participate in state trials from October 1947 to February 1948. The NII V-VS (Air Force Scientific Institute) reported that the Tu-12 had a substantial increase in speed from the Tu-2 counterpart, higher rate of climb and a higher service sealing. However, they also reported that the aircraft consumed a much higher quantity of fuel to keep the same range as the Tu-2. Moreover, the heavier-caliber NS-23, when fired, would crack the glazed glass in the nose, leading to structural problems. And since the aircraft was flying at a much higher speed, the gunners in the rear quarters of the aircraft found it nearly impossible to move their manually-controlled machine gun, making them practically useless. On the same token, on simulated combat trials with the MiG-9 and Yak-15 jet fighters mentioned above, it was found that the 12.7mm machine guns on the Tu-12 were obsolete, and decided that any future bomber design must have 20mm cannons or larger. Although the aircraft, thanks to its Nene engines, could fly at a higher altitude, the lack of a pressurized cabin meant that the aircraft was confined to no higher than 10,000 feet; otherwise the air would be too thin for the crewman to survive.
In total, six Tu-12s were built. Although the Soviet Union’s first jet-powered bomber was a flop, it did pave the way forward for Soviet bomber technology. The aircraft gave V-VS pilots their first taste of flying a jet bomber, and gave them the experience needed to fly in more successful aircraft, such as the Tu-14 then in development or even IL-28 from the Ilyushin design bureau. The aircraft finished their career as experimental aircraft.
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