A pair of Tupolev Tu-160 bombers (NATO codename Blackjack) made the type's first-ever transatlantic flight, and first-ever landing outside the former Soviet Union's territory, with a 13-hour non-stop flight from Olenegorsk near Murmansk on Russia's North Atlantic coast to Venezuela's Libertador aerodrome. The bombers were initially escorted by Russian air force Su-27 fighters, and then intercepted north of Norway by Norwegian air force F-16s and, later, US Air Force F-16s from Iceland.

The bombers are due to make a return journey on 15 September, overflying Cuba. The Russian air force says both aircraft carried dummy missiles in their internal weapons bays on the training mission to practice interaction with Su-27 crews, take-off and landing operations in cold and hot regions on a single mission, flying in very cold and high humidity conditions, instrument flying and dead reckoning. The flight, part of air and naval exercises being carried out by Russian and Venezuela, has added to the diplomatic tension between the USA and Russia.

 Tupolev Tu-160
 © Vladamir Karnozov

Venezuela refers to Russia as "a strategic ally" and wants closer military ties in an effort to strengthen national defences and, apparently, reduce US infuence in Latin America. The two countries are preparing a big arms deal that would involve the sale of about 70 Russian aircraft, including Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighters, Omsk-built An-74 STOL airlifters, Mi-17MTV-5 and Mi-28N hellicopters.


Source: Flight International