Tupolev Tu-126 ‘Moss’

Unusually for a military aircraft the Tu-126’s ancestry can be traced to a civilian airliner albeit one from military ancestry itself. In the early 1950s Aeroflot the Soviet state airline urgently requested a civilian turboprop airliner. To meet this demand a civil version of the Tu-16, the Tu-104 was developed by putting an airliner body onto the Tu-16 airframe, this was a major advance in Soviet domestic air travel. Using a similar idea the Tu-95 was developed into a larger passenger aircraft the Tu-114. This was produced in limited numbers but was to become the basis for the first Soviet Airborne Warning and Control System or AWACS.

It was a less than perfect choice as the big turboprop engines interfered with the onboard radar equipment and the whole aircraft vibrated in flight further disrupting sensitive radar equipment. Despite these drawbacks the airframe did have some desirable features such a spacious pressurized cabin which was air conditioned and ideal to hold the crew and sensitive avionics. It has to also be borne in mind that the Tu-126 was a stop gap until a dedicated AWACS could be developed.

It first became known to the West in 1968 after a short documentary film was released to the West. Like most AWACS aircraft the ‘Moss’ is distinctive due to its large back mounted rotating radar, it also has the nose mounted in flight refuelling probe typical of many Russian aircraft. The aircraft is believed to have entered service in 1971 although it will have had periodic updates to its systems during its service career. Like many AWACS it was designed to work with interceptors guiding them against intruding aircraft and providing the best interceptor vectors. It is though around 12 of these aircraft were constructed and they were never exported. It was supplemented and then replaced in service by the Il-76 ‘Mainstay’

Max Speed 528 mph (850km/h)
Max range 7,800 miles without in flight refuelling
Weapon load None

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How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, T. (23 April 2007), Tupolev Tu-126 ‘Moss’, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_tu126.html

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