The crew of a Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range strategic bomber died in an accident near Kaluga, Russia. The Russian defense ministry reported that a ‘malfunction’ was responsible for the deaths as the three crew members bailed out without sufficient altitude to deploy their parachutes properly, this resulted in them being fatally injured as they landed. The commander of the as yet unconfirmed aviation regiment, operating the Tu-22, is reported to be among the casualties. The Tu-22s were perform training flights at Shaykovka airbase, with flights beginning on Saturday.
According to TASS, the ejection of the crew’s seats was activated upon the engines’ start as the bomber was prepared for take-off. The causes of the incident are under the examination of Russia’s Aerospace Force commission that will further investigate the scene. It is possible that due to safety concerns the Tu-22M3 fleet will be grounded until the cause of the premature seat ejection is found.
Besides the three crew members killed, a fourth member of the crew was taken to a hospital in Shaykovka. There are no civilian casualties or collateral damage caused by the incident. The condition of the airman remains unknown as the Russian press delivers contradictory descriptions of the incident. Yet, the official statement released by TASS explains that the plane did not manage to get in the air before the incident occurred.
The Russian Aerospace Force has around 60 Tu-22s at its disposal distributed among the 40th Mixed Aviation Regiment, 326th Heavy Bomber Aviation Division, and 43rd Center for Combat Application and Training of Aircrew for Long-Range Aviation. Given the location of the accident the aircraft is likely to be from the 52nd Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment, based at Shaykovka. The Tu-22M3s are the sole carriers of Kh-32 supersonic air-launched cruise missiles but can be also equipped with the newest Kh-47M2 Kinzhal cruise missiles. Besides their role to deliver nuclear and precision strikes, the Tu-22M3R conducts reconnaissance operations and Long Range Patrols.
Entering service in 1972, the first combat application of these strategic bombers took place in 1995, during the First Chechen War, then later during the 2008 war with Georgia. Tu-22s have also performed combat operations against the Islamic State in Syria as well.
Cover image by Dmitry Terekhov under CC BY-SA 2.0