Fake Tu-180 Nevidimka


The Tu-180 you ask about first "appeared" in an article posted on a private website in 1996. A single grainy, distant image of this supposedly new plane made it look like a flying wing design similar to the American B-2 Spirit. Since the plane was given the name "Nevidimka," which means stealth in Russian, it was assumed that the Tu-180 must also be a stealth bomber. The photo was accompanied by a full article discussing the origins of the project and its unveiling to the world by manufacturer Tupolev. Unfortunately for aviation buffs and fans of Russian aircraft, the Tu-180 turned out to be nothing more than an April Fool's Day joke.

Tupolev Tu-180
Tupolev Tu-180

Although there are a number of discrepancies in this photo, such as the apparent lack of any form of inlets required for a jet engine propulsion system, the picture created quite a sensation when it was first published. Even a few mainstream sources fell victim to the hoax, and there are a number of people who still believe in the Tu-180 even today. Perhaps further encouraging the credibility of the claim was the following story about the photo.

Originally posted April 1st, 1996 (aka April Fool's or Den' Duraka)

Last week ANTK Tupolev revealed their latest strategic bomber designated Tu-180. Although Tu-180 was in service with Dal'naya Aviatsia for almost five years, it remained the Russia's best kept secret until now. The aircraft was developed alongside of Tu-160 bomber and it was designed to complement the supersonic Blackjack which was to become the backbone of the Russia's strategic command. Unlike Tu-160 it incorporates considerable amount of stealth (nevidimka in Russian) and it is believed that Tu-180 RCS is about 1/20 of Tu-160. New Tupolev bomber is a first true stealth design known to be in service outside of the United States.

To achieve this low RCS Tupolev chose a flying wing layout used at Northrop B-2. Tu-180 is considerably larger than B-2 with a greater wingspan (82.3 m) and length (30.4 m). According to V. T. Klimov (director general of Tupolev ANTK) new stealth has a degree of commonalty with its stablemates (for example it uses landing gear similar to that of Tu-160). Undoubtedly one can see a family resemblance including Tupolev's long main gear struts allowing unobstructed access to the bomb bays and a windshield similar to both Tu-22M3 and Tu-160. Tupolev claims that first flight was made on March 14, 1985, therefore, beating Northrop B-2 by four years (July 17, 1989).

Surprisingly, the breakup of the Soviet Union and defense cuts did not cause a noticeable slowdown of Tu-180 production which remains at the level of 5 aircraft per year at Kazan APO. The complexity of variable swept wing Mach 2.2 Tu-160 and political changes (only five aircraft are in service with Russian Strategic Command while Ukraine kept nineteen) forced to reevaluate the original plans of Tu-160/Tu-180 deployment. The Tu-180 is becoming a backbone of the Dal'naya Aviatsia with more than a dozen in service with 1096 TBAP (strategic bomber regiment) at Engels. Tu-180 is capable of carrying a wide variety of payloads, including nuclear weapons.

Note the many references the author makes to the similarities between the supposed Tu-180 and actual Russian bombers like the Tu-160 and Tu-22M.

Tupolev Tu-160
Tupolev Tu-160

The reasons for these comparisons become quite obvious in the following "apology" posted about a week later by the author and creator of the forged picture, Alexei Gretchikhine.

From: Alexei Gretchikhine
Subject: Re: Tupolev reveals new stealth bomber.

Newsgroups: rec.aviation.military
Date: 1996/04/07
On Mon, 1 Apr 1996

> Heya Alexei. Question. (not to sound offensive, but...) is this an
> April Fool's joke? (It's a good one if it is!)

Alexei wrote:

It is! So, the fun is over and for those who took it too serious, here is my reassurance - this is the only fabricated piece you will find on my page (until next April of course). I used Tu-160 photo taken by Petr Butowskii to create the hoax. Actually, it is the unusual angle of the shot which made me spend few minutes with Photoshop and got rid off tail, engines and move cockpit and gear.

I have tons of mail (including hate mail) and I would like to thank those who took it easy and know the value of a good joke. The rest of fellows... Couple of things:

1. Try to develop sense of humor. It might be just in time by next April.

2. Be critical to any news you hear. Does not matter what source is. Remember, not everything that's on the web or usenet is 100% true and take it with a bit of skepticism.

3. Lastly, not everyone who has a page on the web is knowledgeable in the subject his/her page covers. Though, it is least relevant to this particular case.

Alexei's advice is certainly worth repeating! We here at Aerospaceweb.org are often asked to comment on some bizarre new contraption or conspiracy theory that appears on the internet. It is always amazing to see how many people fall prey to these hoaxes based on no evidence other than conjecture that often defies the laws of physics. It is always wise to keep an open mind, but also to remain skeptical and apply your own reasoning skills.
- answer by Molly Swanson, 28 November 2004

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