The Tupolev Tu-22M (NATO reporting name 'Backfire') is a supersonic, swing-wing, long-range strategic bomber developed by the Soviet Union. Significant numbers remain in service with the CIS.
The Tu-22 'Blinder' had not proved particularly successful, in some respects being inferior to the earlier Tu-16 'Badger'. Its range and take-off performance, in particular, were definite weak points. Even as the 'Blinder' was entering service, OKB Tupolev began work on an improved successor.
As with the contemporary Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 'Flogger' and Sukhoi Su-17 'Fitter' projects, the advantages of variable-geometry wings seemed attractive, allowing a combination of short take-off performance, efficient cruising, and good high-speed, low-level ride. The result was a new swing-wing aircraft called Samolet 145, derived from the Tu-22, with some features borrowed from the abortive Tu-98 'Backfin'.
The first prototype, Tu-22M0, first flew 30 August 1969. The resultant aircraft was first seen by NATO around that time. For several years it was believed in the West that its service designation was Tu-26. During the SALT negotiations of the 1980s the Soviets insisted it was the Tu-22M. At the time, Western authorities suspected that the misleading designation was intended to suggest that it was simply a derivative of the Tu-22 rather than the far more advanced and capable weapon it actually was. It now appears that Tu-22M was indeed the correct designation, and the linkage to the earlier Tu-22 was intended by Tupolev to convince the Soviet government that it was an economical follow-on to the earlier aircraft. Actually, the fore gear leg and the bomb bay cover were inherited from the original Tu-22. (Much the same happened in the U.S. in the 1950s with aircraft like the Lockheed F-94C Starfire, originally F-97, and the North American F-86D Sabre, originally the F-95.)
Only nine of the earliest Tu-22M0 preproduction aircraft were produced, followed by nine more Tu-22M1 pilot-production craft in 1971 and 1972. They were known as Backfire-A by NATO.
2003 in museum