Dragon Lady

1 May 1960 is the anniversary of Francis Gary Powers being shot down somewhere over the Soviet Union in his U-2A  by what I call a SAM-2  and everyone else calls an S-75. I assumed the event took place earlier in the year and have to thank my regular engagements with Bryan Swopes’ blog for reminding me.   Funnily enough I mentioned the U-2 incident to my American History class last week.  Every so often I get close to an anniversary like this, but mostly it’s coincidence.   In March 2014 I happened to hit the 70th Anniversary of the “Great Escape” and subjected my class to a few minutes of Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough.

The engine of the downed American Lockheed U-2

The engine of the downed American Lockheed U-2 plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers on view in Gorky Park. (RIA Novosti archive, image #35173 / Chernov / CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

I had a quick riffle through the pages of Wikipedia to find a Public Domain picture of an original U-2 and read briefly that another U-2 was shot down during the Cuban Missile Crisis.   I didn’t managed to teach that part and will have to look it up.   I will also have refresh myself on the clandestine overflights that were carried out by Canberras and RB-45s flown by RAF aircrews (and the RB-45s had RAF markings) a few years previously.

Lockheed U-2A

Lockheed U-2A at the National Museum of the US Air Force

Many years ago I saw a TR-2 (I think it was)  derivative of the U-2 climbing out of RAF Alconbury  and watched as best I could while I was driving down the M11 Motorway at the time. I believe I did see the NMUSAF example (basking in the sun in the picture above)  at Dayton some years ago.   I’m looking forward to going again sometime soon.

The Soviet airliner that bombed Japan

The Soviet airliner that bombed Japan

In a very old article in the Kent (or Medway) Evening Post, It was reported  that someone’s garden shed  consisted of a fuselage section from an early operational variant of a  Short Stirling, which had actually participated on several bombing raids on Germany before meeting some unspecified end.  If I find the cutting again I’ll try and track down the date, the serial number of the Stirling  and its operational record.  The recovery of the shed was reported under the headline “It’s the shed that bombed Germany”

In my case, the story goes back to August 1947, and the Soviet Aviation day parade at the Tushino airfield in Moscow.  Western dignitaries and observers were treated to a view of the Soviet Union’s latest strategic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-4, which was revealed to be a virtual clone of the Boeing B-29.  It had been known for some time that the Soviet Union had been trying to duplicate the B-29, three of which had force landed after bombing raids in 1944.  The three machines which flew overhead were immediately assumed to be those B-29s, revived and put into service with the VVS. However their skepticism was cast aside when a fourth aircraft, with the wings, engines and tail assembly of a B-29 attached to a new cylindrical fuselage, flew over the parade.  This aircraft was introduced as the Tu-70.  What had been thought to be impossible had been undertaken – the Soviet aircraft industry had duplicated the B-29.

I’ve always known about the story of the three B-29s which landed in the Soviet Union.  I know that these three were allegedly the subject of an order by Stalin himself to make an exact copy by reverse engineering.   I even lectured about this once or twice in a course on the history of Kansas and the West, and referred to the Soviet strategic bomber from Wichita.

The B-29s in question were all fairly early models of the B-29 which had been completed by Boeing Wichita:
•    42-6256 B-29-5-BW “Ramp Tramp”   771BS, 462BG which force landed in the Soviet Union on 29 July 1944   MACR (Missing Air Crew Report) 7178
•    42-6365 B-29-15-BW “General H.H. Arnold Special” 794BS,  468BG  which force landed in the Soviet Union on 11 November 1944 after a raid on the Omura Aircraft Factory  in Japan.  MACR 9664
•    42-6358 B-29-15-BW  “Ding Hao” 794BS, 468 BG  which force landed in the Soviet Union on 21 November 1944. MACR 9865

The July 2016 issue of FlyPast has a very interesting account of the development of the TU-4 and the fate of the three B-29s.  Although the illustrations in the article are misleading there are a couple of very interesting photographs of the B-29s and their cloned brethren.

Of the three American airframes, “Ding Hao” apparently never flew again but was preserved as a reference copy in the development of the Tu-4.    The “General H.H. Arnold Special” which had been signed personally by ‘Hap’ Arnold at the Boeing plant in Wichita at the beginning of the so-called Battle of Kansas, was dismantled piece by piece to facilitate reverse engineering of the components. “Ramp Tramp” was flown by the VVS extensively and was used to carry a developmental aircraft including the rocket powered Samolet 346  (“Aircraft 346”) which was a captured unfinished German prototype. Ramp Tramp ended its days with much of the TU-4 fleet, being scrapped in 1954.


Former 462nd BG (perhaps this is why the formerly red rudder looks darker in this picture) B-29-5-BW 42-6256 “Ramp Tramp” takes off carrying “Samolet (Aircraft) 346” – actually the captured German DFS 346 rocket-powered research aircraft, possibly in May 1947. “Samolet 346” reached a maximum speed of Mach 0.95


The Tu-70 was something of an enigma. Its arrival on the scene in the later summer of 1947 showed that the Soviet Union had developed the technology to duplicate and adapt the B-29 and made derivatives. However even this part of the story has an ironic twist.   When you look at pictures and the YouTube video of the Tu-70 the viewer is obviously struck by the B-29 engines, wings and tail.  Although it’s not exactly clear, it would seem from various articles that the engines and wings are not just similar – they are the engines and wings of a B-29. These are components from 42-6365 “General H.H. Arnold Special” which were delivered to the plant to facilitate speedy production of the Tu-70.  Thus by 1947 the VVS had available a long-range transport and passenger aircraft of some sophistication.  Don’t forget that at this time the British were still flying derivatives of the Lancaster and Halifax.

It’s even more ironic to learn that the Tu-70 never went into volume production.  Aeroflot couldn’t see the need for such an aircraft and rejected it.  The Tu-70 soldiered on with the VVS as a transport until it was scrapped in 1954.

Meanwhile in the United States, Boeing had developed their own transport derivative of the B-29 and its offspring the B-50.  This was, of course the C-97 which continued in service in various parts of the world well into the 1970s and even entered volume production for the passenger market as the model 377 Stratocruiser.