Tu-4 Burlak Tanker
The first idea was that the fighter should simply be towed behind a bomber on a cable with a special device that would allow multiple withdrawal and reverse trailing of the driven aircraft. From February 22, 1949, according to the governmental decree, work began on the creation of such a system. The name it received was somewhat unusual, but quite logical - the "Burlaki" system. From February 22, 1949, according to the governmental decree, work began on the creation of such a system. The name she received was somewhat unusual, but quite logical - the "Burlaki" system ['Burlak' = hauler - the Burlaki were persons who hauled river barges upstream, the Volga boatmen].
On a towed plane in the bow, a telescopic bar was installed with a special hook on the end, fairly aptly called a harpoon. The front part of the harpoon could move forward (sometimes it is said to fire, although this is not entirely true) under the action of compressed air, the reserve of which was enough for 4-5 such extensions. The towing vehicle could release a cable with a cone at the end for a length of up to 150 meters. The fighter approached the cone and "fired" a harpoon into it, a coupling took place, after which the harpoon retracted. Well and further the engine of a fighter was switched off, and he continued to fly behind the towage like a glider. The towing distance was assumed to be about 80-90 meters.
From June 1949 to September 1950 nine "bonds" were made, including three at night. To facilitate night orientation on the bomber, a lantern with a red light filter was installed. Its use in combination with radio communication and aeronautical lights, as well as cone lighting and a spotlight on the fighter, made the orientation simple enough from the crews' reviews. Since success was achieved, now the turn of serious serial aircraft has come. As a towed fighter was used, this time, recently appeared and gaining strength MIG-15bis, and as a towing vehicle - strategic TU-4.
The tests took place from March to October 1951. At the first stage of this period, 10 automatic couplings were performed, three of which were committed at night. Next, the aircraft were handed over to the State Research Institute of the Air Force for state tests. Here, too, everything was quite successful, so it was decided to move from experienced tests to more extensive military ones. According to the government's decision, five more sets of the Burlaki system were built on the basis of five MIG-15bis and five TU-4. The Zyabrovka airfield (near Gomel) in Belarus was used for the tests.
The test period was short enough, from early July to early September 1952. But during this time, 142 dockings were carried out in various flight conditions, including 18 of them at night. The duration of the longest towing was 2 hours and 30 minutes . And the material in order to make the final conclusions was collected enough. In general, the technical implementation of towing in practice proved to be quite simple and safe for both aircraft and quite successful.
Vetrean pilots I. Sheelest and V. Vasyatin in 1949 received a task to develop a system of refueling in the air "from wing to wing" for TU-4. It was assumed that the same aircraft would serve as a tanker, which, if necessary, could simply be converted into a conventional bomber without loss of combat capabilities. Additional fuel tanks were located in the bomb bay.
While the US Air Force mastered refueling in the 1950s, Soviet test pilots Igor Shelest and Viktor Vasyanin proposed another original refueling system, called the wing-wing. It was tested in 1951 on Tu-4 bombers and soon went into service. The essence of the system lay in the fact that a cable with a stabilizing parachute is produced from the tip of the wing of the tanker aircraft. The second plane was supposed to be a bar on the end of its wing to hook the cable, after which the operator of the refueling pulled the cable and pulled a fuel hose from the recipient aircraft. The latter, having reached the wing of the tanker, docked with the fuel supply unit. The system was successfully tested by pilots of the LII AP Yakimov and Amet-Khan Sultan and was later installed on a number of serial TU-4.
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