The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

'Blowlamp' - Il-54 / Il-140/ Il-149 / Yak-149 - Western Views

During the planned 1956 air parade in Tushino, a convoy of several prospective prototypes was to pass. The second prototype of the IL-54 was to lead this system. It even managed to take part in several training sessions. However, a few days before the parade, plans were adjusted. They decided to remove the prospective bomber from the air show and send it to the demonstration parking in Kubinka. First of all, this exhibition was intended for foreign delegations.

The aircraft was then shown to a US Military Delegation at Kubinka, 40 miles from Moscow. The Western visitors were taken in cars past a line-up of every type of Russian operational military aircraft. Not previously seen were a twin-jet, swept-wing bomber of about Canberra size which, the Russians claimed, was supersonic. The delegation was told that the Il-54 was the Il-149, as part of the deception program (according to some reports, the aircraft was demonstrated as the Yak-149). As a result, the Il-54 was assigned far more importance than it actually warranted.

The aircraft was assigned the NATO reporting name ("Blowlamp") after it had ceased flying. A blowlamp is a fuel-burning tool used for applying flame and heat to various applications, usually metalworking. Early blowlamps used liquid fuel, carried in a refillable reservoir attached to the lamp. Modern blowtorches are mostly gas-fuelled. Their fuel reservoir is disposable or refillable by exchange. The term "blowlamp" usually refers to liquid-fuelled torches which is still used in UK.

The authoritative magazine "Flight" reported 3 August 1956 "One of the most interesting aircraft which Western observers were allowed to see on the ground (from a distance) at Kubinka recently is a transonic (M=1.2?) bomber. This machine apparently resembled the Canberra in some respects, having a mid-high (swept) wing with two large turbojets mounted well inboard on short stalks. It must have been about 80ft in length. It rejoices in the Western code-name of "Blowtorch.""

The "U.S.S.R. Aircraft Characteristics and Performance Handbook" jointly produced by the USAF Assistant Chief of Staff / Intelligence and the US Navy Office of Naval Intelligence was silent on the question of the provenance of this aircraft. In an assessment prepared in November 1956, it offered that "The preseence of an instrumentation boom in the nose suggests the aircraft observed is in prototype status. The design does not reveal aerodynamic characterisitics commensurate with supersonic capability claimed by the Soviets. However, it does suggest fairly high subsonic speed performance. It is estimated that in a dive from an altitude of at least 40,000 ft, BLOWLAMP can flash through the 35,000 ft altitude at speeds slighly in excess of Mach 1.3 but cannot stabilize at this speed in level flight."

The authoritative magazine "Flight" reported 22 November 1957 that "The Germans have expressed their views on future requirements for their air force, through Lt. General Kammhuber and Lt. General Galland. They are based on their assessment of the aircraft which will equip the Russian tactical air force in 1960. ... Blowlamp: A tactical bomber with 20,000 lb thrust, 65.6ft, 79,000 lb, 575 kt at 40,000ft, and 1,000 miles range. ..." But otherwise this authoritative periodical makes no further mentions of this aircraft.

The January 1958 issue of Air Force Magazine offered an article [starting on page 68] which provided extremely detailed performance predictions that were far more detailed than those in the classified 1956 US intelligence community report. "The airplane has apparently been optimized for relatively low-altitude performance...around 36,000 feet, it is capable of its maximum speed, which is about Mach 1.5 with afterburning. For altitudes above and belo 36,000 feet, maximum speeds fall off sharply... One very significant fact about the airplane is that it is capable of carrying a payload of about two tons. This payload would, of course, be sufficient for the carrying of a nuclear weapon."

The April 1958 edition of MILITARY REVIEW carried an item headlined "USSR Supersonic 'Blowlamp'" which stated "Russia's light bomber Blowlamp, which can operate to altitudes of 52,000 feet and carry a two-ton payload, is reported to have a maximum speed of about Mach 1.5 with afterburning. Its two MR-40 turbojet engines develop an estimated 17,100 pounds of thrust each with afterburners. The Blowlamp, which takes off with a maximum gross weight of 25 tons, has a twin-tandem landing gear, with smaller single wheels at each wingtip. It is 75 feet long and has a wingspan of 65 feet. The plane is equipped with two airbrakes that can be extended in flight, and its vertical stabilizer extends below the fuse- lage. The Blowlamp carries the Soviet designation of IL-140 and is said to be planned as a replacement for the IL-28 Beagle."

In March 1958 "Air Pictorial and Air Reserve Gazette" carried an item "Russia's New Generation" By William Green, who wrote that "The Beagle's successor, the Blowlamp, generally attributed to one of the numerous design bureaux headed by Alexander Yakovlev, ... is now entering quantity service while more advanced designs, such as the Backjin, have probably attained the pre-production stage.

"The Blowlamp, which possesses a marked family resemblance to the Flashlight, is a transonic light attack bomber first revealed on 25th June 1956, when Western delegates to Russia's Aviation Day air display had a brief glimpse of this aircraft while visiting the Kubinko fighter station, some forty miles from Moscow. The Blowlamp is most closely comparable with France's SO-4050 Vautour in configuration although nearer in size and power to the Douglas Skywarrior. Its shoulder-mounted wings, which span approximately 57 feet, are swept 50 degrees at the leading edges and carry underslung, podded turbojets at roughly quarter-span. Projecting forward in much the same fashion as those of the Skywarrior, and each presumably offering some 10,00012,000 lb. thrust, these turbojets have been mounted as low as permitted by groundclearance requirements in order to simplify servicing, although such mountings obviously offer more drag than if the nacelles had been raised to coincide with the upper wing surfaces.

"In common with the Flashlight, the Blowlamp has tandem-mounted main undercarriage members, the single forward member retracting into the nose, and the twin-wheel aft member retracting into a housing immediately aft of the fuselage bomb bay. Small outrigger wheels retract into wingtip housings.

"The clean 1ines of the 70-ft. fuselage are marred by what appears to be a small radome, but the fuselage nose is extensively glazed, indicating primary reliance on visual bomb-aiming. The strakes under the rear fuselage may indicate some early directional instability at high speeds. Western observers at Kubinko noted ports in the fuselage nose for what appeared to be a battery of four cannon, presumably for ground strafing, and tail defence is provided by a remotely controlled 20-mm. or 23-mm. cannon in the extreme rear fuselage.

"The Blowlamp appears to carry a crew of three, and is likely to weigh some 50,000 lb. in normal loaded condition. Performancewise, it is almost certainly capable of exceeding Mach unity in a dive, but maximum level speed is probably of the order of Mach 0.95 (690 m.p.h. at 10,000 ft., 620 m.p.h. at 36.000 ft.). Operational range is likely to be between 1,500 and 2,000 miles."

Foreign experts familiarized themselves with the information provided and praised the new Soviet bomber. Soon, the IL-54 became the subject of many publications in the Western aviation press. Discussion of this machine and its prospects continued for several years, until it became clear that it did not go into series production.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 31-10-2019 16:54:17 ZULU