Goodbye Tu-142M: Journey Of Indian Navy’s Big Bears

Twenty-nine years after they entered service, the Indian Navy’s Tupolev Tu-142M long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft will be retired this week. On March 29, the INAS 312 ‘Albatross’ squadron will operate only Boeing P-8Is. Ahead of the ceremonial retirement, the Indian Navy’s excellent frontman & spokesperson CAPTAIN DALIP SHARMA sent Livefist this exclusive piece.

The Journey of ‘Mighty Props’

With the era of Grand Old Lady, the Super constellation coming to an end in 1983, the Nation and the Indian Navy had realised the value of having a multi engine LRMR – ASW aircraft and negotiations were commenced with our long standing ally the USSR for the best, and most modern available LRMR aircraft, the TU-142M. The aircraft was then, and still is, the heaviest and fastest turboprop with a potent ASW onboard suite and complex contra rotating propellers with four NK-12MP engines each producing 15000 Shaft Horse Power.

For the twelve-month period starting from May 1987, a set of 40 pilots and observers, 16 technical officers and 128 sailors were deputed to Riga for training. On 30 th March 1988, the first three TU-142Ms (Albatross) arrived at INS Hansa, Goa, after a flight from Simferopol (Gvardeyskoye Air Base) in the Crimean Peninsula. On 13 th April two more aircraft arrived, prior to the commissioning of INAS 312, on 16 Apr 1988 and by the end of October 1988, the fleet of eight TU-142Ms was delivered. Goa provided a good incubation location for the Albatrosses, but with India’s ‘Look East’ policy, the nest of the Albatross was shifted to INS Rajali in May 1992 where, it gracefully matured into the Mighty and Formidable Force.

In our complex maritime environment, comprehensive Maritime Domain Awareness is fundamental for effective Naval operations. The Albatross has been the ‘Eye in the Sky’ of the Indian Navy for the past three decades, providing the critical real time inputs for transparency of operations in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The TU-142M made it possible to operate farther out than ever before and leave our footprints on the fringes of the strategic IOR. It is the fastest Turboprop aircraft in the world. Many fighters all over the world found it difficult to intercept this machine at high altitude. The Albatross always took pride in telling an interceptor pilot- ‘Catch me, if u can’. Rightly named ‘Bear’ by NATO, it remained a mystery and enigma for Western World for many years. Even today it remains a formidable airborne platform for countering both surface and sub surface threats.

The ‘Mighty Props’ have been the mainstay of LRMR and ASW for close to three decades. The aircraft has proven itself time and again in the last 29 year of its Glorious service. It has acquitted itself extremely well in numerous of operations like, Op Vijay in 1999, Op Parakram in 2002 and Anti Piracy Operations from 2011 till date. In 2003, it undertook the successful firing of a first underwater missile, APR-2E. Over the years, the aircraft gracefully aged, but kept pace with advancement in avionics and mission equipments. Small but significant upgrades added teeth to the MR/ESM capability, which is its forte to date. The endurance allowed it to be on task for much longer. In 2008, the ‘Eye in the Sky’ got sharper sight with fitment of new ELTA Radar from Israel.

The unstinted support and illuminating guidance of Seniors and Higher Formations and farsighted leadership of successive Commanding Officers of INS Rajali helped the Albatross to grow from strength to strength. The men who maintained this magnificent flying machine along with the men & women who flew the Albatross across the sea and oceans made the TU-142M the pride of the Indian Navy and a potent force in both Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti Submarine Warfare. It was indeed a Herculean task and a monumental effort for the maintainers to get her ready for missions, but seeing her go in the air and bring laurels to the Navy would fill their chest with pride. The beautiful machine demanded the best from everyone, professional competence and dedication of highest order and in return provided unparalleled reach into the Indian Ocean littoral and unmatched endurance over the High Seas.

As the TU-142M aircraft nears the culmination of its watch, its unparalleled performance for the last 29 years has made it the toast of the Navy, with Commanders at all levels vying for her service. It remained an effective Force Multiplier with its intimidating presence for the Indian Navy throughout its operational life and delivered its Final Punch in its latest assignment – the TROPEX 17 wherein, it clocked over 53 Hrs with a single aircraft. The Squadron also achieved the prestigious Milestone of 30,000 flying hours which is a proud moment for all Albatrosses. It is this indomitable spirit that defines the aircraft and the men who fly & maintain it. It is now set to take its rightful place in the annals of history as one of Naval Aviation’s greatest asset. The awe inspiring sight of mighty props, their deafening sound and hurricane prop wash will no more be heard but its legend will live on.

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Goodbye Tu-142M: Journey Of Indian Navy’s Big Bears Goodbye Tu-142M: Journey Of Indian Navy’s Big Bears Reviewed by Defense Alert on 01:49:00 Rating: 5

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