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Stealing the Superfortress (2001)

How the Soviet Union was able to copy the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, and the influence of the resulting Tupolev TU-4 on the Cold War.






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How the Soviet Union was able to copy the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, and the influence of the resulting Tupolev TU-4 on the Cold War.

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How the Soviets stole the B-29
29 May 2005 | by (Falls Church, Virginia) – See all my reviews

This is a well-researched documentary explaining how the Soviet Union gained their first long-range heavy bomber design by reverse-engineering the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Three examples were interned by the Soviets in World War II when their U.S. Army Air Force crews flew them onto Russia after bombing Japan where they suffered battle damage or suffered mechanical failures. These were named "Ramp Tramp", "Ding Hao" and the "Gen. H.H. Arnold Special." The flight crews were eventually permitted to secretly "escape" through Iran and reassigned stateside to keep their return from creating an international incident and antagonize the Japanese over "neutral" Russia. But the Russians kept the bombers.

Development of the state-of-the-aviation-art B-29 by Boeing and the USAAF is covered as well as details of deployment of the "Superfort" to the Pacific Theatre.

Extensive information and footage about the Russian mission to copy the complex B-29 design then follows, including details of Josef Stalin's pressure on Russian aeronautical engineers working under Andre M. Tupolev to complete the duplication. The Soviets had known of the Superfortress through comments made by Eddie V. Rickenbacker during a visit to Russia and coveted the design details. They mounted a significant espionage effort to gather information on the B-29. Then the three combat aircraft fell into their hands providing a template for an incredibly difficult task of reverse engineering. The pressurization and remote control weapon systems proved especially tricky for the Soviet engineers as these represented a quantum leap for the Russian aircraft industry. The "Gen. H.H. Arnold Special" was completely dismantled to provide templates for the copies.

The first production TU-4, as the "new" bomber was designated, was delivered in May 1947, and made its public debut at the August 1947 Tushino Airshow, startling Western observers. Furthermore, a single example of a transport version, the Tupolev TU-70, proves to the West that the Soviet Union has successfully copied the Superfortress technology and is not merely displaying the original three captured B-29s. Nearly 850 TU-4s would be built and they served into the 1960s although they were used for training and transports after the mid-1950s. Coverage of the TU-4's operational service is provided including an interview with a pilot who flew on the only near-combat mission the TU-4 saw, a possible strike against Hungarian uprising headquarters on 30 November 1956 which was recalled. Footage is shown of the sole preserved TU-4 in a Russian aviation museum at Monino. "Fifi", the resurrected B-29 operated by the Commemorative Air Force (formerly the Confederate Air Force) is shown.

All in all, a very informative documentary effort.

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