Tupolev Tu-121

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Role Unmanned aerial vehicle
National origin USSR
Manufacturer Tupolev
Designer Alexey Tupolev
First flight 1959
Status prototype
Number built 1 prototype

The Tupolev Tu-121 was an unmanned aircraft, intended for use as a cruise missile, designed by Tupolev in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.


In 1957 Tupolev Design Bureau was in very good standing. Their Tu-95 was being actively introduced to the Air Force, their Tu-16 was being produced on three plants. Tupolev, however, was worried about Nikita Khruschev's growing interest in rocket weapons. USSR made significant progress in rocket science and was preparing to launch their first rocket - R-7. Rockets seemed invincible for the existing and future anti-aircraft systems. Soviet bombers weren't so lucky, being extremely vulnerable. The NORAD system, which was being developed and deployed by the USA at the time was practically impermeable for the strategic bombers of that era.[1]

Various attempts to arm Tu-95 with missiles had a serious drawback - the bomber itself remained vulnerable to interceptors and ground-to-air missiles.

Tu-121 was conceived as an aircraft able to reach speeds of over 2,000 km/h and flight altitude of 50 km which would allow it to easily penetrate American both air- and missile defence systems.

However, even at the early stages Tupolev himself realized his bureau was unable to develop such an aircraft. The biggest problem was immense heat. The materials necessary to build the heat-shield were only developed in 1980s for Buran programme.

The aircraft was built and several test launches were performed. However, it didn't go beyond prototype phase. The R-12 rocket, developed by Mikhail Yangel had better range and accuracy. On 5 February 1960, the project was officially cancelled.

The aircraft was a full-metal monoplane made almost entirely of traditional materials. The wing had no high-lift devices. The aircraft was piloted using vertical and horizontal stabilizers. Most of the fuselage consisted of fuel tanks.


Data from http://www.airwar.ru/enc/bpla/tu121.html

General characteristics

  • Crew: unmanned
  • Length: 24.77 m (81 ft 3 in)
  • Wingspan: 8.40 m (27 ft 7 in)
  • Empty weight: 11,450 kg (25,243 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 35,000 kg (77,162 lb)
  • Fuel capacity: 16,600 kg


  • Maximum speed: 2,775 km/h (1,724 mph; 1,498 kn)

See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era