Tupolev Tu-143

Tu-143 Reys tactical reconnaissance drone

The Reys tactical reconnaissance system was designed and tested within a very short space of time, with the ‘143’ making it first flight in December 1970. Joint state trials began in 1972 and were successfully concluded in 1976, after which the Reys was accepted for service with the Soviet Army. Series production began before the state trials had finished and in 1973 an experimental batch of ten examples was built at the Kumertau Machinery Factory in Bashkiria. Full-scale production got under way shortly afterwards. In all, a total of 950 Tupolev Tu-143 drones were manufactured up to the end of 1989.

The Tupolev Tu-143 drone was produced in two versions: a photo-reconnaissance version and a TV-reconnaissance version transmitting the image via data link to ground command posts. It could also be used for radiation sampling, sending back data on the radiation levels it encountered by radio. Examples of the ‘141’ are on display at the museum at Moscow-Khodynka and the Air Force Museum at Monino (where an example of the ‘ 141′ is also on view).

In 1985 a target drone version of the ‘143’ was produced as the M-143 or VR-3VM which successfully passed its state trials and demonstrated its ability to emulate the manoeuvres of various types of aircraft.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Tupolev OKB produced a version of the Tupolev Tu-143 to carry 11 packs of propaganda leaflets weighing 19 kg and the means of scattering them in place of reconnaissance equipment. The leaflets could be scattered from three chutes simultaneously or consecutively. Scattering could be initiated by the automatic onboard control system in accordance with a command fed in before launch.

Tupolev Tu-143A typical Reys squadron had 12 drones and four SPU-143 self-propelled launchers (these, as well as the TZM-143 transporter/ loader vehicle used for recovery, were based on the BAZ-135MB 8×8 high-mobility chassis), communications and intelligence processing facilities, a maintenance unit for preparing drones and a command post. Most of the system’s essential elements were transportable on the squadron’s standard vehicles, the drones themselves being transported in containers.