The rabbit hole of aviation world record claims
Everybody likes when aviation records get broken. Those events are tremendous technical achievements and a rare case of positivity in the sea of groundings and budget cuts. But more often than not, they are also a way to manufacture some publicity and, in some prominent cases, one does not even need an actual record for that.
Let’s study one particular case. On 19 September 2020, a number of media channels – including, but not limited to Russian TV stations and news sites – ran a headline about a flight of two Tu-160 Blackjack supersonic heavy bombers that broke the world record by flying non-stop for 25 hours.
“Nobody else on the planet is capable of such a feat,” an excited Channel One reporter proclaimed. The story was picked up far and wide.
Video of yesterday's record 25-hour flight of 2 Tu-160 bombers that covered more than 20k km with 3 inflight refuelings from 6 Il-78 tanker aircraft and a Su-35S escort. They flew over the Arctic/Pacific Oceans, Kara, Laptev, East Siberian, Chukchi, and Barents Seas. 142/ pic.twitter.com/8nE2pWguHB — Rob Lee (@RALee85) September 20, 2020
Some outlets (for example TV channel Zvezda) openly called the flight the furthest distance flown without landing, others (for example TASS) described it as the longest flight by duration. A mix of both versions can be found, for example, in The Eurasian Times’ article on the topic, which also claims Tu-160 to be “the fastest, largest and heaviest bomber ever built”, with only one of three assertions (the heaviest) being factually true.
One does not have to be intimately familiar with aviation history to raise an eyebrow at the 25-hour-record claim. Two days later, the U.S. Strategic command Twitter account responded with a subtle reminder.
A little #MondayMotivation to show what teamwork can accomplish.
B-1 Lancer: 30 Hours (2014)
B-2 Spirit: 44 Hours (2001)
B-52 Stratofortress: 45 Hours (1957)
Together, the combatant commands set the bar for excellence.#Deterrence #TogetherWeDeliver pic.twitter.com/hwh1wAX50l — US Strategic Command (@US_Stratcom) September 21, 2020
It is possible that they themselves forgot the fourth check mark – a 94-hour globe-circling flight of B-50 Superfortress back in 1949, which makes all the other achievements seem rather tame. The famous three-month long flight of Cessna 172, conducted by Robert Timm and John Cook in the 1950s, puts the military achievements into perspective even more.
But the U.S.-Russia catfight is an attractive topic. The Drive was amongst the first media channels to pick it up, lightheartedly – and deservedly – making fun of the unsuccessful attempt at propaganda, and weaving it into the context of the current standoff between Russia and NATO.
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