Tupolev OKB was founded by Andrei Tupolev in 1922. Its facilities are tailored for aeronautics research and aircraft design only, manufacturing is handled by other firms. It researched all-metal airplanes during the 1920s, based directly on the pioneering work already done by Hugo Junkers during World War I.
The first successful all-metal airplane was built with sheet electrical steel by the German engineer Hugo Junkers in 1915. With the never-completed Junkers J 3 of 1916, used strictly as a design study, Junkers shifted to lighter construction using corrugated duralumin. In the aftermath of World War I and to evade the terms of the Versailles Treaty that prevented German companies from building warplanes Junkers founded a clandestine aircraft factory in the Moscow suburb of Fili in 1922. This factory was turned over to Tupolev in 1925. Russian sources usually refrain from making the link between Junkers and Tupolev. Tupolev was an able designer, but his first generation aircraft were heavily influenced by his early connection to Junkers. Among the notable results during Tupolev's early period were two significant all-metal heavy bombers with corrugated duralumin skins, the ANT-4 twin-engined bomber which first flew in 1925 and the four-engined ANT-6 of 1932, from which such airplanes as the ANT-20 were derived (see Yefim Gordon & Vladimir Rigmant, OKB Tupolev. Hinckley, UK: Midland, 2005. pp. 22–28 & 30-34). Tupolev's design approach in these two airplanes defined for many years the trends of heavy aircraft development, civil and military.
During World War II, the twin-engined, all-metal Tu-2 was one of the best front-line bombers of the Soviets. Several variants of it were produced in large numbers from 1942. During the war it used wooden rear fuselages due to a shortage of metal.
This was succeeded by the development of the jet-powered Tu-16 bomber, which used a sweptback wing for good subsonic performance.
As turbojets were not fuel efficient enough to provide truly intercontinental range, the Soviets elected to design a new bomber, the Tu-20, more commonly referred to as the Tu-95. It, too, was based on the fuselage and structural design of the Tu-4, but with four colossal Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprop engines providing a unique combination of jet-like speed and long range. It became the definitive Soviet intercontinental bomber, with intercontinental range and jet-like performance. In many respects the Soviet equivalent of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, it served as a strategic bomber and in many alternate roles, including reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare.
, the first soviet turbojet airliner.
The Tu-16 was developed into the civil Tu-104. The Tu-95 became the basis of the unique Tu-114 medium-to-long-range airliner, the fastest turboprop aircraft ever. One common feature found in many large subsonic Tupolev jet aircraft is large pods extending rearward from the trailing edge of the wings, holding the aircraft's landing gear. These allow the aircraft to have landing gears made up of many large low-pressure tires, which are invaluable for use on the poor quality runways that were common in the Soviet Union at the time. For example, the Tu-154 airliner, the Soviet equivalent of the Boeing 727, has 14 tyres, the same number as Boeing's far larger 777–200.
Even before the first flights of the Tu-16 and Tu-20/Tu-95, Tupolev was working on supersonic bombers, culminating in the unsuccessful Tu-98. Although that aircraft never entered service, it became the basis for the prototype Tu-102 (later developed into the Tu-28 interceptor) and the Tu-105, which evolved into the supersonic Tu-22 bomber in the mid-1960s. Intended as a counterpart to the Convair B-58 Hustler, the Tu-22 proved rather less capable, although it remained in service much longer than the American aircraft. Meanwhile, the "K" Department was formed in the Design Bureau, with the task of designing unmanned aircraft such as the Tu-139 and the Tu-143 unmanned reconnaissance aircraft.
In the 1960s A. N. Tupolev's son, A. A. Tupolev, became active with management of the agency. His role included the development of the world's first supersonic airliner, the Tu-144, the popular Tu-154 airliner and the Tupolev Tu-22M strategic bomber. All these developments enabled the Soviet Union to achieve strategic military and civil aviation parity with the West.
In the 1970s, Tupolev concentrated its efforts on improving the performance of the Tu-22M bombers, whose variants included maritime versions. It is the presence of these bombers in quantity that brought about the SALT I and SALT II treaties. Also the efficiency and performance of the Tu-154 was improved, culminating in the efficient Tu-154M.
In the 1980s the design bureau developed the supersonic Tu-160 strategic bomber. Features include variable-geometry wings.
With the end of the Cold War, research work was concentrated on subsonic civil aircraft, mainly on operating economics and alternative fuels. The developments include fly-by-wire, use of efficient high-bypass turbofans and advanced aerodynamic layouts for the 21st century transport aircraft such as the Tu-204/Tu-214, Tu-330 and Tu-334.
- further development of Tu-204/214 and TU-334 aircraft family
- development of cargo aircraft Tu-330, regional and executive Tu-324 aircraft
- research on practical aspects of aircraft operation using alternative fuels
- modernization of Russian Naval Aviation and Air Force
At the MAKS-2003 airshow, Tupolev revealed the Tu-444 supersonic business jet concept; development was intended to start in the first half of 2004, however nothing further came of the program.
On 19 August 2009, Tupolev announced that it had a contract with the Russian Defense Ministry to develop a new-generation strategic bomber which "will be a conceptually new plane based on the most advanced technologies".