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Columnist Recalls Once Catching a 99-ton 'Bear' at 400 MPH

I have one up on Phil Difatta, our outdoor/nature writer. He might write about bears, but I’ve actually caught one. Of course, when dressed out, (empty), mine weighed nearly 99 tons, was doing around 400 mph, and was about 500 feet in the air.

You see, I caught my “bear” with a camera, and it was a Russian Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber, designated the “Bear” by NATO, on a long-range maritime patrol. 


If an airplane ever deserved the reputation of looking “evil, nasty, and mean,” that was it. Early in my Navy career, I spent three years in a ship whose sole mission was as an afloat place-keeper in the DEW (Distance Early Warning) Line, a system of radar stations set up in the far North, off Greenland and Iceland, to detect incoming Soviet nuclear bombers during the Cold War.


We would go out for three months, riding 40-foot waves, dodging icebergs, monitoring the radar scopes and communication channels, running out of fresh food, and getting no mail unless we had to pull into Halifax, Nova Scotia, for some emergency. 

You had to make somebody in the Navy head shed in DC pretty mad to get orders to that ship. 


Those Bear flights were a pretty common occurrence.  They would check us out at least once a month, often flying so low that we would wave at the pilots. They were just testing our ability to detect them and training their air crews for the real thing. I heard this one before I saw it. The Tu-95s are known as the loudest propeller-driven airplanes ever built. 

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