Bizarre Rumours Say that a Vintage Russian Spy Plane Could Return to Service – Technology Org

Russia wants to return the Soviet reconnaissance plane Myasishchev M-55 to service. This plane took off for its maiden flight in 1988 and technically never left service with the Russian air force, but was never used for its original purpose. Now the Russians think that it would be useful against Ukraine. Or so the rumours say.

The M-55 can reach an altitude of 21.5 km.

The M-55 can reach an altitude of 21.5 km. Image credit: Alex Beltyukov – RuSpotters Team via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The M-55 is a kind of Soviet interpretation of the legendary Lockheed U-2 spy plane. The U-2, which, by the way, is even older (its first flight took place in 1955) is also still in use.

The U-2 production ended in 1989. This plane can climb to an altitude of more than 24 km and observes everything in its journey using high-resolution cameras. In the age of satellites, the U-2 is no longer as important as it used to be, but the US Air Force still uses several U-2 planes.

The M-55 is different. It is newer, comes up to an altitude of 21.5 km, and may even be easier to control. But it appeared at the very end of the Cold War and quickly became obsolete as a spy plane. Therefore, the reconnaissance M-55 turned into a scientific one.

M-55 aircraft.

M-55 aircraft. Image credit: Leonid Faerberg via Wikimedia, GFDL 1.2 license

It is believed that only 5 M-55 aircraft were ever built and were equipped with various sensors to study the Earth. They are used to photograph Russia itself for cartography, but they are not really needed for that either. The M-55 has the endurance to stay in the air for 6.5 hours.

By the way, an interesting fact – the Soviets planned a combat version of the M-55, the M-55Sh. This interesting but strange ground-attack aircraft was never made. However, the military service of the M-55 can still happen – recently there have been rumours that the M-55 could be used in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Only five such airplanes were ever made. The name Geophysica shows that its purpose is Earth-sciences.

Only five such airplanes were ever made. The name Geophysica shows that its purpose is Earth-sciences. Image credit: Aleksandr Markin via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Roman Svitan, a reserve colonel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, pilot-instructor and a military expert, believes that the Russian invaders want to return the M-55 to full military service to strengthen their reconnaissance capabilities in Ukraine. The M-55 is now somewhat of a civilian aircraft (although it still belongs to the Russian Air Force).

Information has appeared that the M-55 may return to its reconnaissance roots. However, Svitan notes that this would be a bad sign for the Russians. “If the Russians are going to use the M-55 as a reconnaissance plane, then everything is very bad for them with aviation. They don’t have enough power, especially of the A-50 flying radars, so they try to go even higher, up to 15-18 kilometers,” noted Svitan.

The logic would be simple – to rise higher than the Ukrainian missiles can reach. However, the Patriot air defense system would take care of the M-55 without too much trouble, and any intelligence the M-55 could gather is more easily gathered by satellites and drones. Therefore, it is likely that the M-55 will not be used for reconnaissance and it is just some weird rumour.

Written by Povilas M.

Sources:, Wikipedia