TechRussian M-55 Geophysicist's surprise flight: Reconnaissance plane showcases new war tech

Russian M‑55 Geophysicist's surprise flight: Reconnaissance plane showcases new war tech

M-55 Geophysics noticed in 2024.
M-55 Geophysics noticed in 2024.
Images source: © Defense Express
12:52 PM EST, January 27, 2024

The M-55 is a noteworthy aircraft in many aspects. However, it's seldom seen airborne - the last known flight occurred in 2023 and the one before that in 2017. It's believed that the Russians have returned the Geophysicist to the skies. Photos posted online suggest that the M-55 carried out a flight in 2024 with special equipment on board.

The Russian reconnaissance plane was spotted with two containers for electronic warfare-related operations attached under its wings. The first one is the UKR-RL (radar variant), while the second one is the URK-RK (radio-technical variant). Defense Express suggests that these pieces of equipment hint that the M-55 has been reinstated as a "flying laboratory", testing devices for air reconnaissance that may eventually be found on other Russian machinery.

In addition, there is speculation that Russia might use the M-55 for flights near NATO countries, simulating intelligence gathering or even actually collecting data. To jog your memory, last year, the mentioned plane carried out a flight with the UKR-RT container, although the UKR-RL variant was not seen attached to the wings at that time.

The M-55 Geophysica: A Rarely Produced Aircraft

The M-55 dates back to the 1960s. The Soviet Union began designing the M-17 Stratosphere plane, which was intended to intercept reconnaissance planes. Owing to delays in producing the M-17, it was decided to transform the project into the M-55 Geophysics. This resulted in an aircraft capable of reaching high altitudes and designed to combat aerostats (balloons).

The Geophysica is unique due to its limited production of only four of these machines by the Russians, as well as its specific construction. The M-55 was built in a twin-beam arrangement, flaunting long and narrow wings. Its wingspan extends up to 121 feet, with a length of 75 feet and a takeoff weight of 23 tons. The aircraft can reach a maximum speed of 466 mph, and operate at an elevation of up to 70,538 feet. It can cover 3,107 miles with one refueling.

Apart from that, the M-55's primary weapon is a twin-barrel GSz-23 cannon of 23 mm caliber, mounted on a remotely controlled gun platform. The aircraft design took precautions to ensure that the cannon was capable of firing upwards to eliminate airborne balloons.

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