A photo appeared in the public domain, which gives reason to say that the russians have deconserved and resumed the flights of the rare M-55 Geophysica high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, which are carried out from the Ramenskoe airfield near Moscow.
A special container, probably UKR-RT (abbreviation in rus. for Universal Reconnaissance Container - Electronic Intelligence) with ELINT equipment, was spotted under the wing of this aircraft. For the first time, such a container was spotted under a russia’s Su-34 fighter-bomber during the "Zapad-2021" maneuvers of the Russian army two years ago.
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The M-55 Geophysica attracts attention primarily because this aircraft was created in Soviet times precisely as a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft for missile strikes.
In more detail, as early as the 1960s, the Soviet Union began to design a high-altitude aircraft under the code M-17 Stratosphere to intercept American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft or high-altitude balloons. But for the first time, it was possible to lift this plane into the air only in 1982, when the topic of high-altitude balloons lost its relevance.
Against this background, Soviet officials decided to repurpose the project into a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft for missile guidance, in particular for the Soviet OTR-23 Oka mobile theatre ballistic missile (NATO reporting name SS-23 Spider, phased out as directed by the INF Treaty), a kind of "predecessor" of the russia’s 9K720 Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile system (NATO reporting name SS-26 Stone). The new project received the index M-55 Geophysica. The first flight of the aircraft of this project took place in 1988.
It is known that a total of up to 5 such aircraft were manufactured, which since 1996 have been "converted" to conduct scientific experiments of a civilian nature, in particular to study the stratosphere between the russian federation and European countries.
In 2017, russian specialized resources reported that the M-55 Geophysica aircraft was allegedly put into conservation due to the "lack of orders for scientific research." After that, any mention of aircraft of this type in public access was "lost" until November 4.
russia’s M-55 Geophysica high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft / Open source illustrative photo
The very fact of the resumption of flights of the M M-55 Geophysica aircraft can be related to the work on the development of on-board equipment for the tactical aviation of the russian Aerospace Forces . This may also indicate an attempt to work out the use of this aircraft for its original purpose - reconnaissance for missile strikes.
Known characteristics of the M-55 Geophysica aircraft:
• fuselage length – 22.67 meters;
• wingspan – 37.4 meters
• maximum take-off weight – 23.4 tons, in particular payload – up to 2000 kg;
• crew – 1 person;
• maximum flight speed – 743 km/h at an altitude of 20 km;
• maximum flight height – 21.5 km;
• practical flight range – 1220 km.
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