The former Myasishchev design bureau that is now part of Russia’s United Aircraft wants to convert a second M-55 into a civilian flying laboratory for high-altitude atmospheric research. It would complement a Yakovlev Yak-42D trijet that was delivered to the ministry of natural resources and its weather forecasting arm, RosHydroMet, on December 6 for such research at low and medium altitudes. Speakers at the Yak-42D handover ceremony recalled that the government previously planned two flying labs for RosHydroMet, but because of the worldwide economic crisis in 2008-09, funds were provided for only one airplane.
Myasishchev built a total of five M-55s in the late 1980s as reconnaissance aircraft for the Russian ministry of defense. One of them (airframe number two) went for structural testing; two crashed during flight-testing (number one crashed on takeoff, number five was lost to a spin); and two remain airworthy. The fourth airframe (S/N55204) was reworked into a purely civilian flying laboratory from 1993 to 1996. It then flew over Europe, Africa, Latin America, Australia, the Arctic and Antarctica and a number of remote islands, specifically to address scientific issues relating to the tropopause and the ozone layer.
These flights were mostly for foreign organizations. But this airframe is nearly time-expired, leaving only number three as the potential new high-altitude research aircraft. It has logged few hours but still contains the original military mission equipment.
Myasishchev chief test pilot Oleg Schepetkov, who has done most of the M-55 flying so far, told AIN that airframe number three has been maintained in airworthy condition, with regular ground runs of the D30V12 turbofans. He claimed that the M-55 is better suited for atmospheric research work than the Lockheed U-2 design because of the latter’s stricter flight envelope and regime limitations. NASA flies two ER-2 versions of the U-2 for high-altitude research work, based at Palmdale, Calif., as well as three WB-57Fs based at Houston, Texas.
“The M-55 has proved itself capable of flying in highly turbulent atmosphere and also in the conditions of very cold ambient temperatures, down to -92 degrees Celsius,” Schepetkov added.
The Russian air force still has one high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft in service: the supersonic MiG-25R.