|M-4 / 3M Molot|
|Myasishchev 3MD at Monino Central Air Force Museum (Moscow)|
|National origin||Soviet Union|
|First flight||1953 (M-4/2M)|
|Primary users||Soviet Air Force|
Russian Air Force
|Number built||2 prototypes, 91 production aircraft|
The Myasishchev M-4 Molot (Russian: Молот (Hammer), USAF/DoD reporting name "Type 37", NATO reporting name Bison) is a four-engined strategic bomber designed by Myasishchev and manufactured by the Soviet Union in the 1950s to provide a Long Range Aviation bomber capable of attacking targets in North America.
Design and development
Following World War II, the Soviet Union prioritized developing a long-range strategic bomber capable of delivering atomic weapons. Their first aircraft was the Tupolev Tu-4, a reverse-engineered version of the American B-29 Superfortress. The Tu-4 was only ever a stop-gap solution, as unlike the American strategic bomber force that could operate from bases in allied countries close to the USSR, it lacked the range to reach the continental United States, and experiences in the Korean War demonstrated piston engine bombers were extremely vulnerable to jet fighter interception. With the advancement of Western jet bombers like the B-47 Stratojet and Vickers Valiant, Vladimir Mikhailovich Myasishchev was directed to construct a Strategicheskiy Dahlniy Bombardirovshchik (SDB/Strategic Long-range Bomber) in spring 1951. The first M-4 (Bison-A) prototype flew on 20 January 1953, and was handed over to state acceptance trials in March 1954, with production beginning later that year. It entered service in 1955, with 34 being built including two prototypes.
The M-4 was made mostly of aircraft aluminum alloys with some steel and magnesium components. It had wings swept at 35-degrees and powered initially by four Mikulin AM-3A engines with a maximum thrust of 85.8 kN (19,300 lbf), but later upgraded to RD-3M-500 turbojets with a maximum thrust of 93.2 kN (21,000 lbf). There were 18 bladder fuel tanks in the fuselage and wings, providing a total fuel capacity of 123,600 liters (32,610 US gallons); this gave the aircraft a range of 9,500 km (5,900 mi), although this fell short of the 12,000 km (7,500 mi) range initially specified. It had a payload of 24 tonnes (26.4 tons) in various configurations. Defensive armament consisted of six AM-23 23 mm cannons with a rate of fire of 1,250 rpm each in a manned twin tail turret with 400 rounds per gun and two twin remote controlled turrets in the top and bottom fuselage with 300 rounds per gun each. The aircraft had a crew of eight: a navigator/bombardier in the nose; pilot and copilot in the cockpit; radar operator/navigator, flight engineer/gunner, radio operator/gunner, and dorsal turret gunner in a compartment behind the cockpit; and a tail gunner.
While the M-4 had less range than the Tupolev Tu-95, it had greater speed and payload, sufficient advantages to continue improving on the design. In 1954, approval was granted for a redesign of the M-4, which flew on 27 March 1956 and began state trials in early 1958. The 3M "Bison-B" was powered by four Dobrynin RD-7 turbojets, which had the same thrust as the RD-3M but were 25% more fuel efficient; a nose inflight refueling probe was also added to further increase range. The center fuselage was considerably redesigned to reduce weight and improve aerodynamics, and the wings were updated with a wider span and area. 74 Bison-Bs would be built.
From the outset when the M-4's range shortfall became apparent, Myasishchev began investigating inflight refueling. In 1955, the second production aircraft was modified to a hose-&-drogue tanker configuration and the first production aircraft was fitted with an IFR probe above the nose, with two more converted for trials the following year. From the late 1950s, the M-4 fleet was converted to the tanker configuration through the fit of a hose-drum unit (HDU) and fuel tanks in the bomb bay and removal of all defensive armament. Similar conversions were performed to the 3M fleet in the 1970s and 1980s, the 3MS-1 "Bison-B" becoming the "3MS-2" tanker and the 3MN-1 becoming the "3MN-2" tanker.
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The M-4 was first displayed to the public in Red Square, on May Day, 1954. The aircraft was a surprise to the United States, which had not known that the Soviets had built a jet bomber. However, it soon became clear that the bomber had an insufficient range to attack the United States and still return to the Soviet Union. Only a few of the original production M-4s were actually put into service. To remedy this problem, the Myasishchev design bureau introduced the 3M, known to the West as the 'Bison-B', which was considerably more powerful than the previous version. This new model first flew in 1955. Among other things, two of the five original gun barbettes were removed to lighten the aircraft.
In July 1955 American observers saw 28 Bisons in two groups during a Soviet air show. The United States government believed that the bomber was in mass production, and the Central Intelligence Agency estimated that 800 would be available by 1960. The display was a hoax; the first group of ten repeated the flyby with eight more. The classified estimates led, however, to American politicians warning of a "bomber gap".
This time,[when?] it was not the Soviet Air Force (VVS) that wanted the 3M, but rather Naval Aviation (AV-MF). Though it could still not bomb Washington, D.C., the 3M had a sufficient range to fulfill the need for a long-range maritime patrol aircraft. In 1959, the 3M broke numerous world records.[which?] However, it was thought by the West (and would continue to be thought until 1961) that the 3M was the original M-4, meaning that the capability of the M-4 was vastly overestimated by Western intelligence agencies.
In the early 1960s, the 'Bison-C', with a specialized search radar, was introduced. By this time, many of the original M-4s had been converted to M-4-2 fuel tankers for aerial refueling. Later, 3Ms were converted to 3MS-2 and 3MN-2 tankers as well.
Neither the M-4 nor the 3M ever saw combat, and none were ever converted for low-altitude attack, as many American B-52s were, nor were any ever exported to the Soviet Union's allies.
Production of the Bison aircraft stopped in 1963, by which time 93 of them had been built. The last aircraft, an M-4-2 fuel tanker, was withdrawn from service in 1994.
The three VM-T heavy lift aircraft were converted from 3MN-2 tankers, with very large loads carried piggy-back above the fuselage. The single vertical fin/rudder was replaced with two large rectangular fin/rudders at the tips of the horizontal stabilizers to improve control due to the turbulence caused by the cargo pod.
With the withdrawal of the Myasishchev bombers and tankers the vast majority of the retired airframes were broken up under the terms of the relevant arms limitation treaty.
- Izdeliye M (Product M) – the in-house designation for the SDB, Project 25, M-4 aircraft.
- SDB (Strategicheskiy Dahl'niy Bombardirovshchik – strategic long-range bomber) – The government designation for the M-4 programme.
- [Tema Dvadtsat Pyat] Subject 25 – The VVS designation for the strategic bomber program.
- Myasishchev M-4 – The designation used for production aircraft. 35 built including two prototypes and a static test article. (NATO Air Standards Co-ordinating Committee codename Bison-A)
- Myasishchev M-4-2 (a.k.a. M-4-II) – M-4 production aircraft converted to in-flight refueling tankers. (NATO Bison-A)
- Myasishchev M-6 – The OKB designation used for re-engined Myasishchev 3M aircraft. (NATO Bison-A)
- Myasishchev 3M – The improved M-4 with Dobrynin VD-7 engines with higher thrust and better S.F.C. than the Mikulin AM-3A engines. The first prototype was converted from a M-4.(NATO Bison-B)
- Myasishchev 3M-5 – The improved M-4 with Dobrynin VD-7 engines with higher thrust and better S.F.C. than the Mikulin AM-3A engines, configured as a launch platform for the KSR-5 air to surface missile. One prototype aircraft converted from a 3MN-1 bomber, but further conversions not carried out due to the limited life remaining on candidate aircraft. (NATO Bison-B)
- Myasishchev 3MD – Production cruise missile carrying aircraft for carrying the P-6, KSR or Kh-10 air to surface missiles, with only nine built in 1960 before the production line was shut down and the Myasishchev OKB dissolved. (NATO Bison-C)
- Myasishchev 3ME – A comprehensive avionics upgrade was tested on the sole 3ME, converted from a production 3M bomber (c/n 8301101). New navigation and radar equipment and a completely revised fire sensing and suppression system were also fitted. The prototype was damaged beyond repair when the Myasishchev M-50 prototype jumped its chocks during ground running of the engines, striking the 3ME killing one engineer on the 3ME. (NATO Bison-B)
- Myasishchev 3MS-1 (S:Staryye [dvigateli] – old engines) – New production long-range bomber aircraft capable of accommodating the VD-7 engines but fitted with Mikulin RD-3M-500a, RD-3M or AM-3A engines due to a lack of flight ready VD-7's. (NATO Bison-B)
- Myasishchev 3MS-2 (S:Staryye [dvigateli] – old engines) – New production in-flight refueling tanker aircraft capable of accommodating the VD-7 engines but fitted with Mikulin RD-3M-500a, RD-3M or AM-3A engines due to a lack of flight ready VD-7's. During the 1970s and 1980s the majority of surviving 3MS bombers were converted to 3MS-2 tankers. (NATO Bison-B)
- Myasishchev 3MN-1 (N:Novyye [dvigateli] – new engines) – The initial production version of the 3MN long-range bomber with de-rated VD-7 engines to improve reliability after compressor blade failures. (NATO Bison-B)
- Myasishchev 3MN-2 (N:Novyye [dvigateli] – new engines) – The initial production version of the 3MN in-flight refueling tanker with de-rated VD-7 engines to improve reliability after compressor blade failures. (NATO Bison-B)
- Myasishchev 3MSR-1 (S:Staryye [dvigateli] Rahdioapparatoora – old engines, avionics [upgrade]) – New production long-range bomber aircraft capable of accommodating the VD-7 engines but fitted with Mikulin RD-3M-500a, RD-3M or AM-3A engines due to a lack of flight ready VD-7's, and fitted with an upgraded avionics suite. (NATO Bison-B)
- Myasishchev 3MSN-1 (N:Novyye [dvigateli] Rahdioapparatoora – new engines, avionics [upgrade]) – Several new production long-range bomber aircraft capable of accommodating the VD-7 engines but fitted with Mikulin RD-3M-500a, RD-3M or AM-3A engines due to a lack of flight ready VD-7's, and fitted with an upgraded avionics suite. (NATO Bison-B)
- [Tema Tridtsat Shestt] Subject 36 – The government designation for the re-engined M-4. (NATO Bison-B)
- VM-T (Vladimir Myasishchev-Trahnsportnyy) – Three 3MN-2 aircraft converted for oversize cargo flights with a large cargo pod supported on struts above the fuselage and Large rectangular fins attached to the tips of the tail-plane. Notably used for transporting the Buran shuttle and Energiya launch vehicle components before the Antonov An-225 became available.
- Myasishchev 3M-A (Ahtomnyy – atomic) – A nuclear-powered reconnaissance derivative using an indirect heat transfer reactor in the bomb bay for nuclear gas turbines in the wing roots, with the crew housed in a windowless lead lined cockpit.
- Myasishchev 3M-M (Morskoy – marine) – A proposed flying boat with a boat hulled fuselage and floats under the wingtips.
- Myasishchev 3M-R (Razvedchik – reconnaissance) – A proposed reconnaissance aircraft carrying high-speed reconnaissance cameras.
- Myasishchev 3M-K (Kompleks – weapons system) – A proposed strategic missile carrying strike aircraft to carry the Kh-20 long range cruise missile.
- Myasishchev 3MP – The 3MP was a projected alternative quick-change tanker/bomber, to support all AV-MF receiver aircraft, based on the 3MD, which was not proceeded with due to the cessation of 3MD production and closure of the Myasishchev OKB.
- Myasishchev 3M-T (Toplivozaprahvshchik – refuelling tanker) – The 3M-T was an attempt to make a production convertible tanker/missile carrier version of the 3MD, for supporting the expected Myasishchev M-52 supersonic bomber, Tu-95 and the remaining 3M bombers. No hardware was produced before the OKB was closed in September 1960.
Aircraft on display
Four aircraft are known to survive:
- 3MD '30 Red' (c/n 6302831) in the Central Russian Air force Museum at Monino
- M-4 '60 Red' (c/n 0301804) in the Long Range Aviation museum at Dyagilevo AB, Ryazan
- M-4 '63 Red' (c/n 5301518) at Ukrainka Airbase, Amur Oblast
- 3MS-2 '14 Red' (c/n 7300805) at Engels Air Force Base
Data from 
- Crew: 8
- Length: 47.2 m (154 ft 10 in)
- Wingspan: 50.5 m (165 ft 8 in)
- Height: 14.1 m (46 ft 3 in)
- Wing area: 326.35 m2 (3,512.8 sq ft)
- Empty weight: 79,700 kg (175,708 lb)
- Gross weight: 138,500 kg (305,340 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 181,500 kg (400,139 lb)
- Powerplant: 4 × Mikulin AM-3A turbojets, 85.75 kN (19,280 lbf) thrust each
- Maximum speed: 947 km/h (588 mph, 511 kn)
- Range: 5,600 km (3,500 mi, 3,000 nmi)
- Ferry range: 8,100 km (5,000 mi, 4,400 nmi)
- Service ceiling: 11,000 m (36,000 ft)
- Wing loading: 425 kg/m2 (87 lb/sq ft)
- Thrust/weight: 0.25
- Guns: 9 × 23 mm NR-23 cannon or 6 × 23 mm AM-23 cannon in ventral, dorsal and tail barbettes. 1,100 rounds in ventral and dorsal barbettes, 2,000 rounds in tail barbette.
- Missiles: Up to four cruise missiles carried externally.
- Bombs: Typically 9,000 kg (19,840 lb) of internal stores. Up to 24,000 kg (52,910 lb) could be carried, including nuclear and conventional bombs:
- two nuclear bombs, or
- four 6 tonne (6.6 ton) BRAB-600 armor-piercing bombs, or
- two 9-tonne (9.9-ton) FAB-9000 or 5-tonne (5.5-ton) FAB-5000 general purpose (GP) bombs, or
- six 3-tonne (3-3 ton) FAB-3000 GP bombs, or
- 28 500 kg (1,100 lb) FAB-500 GP bombs, or
- 52 250 kg (550 lb) FAB-250 or 100 kg (220 lb) FAB-100 GP bombs
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- "Non-US Bomber listings." designation-systems.net. Retrieved: 19 May 2010.
- The Myasishchev M-4 / 3M "Bison" & M-50 "Bounder". Air Vectors.net.
- Heppenheimer, T. A. (1998). The Space Shuttle Decision. NASA. p. 193.
- Gordon 2003
- "Myasishchev M-4 (in Russian: Мясищев М-4)". Retrieved 2013-10-22.
- Grant and Dailey 2007, p. 293.
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