In the Soviet Union, many projects were successfully implemented that overtook other countries for decades to come. And in the field of aviation and space exploration, the USSR was actually one of the two world leaders. As a result of our Cold War rivalry with America, we built many outstanding aircraft. One of them, VM-T "Atlant", is a former bomber, from which a transport was made for carrying very unusual cargo.
In the mid-1970s, a new space program was launched in the Soviet Union, the purpose of which was to create an analogue of the American Space Shuttle. Developers from all over the country took part in the development of the Buran and Energia complexes. At the same time, the transportation of the rocket and the shuttle was a rather sore point.
Initially, it was planned that a new aircraft would be built at the Antonov Design Bureau for the transportation of heavy and oversized cargo. But this car could not be expected very soon, and it was required "here and now." A team of engineers from the Myasishchev Design Bureau managed to solve a complex technical issue, and in a short time.
As a temporary solution, an unusual and, importantly, cheap project was developed. Its essence boiled down to the fact that the serial strategic bomber 3M lost its weapons, bomb bays were welded, brackets were installed under the load, which was hung over the fuselage. Naturally, this raises the question of aerodynamics, but fairings were attached to the load for the normal flight of the "twin". In 1981, the already transport aircraft VM-T "Atlant" took to the skies with a load for the first time. Further flights with the elements of the Buran and the Energia launch vehicle confirmed the high transport capabilities of the VM-T. The biggest problems for the aviators were hydrogen tanks 40 meters long with a diameter of 7.78 meters, as well as the space shuttle itself. The Buran hull weighs about 50 tons, and this load was attached to the fuselage of a bomber, which flew at speeds of up to 925 km / h!
A total of 3 "cargo" copies of VM-T were assembled, which made flights between Zhukovsky, Kuibyshev and the Baikonur cosmodrome near Moscow. On the latter, the final assembly of the space complex was carried out, which ended on November 15, 1988 with the flight of "Buran" into space and the return of the shuttle to the ground in a fully automatic mode, without people on board.
Fans of transport aviation will also be interested to learn more about the huge transport the Belukha aircraft, which made its first flight a decade after Atlant.