Russian Spy Plane to Act as Telecoms Carrier
Published on: 3rd Nov 2007
Note -- this news article is more than a year old.
Russia's answer to the U 2 high altitude spy plan, the Myasishchev M 55 could get a new lease of life as a telecoms carrier. The plane was designed to fly at very high altitudes, but unlike the US spy planes, the Russian model was fitted with weapons. Removing the weapons allows the plane to carry fairly sizable payloads at very high altitudes.
The plane was initially used to intercept spy ballons which overflew the Soviet Union after the U-2 program was shut down. When the spy ballon program was also terminated, a modified version of the M-55 was developed, the M-55 Geophysica. The first one of these flew in 1988, but as the Soviet Union collapsed, military demand dropped. In 1994, the reconnaissance version was terminated after only five aircraft were built.
A number of M-55 Geophysica remain in service, performing in research roles. One M-55 took part in a study of the Arctic stratosphere in 1996-1997.
It is one of these M-55 Geophysica's which, according to the manufacturer will be used next Feb-March as a demonstration plane in Malaysia to offer a range telecoms services. The idea is to use the plane to provide telecom coverage in areas where satellite coverage is spotty, or for emergency relief following disasters which take out landline and cellular networks on the ground. Being a very high altitude plane enables it to cover a much wider area on the ground with its telecoms radio uplinks.