Year 1976. The Soviet industry was trying to develop the transport system that would carry various heavy complexes like an aerospace vehicle “Buran”. The Soviet aircraft designer Vladimir Myasishchev offered to use a strategic bomber 3M for these very purposes.
The aircraft was designated as 3M-T (“Transport”). It was equipped with new twin-vertical tails so the empennage of the old 3M was replaced with dihedral horizontal stabilizers with large rectangular end plate tailfins to accommodate any load that was twice the diameter of the aircraft’s fuselage.
The new aircraft was intended to transport four types of loads: earospace vehicles with weight more than 50 tons (the heaviest type of load), 1GT – hydrogen missile tank with fairings of overall length of about 40 meters and diameter of 7,78 meters (dimensions of 3M fuselage 51×3,5m!); 2GT – nose cone, oxygen tank and two missile unpressurized pallets; 3GT – nose and tail cones returning to the factory.
The geometry of 3M had to be changed in such a way to place all loads of the new system on the airframe. They had to do a lot of researches because every new load assumed considerable change of aerodynamic characteristics of the aircraft and its scheme.
There was a lot of skepticism about the idea of the aircraft designer – how could the airframe of the vehicle accomodate the loads with dimensions exceeding its own? How could such a vehicle be controlled? How to avoid buffeting of the tail unit which became the problem of Boeing-747 carrying the Space Shuttle? And how could the construction of the aircraft, which had been used for twenty five years already and having many fatigue damages, carry such a load in the new conditions of service?
The speed of the aircraft was decreased, the landing gear had a bicycle scheme and was equipped with auxiliary supports at the ends of the wings, single vertical fin was replaced with a double one. The system of control was modified too.
Development of 3M-T was in full swing when Vladimir Myasishchev passed away in 1978, his work was continued by other talented aircraft designers.
Many units and systems of the aircraft were updated, it was equipped with more powerful engines VD-7M with thrust of 11000 kgf.
The first flights were performed in 1982 from Kuibyshev to Leninsk (Baikonur) carrying 1GT and 2GT types of loads.
Subsequently the aircraft was named as “Atlant”.
There were built 3M-T, one of them was used for researches. One of the remaining two had equipment for refuelling in the air.
In 1982 the weight lifting of the vehicle reached 40 000 kg.
In 1987 there happened an accident – “Atlant” fell into the ocean with a giant missile and a 100-tonned satellite. It gave more reasons for those who treated the project skeptically.
However it didn’t prevent the vehicle to deliver “Buran” (with many system disassembled) to Baikonur in 1988.
Two vehicles of “Atlant” performed approximately 150 trial and commercial flights in general.
There exist different projects of “Atlants” use today, for example they could be used for air tests of a rocket engine D-5 operating on cryogen or for creation of massive transport systems on its basis, but all these projects remain on paper.
Loaded “Atlants” take part in various air shows sometimes.
One VM-T (“Vladimir Myasishchev-Transport”) stands at the air base of Ryazan today, another one is in Zhukovsky of the Moscow region. There is information that both units may fly again of necessary.