Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

In 1950s the idea of creating the nuclear airplane, the long range strategic bomber powered on the power of atom was considered as a necessity by Soviet generals. At that time there was already built first Russian atomic ice breaker with its independent nuclear reactor on board. So the plane seemed to be pretty real. To give you a little spoiler on this post – yes, they finally was to able to build a working plane with a nuclear reactor on board which was powering it during the flight. Interested? Let’s see how it all looked like:

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

There were almost 1,000 long range strategic bombers in the USA able to deliver nuclear bombs right into Russia at that time and Soviet army officials were afraid they had no such long range planes so they decided to get those, but not traditional propeller or jet powered ones but rather a nuclear one.

Why nuclear? Because according to their calculations the supersonic planes of big size needed for the transportation of lots of bombs would need over 10,000 tons of fuel just for one flight. Even storing such amounts of aircraft petrol in one place tend to be a problem.

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

Here on the pictures you can see a proposed design for the first plane with atomic nuclear reactor on board.

In June 1952 the leading Soviet nuclear engineer Alexandrov was telling the “godfather” of Soviet atomic industry Kurchatov: “Our knowledge of atomic reactors allows us to raise a question of achieving the development of engines powered with atomic force in nearest years”.

However during these “few years” – three years to be exact, already the “conventional” heavy bombers appeared – for example the TU-95s “Bears” – which are still being used in Russian air force and are planned to be in service for as long as 2040 minimum.

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

Meanwhile, the planned nuclear plane has got its model name “M-50” and the nuclear engine initially was planned to be placed in the front part of the plane, but later as you can see on this picture was moved backwards.

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

This was one of the final looks of M-50 – it was now called M-52, M-56K or even M-60 – depending on the specimen that was developed – in parallel there were a few of similar planes prepared by separate groups of engineers.

Most of such planes had the nuclear engines that used molten metals to transfer heat from the nuclear reactor to the engine itself. Those were molten lithium or sodium. The engines also had an option to work on regular aircraft fuel – just like your regular hybrid car can go on electricity and on gas.

Also those planes were hosting one small plane – drone as we call it now – inside of themselves. You can see it on the previous picture (one which is above this one). It is marked red there and is located in the mid part of the plane. The idea for this drone was to be able to shoot bombs in more precise manner without the main plane going too much down from the supersonic altitidues it was going to fly at. So it just dropped this little plane which did all the job closer to the ground. Sort of a nuclear Soviet sub-orbital mothership.

Sadly, this exact plane was not finished. The main engineer who supervised those groups was moved to more important task at time – building the ballistic missiles – the ones that can reach far far away countries for sure and without the tricks of dropping drones or using molten lithium. So the project was closed.

However, remember I told you the nuclear planes still were built? Yes, there was another group working on those, and here is their story:

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

On this picture you can see the real and once being highly classified top secret Soviet nuclear plane. It was not a supersonic jet as the one before, was using the power of propellers to move, however it was still a nuclear powered strategic bomber!

It was developed in TU agency and their task was initially more simpler – to build a normal propellered but nuclearly powered plane.

At first in 1956 they built a “Flying Nuclear Lab” based on the normal TU-95 plane. Later the real nuclear TU went into process of building.

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

This is a real scheme of the nuclear turbo engine of the TU lab.

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

And this was another type of the engine they developed. The nuclear elements in this one was placed in round fashion around the engine.

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

This was an unground testing site for those engines.

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

And this is how the reactor, the engine and the sensors were hosted inside of the plane’s body. The plane got its name TU-95LAL.
Behind the pilots cabin there was a very thick layer of radiation protection installed. However the outer walls were not that thick and radiation could go on the sides.

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

Here is this plane photographed unclose. Once very top secret now possible to see and explore – this photo shows the walls around the nuclear reactor inside this plane.

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

And this is how they were removing and installing the reactor from/into the plane.

Believe it or not but they were able to get this plane into the skies and just in one year – 1961 the year of the first Russian cosmonaut – this plane has took 34 flights alone.

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

The main danger they figured out was that such plane could contaminate huge areas of land with radioactive wastes. Remember that think side walls? So this project was dropped too!

The plane was left abandoned on the nuclear test site for over 15 years and then demolished by special order of top party officials.

However, this is still not the end of the nuclear planes history of Russia.

What if I tell you there was also a third plane?!

Yes, there was – please meet AN-22 01-07:

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

After the first two projects were abandoned most of the knowledge and developed technologies were then used to build the nuclear submarines. They successfully have been proved a good working idea and tested the approaches to the compact reactors for years. So later 1970s they were able to build the most advanced Soviet nuclear plane to date. How about the poisonous wastes? Nothing like that. “The only waste it produced was the heated air stream”, remembers the engineer, “it was more ecologically sound than even the regular gas powered planes – no wastes at all”.

This was achieved because after 1950s-60s they dropped the idea of nuclear reactors with “open cycle” and developed the “closed cycle” ones.

Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M

This is a drawing of this engine. It was called “combined turbo jet nuclear engine.

The engineers were telling that everything was nice with this engine – no waste, almost unlimited flight range (sic!). Just imagine this plane could fly around without landing as long as it wanted or as long as it was technically sound. The only problem says the engineer was the damage of the reactor or engine – if someone shoots down the plane or it falls down due to some technical mischiefs. In this case the casing of the engine/reactor can be damaged and lots of nuclear toxic stuff can be leaked. So they moved on to protect the engines further but…

But then the cold war ended, the Soviet Union collapsed, and we still don’t see the ecological, cheap and unlimited air flights.

22 thoughts on “Soviet Top Secret Nuclear Airplane M-60M”

  1. I don’t know what to think about the informations you give here on the TU-95LAL but from what I already tried to find out on this subject in the past (Because I have been reading on the TU-95LAL and the TU-119 for 2 years) most of the 34 test flights were done with the reactor shut down in order to test the cockpit shielding efficiency… most of these test the engines were running on petrol… The Tu-119 was only a project and was never produced… It was only researched and created on paper… based on the testing done from the TU-95LAL and improved design made on its engine design…

  2. Great history. Lets hope they stay off this kind of engines until they can make it hundred percent safe. It is a great idea and I think nuclear energy is the future.

    • Well, let’s hope they stay off this type of engine for a plane forever – imagine what happens when its shot down to the area under.

  3. “Sadly, this exact plane was not finished.”

    Luckily, it was not finished. One plane crash, and hello Chernobyl. Plus, there definitely would be a radioactive exhaust trail during the normal operation.

  4. “ecological” flights by atomic power? dudes, what is ecological about atomic waste which has to be stored safely for 10.000+ years or it kills up to millions of people?

  5. USA screwed around with a research plane about the same time, based on the B-36 airframe. Had about the same luck too.

  6. The US had something called the kiwi Nuke engine. Hotter than shit from the sun heavy as hell and a totally stupid idea for a plane.

    • Kiwi wasn’t the name of the engine… it was the nickname given to the reactor design powering the engine… quite different actually… the engine is a NERVA that was mounted on a kiwi reactor…

    • And Kiwi reactors were not designed to power planes they were designed to power rockets… like the ones used in spacecrafts… too big and heavy to power planes… I don’t even know why you bring that up in a plane conversation… maybe you should talk about thing you really know…

  7. aaamaaziiin, all my life ive been thinkin if the soviet never try to build an atomic aircraft, coz they built submarines and ships, why not planes? so nice, i still can not belive how much sources and ppl used for develope all this tecnologies and ended this way, pretty nice, i loved

  8. Soviet union had amazing scientists and with much smaller budget than US it managed to stay and sometimes even exceed them in weapons race. Too bad Gorbachev thought that because few corrupted officials the legacy of such a great country wasnt worth the future. Idiot. Gorbachev and Yeltsin are the real traitors of Russian and Soviet citizens.

  9. I do like the concept and the commercial viability of an airline power by nuclear power. Think the only difference between air and water is density so the same concept applied to nuclear power submarine, so if you consider to shoot down a plane then the same happen to the submarine so why not be optimistic and start thinking about a fire fume dispensing system that can copy water blanket approached to control nuclear waste isn’t that where all the nuclear waste is been stored. I support nuclear engine to copy nuclear electricity to allow for cheaper and more affordable flight around the world. I would like to flight nonstop to Africa and Australia and China and Russia and Japan and enjoy a cozy nonstop flight to and fro. Understand Chow.Don’t even mention domestic flights. ETC

  10. The problem with our current nuclear production is the the type of Nuclear plant used.
    Nuclear power plants initially were developed with a war footing in mind, so had to have the ability to produce weapons grade uranium, this type of power plant has become the “standard” due to vested interests and the colossal expense of building a different type of reactor that can’t produce weapons grade.

    After Chernobyl and latterly Fukishima I researched what if any other Nuclear power plants designs were available, I discovered that when the US was designing it’s Nuclear bomber in the 50s a Different type of power plant was recommended. The use of Thorium instead of plutoniumn and uranium would be beneficial for many reasons, no contaminated fuel rods or contaminated water (used to cool the fuel rods). I feel that the current way of creating nuclear power is dangerous not just for human’s alive now, but will continue to be a risk for 100s of generations in the future. It would be expensive to change to the Thorium type reactor, but as guardians of the planet we owe it to our descendants to bite the bullet and build Thorium Nuclear reactors and decommission the current plants which have proven to be so devastating to nature, while we make strident effort to master cold Nuclear Fusion (ultimate goal). interesting topic!

    • Right on Paul, thorium is far more abundant and safer than uranium, the reason that governments don’t use it because the point of nuclear reactors is not to make power, put plutonium. Norway is building one, though.

  11. Cheers Mark, go Norway!! Interesting read, pepes need to let other pepes know the other options, now we got the Chinese building fast reactor plants in the UK. propoganda will kick in Nuclear will be seen as the green approach and essential if we are to stop global warming, hoping enough pepes get up to speed to tip the balance toward Thorium, it’s a long way away, small steps 😉

  12. I liked the story about the Nuclear Airplane of Soviet union.It was great but horribal plane.I like these kind of stories.

  13. the atomic technology is worrisome. the reactions release a spectrum of particles not properly studied by man yet, not to mention it goes against nature’s laws: you won’t find a forest growing by means of fire. if you want to see what the future holds, read about thomas townsend brown’s electric ships, faster than any plane.
    or, for the russian readers, look up ‘frolov’s hat’, which is a variation on the same theme, solid state drives powering flux liners.
    short version, amazing speeds, 90 degree turns, etc.
    you won’t want to go back to conventional flying, not to mention cumbersome and expensive atomic energy.

  14. yes,why won’t you make $2500 from home and share the falsehood to every fool,who’d be gullible enough to get cajouled into making some minimum deposit and it goes on

  15. The M-60M looks like a direct copy of the American B70 Valkyrie. I will be impressed by the airplane that flys by anti-gravity and not by aerodynamics.

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