Cold War Era

When Soviets faked a flyby of 28 Myasishchev M-4s to pretend they had a credible fleet of bombers, the US increased B-52 production by 35%

The fake flyby of 28 Myasishchev M-4s that increased B-52 production

When the Myasishchev design bureau was reborn in 1951, it was immediately tasked with creating a high-speed strategic bomber to balance the threat posed by NATO’s heavy bombers, notably the B-52.

Designated M-4 and code-named “Bison” by NATO, the new four-turbojet bomber was developed within an incredibly short time—just one year. It made use of many innovative features, including a bicycle landing gear, and was designed around the most powerful jet engine of the day. It became the progenitor of a small family of bombers and refueling tankers, including the much-improved 3M and its versions.

As explained by David Baker in his book Russian Bombers, preparations for flight tests moved quickly, with the roll-out of the first prototype in December 1952, after which it was dismantled and taken downriver to Zhukovsky. The first flight took place on Jan. 20, 1953 but a range of modifications and changes were required, the schedule impacted to some degree by production of the Il-28. Acceptance trials did not begin until May, 1954, with an appearance at the May Day parade taking the visiting dignitaries and military attaches completely by surprise.

A US Navy F-14 Tomcat intercepting a Myasishchev 3M, 1983. In 1955 Soviets faked a flyby of 28 Myasishchev M-4 bombers.

When Soviets faked a flyby of 28 Myasishchev M-4s

Passing over the heads of the watching crowds, the prototype was escorted by four MiG-17 fighters. NATO code named the new bomber Bison. After displaying the M-4 in public and to the world, state trials were completed on Aug. 5, 1954 but some shortcomings were apparent and the Air Force began to question the aircraft’s suitability. With a full bomb load, maximum range was 6,500km (4,040 miles) or 9,800km (6,090 miles) with a 5,000kg (11,0201b) load. This was not quite the intercontinental bomber envisaged and a range of technical issues were revealed in the state examination of flight test results and engineering analysis.

However, on Jul. 3, 1955 a further display of air power at Tushino worried the Americans a great deal as they saw what they believed to be 28 M-4 bombers fly over. Former Secretary of the Air Force and a Missouri Democrat, Stuart Symington raised deep concerns that Russia had in production a long-range jet bomber capable of dropping nuclear weapons (he believed) on the United States. This triggered a major expansion of B-52 production, increasing output by 35%. Thus began the ‘bomber-gap` myth.

What the Americans had actually seen was the first 10 aircraft fly around in a loop and pass over Moscow a second time, followed by eight different aircraft, Intelligence estimates, based on one U-2 spy flight over an airfield near Leningrad housing the entire complement of 30 M-4s, forecast a total fleet of 600 such bombers within a decade. The production estimate was based on multiplication of that total over every Soviet airfield capable of operating an M-4 type aircraft.

A force of crewed bombers

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-52H Stratofortress 2nd BW, 20th BS, LA/60-0008 “Lucky Lady IV”.

Such was the intensity of the race for supremacy that 1954 and 1955 were pivotal years in which each side sought ways to outclass the other in nuclear strike potential. In the United States the decision had been made to develop an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) which would emerge as Atlas, deployed from 1959. An alternative design, Titan, wasn’t far behind. In Russia, Sergey Korolev had been designing an ICBM since 1953 but progress was slow and few believed that it would be an effective system until fight tests began in 1957.

The Soviet air force was convinced that the only effective way to take the fight to the United States would be through a force of crewed bombers. It was a viewpoint mirrored by sentiment in the USA, where the Air Force diehards refused to accept that push-button warfare could ever supplant piloted aircraft. In the United States, the Air Force would take control of long-range rockets, including ICBMs, and they would be assigned to SAC from the outset, the Navy taking control of the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) programme with Polaris.

A new generation of aircraft

But this would all come later. In the mid-1950s, as both superpowers sought to out-gun each other, America was shocked by the apparent surge in the deployment of Soviet jet bombers capable of striking the US and landing at a friendly base before returning home. The reality was that the Russians had no such capability and they knew it. The recognition by the Soviet leadership that they were still behind the technological and numerical superiority of intercontinental bombers operated by the US Air Force put urgency into preparations for a new generation of aircraft, realistically capable of surviving in a major conflict.

Russian Bombers is published by Mortons Books and is available to order here.

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Unknown and Senior Airman Tessa B. Corrick / U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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