Developed by Vladimir M. Myasishchev in 1952, in answer to the Soviet government's demand for a bomber capable of delivering a strike on United States territory, the M-4 Bison was the nation's first four engine turbojet to become operational and following its maiden flight in 1953, the M-4 was first displayed in a fly-over Moscow on the first day of May in 1954. It reached a speed of 947 km/h and a ceiling of 12,500 meters. Although the bomber had a range of only 8,500 km, which did not allow strikes at US territory, series production of the M-4 bomber began in 1955. In July of the same year, deployment of the first ten bombers, intended to carry thermonuclear warheads, started.
During its initial flights the Bison had been equipped with the AM-3A engines since the BD-5 that would theoretically give it the desired range was still in its experimental stage. Between 1955 and 1956, the M-4 was equipped with more powerful and low-consumption PD-3M and PD-3M-500A engines to increase the range, but still not enough. With the new engines in place tests were conducted on the M-4's weapon capabilities, equipping it with the Kh 20 air-to-surface rockets which were to be used to strike targets outside of the bomber's range. Due to the design of the landing gear, the Kh 20 could not be mounted to the underside of the fuselage and a proposition to emplace the rocket above the wing was quickly rejected due to interference with the engines.
Again wishing to increase the bomber's strike range, the Bison was equipped with the VD-7 which improved its flight characteristics and bumped the range up tp 11,850 km and a revolutionary in-air-refueling system was designed as well, giving the M-4 the ability to deliver a maximum payload deep into enemy territory and return to the Motherland. The first flight of this design, designated the M4-3M, took place in March 1956, and at the end of the year production started although it would not be deployed until 1958.
A number of 'Bison-A' bombers were equipped to serve as in-flight refuelling tankers, with a hose-reel unit mounted in the bomb bay. This same type of refueling device was later adopted by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy and China.
Another version of the Bison was designed to be a high-altitude bomber, using a test-bed aircraft powered by four D-15 turbojet engines each of 13,000 Kg thrust and designated 201-M. This was used in September 1959 to establish a number of payload-to-height records.
Basic M-4 bodies were used to ferry the Buran orbiting space shuttle and Energiya rocket vehicles to and from launch stations in the Soviet Union and were designated VM-T. The VM-T used the fuselage and wings of the M-4, but the standard tail surfaces were replaced by large twin fins to allow the extremely heavy payload to sit above the fuselage.
All in all, seven basic variations on Myasishchev's design were created and tanker/transport versions the Bison remained in service until 1994.
Length: 47.20 M
Height: 14.10 M
Wingspan: 50.48 M
Wing Area: 309 M2
Ceiling: 12,500 M
Fuel Capacity: 262,710 L
Weight Empty: 79,700 Kg
Maximum Take Off Weight: 165,900 Kg