The Myasishchev M-4 (NATO codename of "Bison") was developed to a Soviet Navy requirement for a jet-powered, long-range maritime reconnaissance platform with a secondary strategic bombing role -capable of reaching targets within North American territories. By the end of its service life, the metal-skinned aircraft would see extended service as a dedicated inflight refueler and missile carrier platform. Two prototypes were eventually realized before some 91 production aircraft followed. Since retired by the mid-1990s, the M-4 certainly gave Western observers great pause during the tumultuous years of the Cold War with overstated capabilities being reported as in so many other secretive Soviet-originated systems. However, unlike other Soviet products of the period, the M-4 series was never exported beyond its home borders to allies or satellite states and none were ever utilized in combat actions.
The short-lived Myasishchev concern was established in 1951 by Vladimir Myasishchev for the purposed of the M-4 strategic bomber program. The firm went on to add several other designs and concepts throughout its active years, most notably producing the supersonic, four-engined M-50 "Bounder" series of 1959 of which only two ever existed. The M-55 high-altitude reconnaissance and research aircraft was another interesting addition that mimicked the scope of the American U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance platform, essentially becoming the definitive Myasishchev product and legacy. The concern operated only until 1960 before it was formally dissolved.
The M-4 was originally born as the Izdeliye ("Product M") / SDB ("Strategicheskiy Dahl'niy Bombardirovschik") program designation. Initial production aircraft were designated simply as "M-4" and included two prototypes followed by 35 production-quality airframes. These received the NATO reporting designation of "Bison-A". M-4 aircraft were then modified for the air refueling role as the M-4-2 (retaining their NATO designation of Bison-A). The 3M designation was reserved for "improved" M4 models fitted with uprated Dobrynin VD-7 powerplants (becoming the NATO "Bison-B"). The 3M-5 were similarly improved through new Dobrynin VD-7 engines and support for KSR-5 air-to-surface missiles (also Bison-B). The 3MD was a refined cruise missile carrier of 1960 with new search radar functionality and received the NATO reporting name of "Bison-C". The 3ME was a one-off 3M production model with updated avionics and radar (Bison-B). The 3MS-1 was a new generation Bison with a specified bomber role and Mikulin RD-3M or AM-3A series engines (NATO Bison-B). The 3MS-2 was an in-flight refueler platform with Mikulin engines. New engines greeted the 3MN-1 long-range bomber designation as did the 3MN-2. The 3MSR-1 featured base engines with upgraded avionics. Cargo variants were recognized as the VM-T - primarily used to shuttle the Buran space module. The M-6 designation recognized re-engined 3M aircraft (also NATO Bison-A).
M-4 airframes were eventually given up through the various arms limitation treaties emerging throughout the 1980s and advancing missile technologies, leaving very few as existing museum pieces. Both the Soviet Navy and Air Force became operators of the type throughout its service life.
- Ground Attack
- Aerial Refueling
- Reconnaissance (RECCE)
159.78 ft (48.7 m)
165.78 ft (50.53 m)
46.26 ft (14.1 m)
175,708 lb (79,700 kg)
400,139 lb (181,500 kg)
588 mph (947 kph; 511 kts)
36,089 feet (11,000 m; 6.84 miles)
5,033 miles (8,100 km; 4,374 nm)
9 x 23mm NR-23 cannons OR 6 x 23mm AM-23 cannons across dorsal, ventral and tail emplacements.
Up to 4 x cruise missiles carried across four external hardpoints.
Up to 52,910lbs of conventional and nuclear-tipped munitions as needed.
Izdeliye M (Product M) - Internal Myasishchev designation.
SBD ("Strategic Long-Range Bomber") - Soviet government designation for M-4 project.
Subject 25 - Strategic Bomber Program Designation
Myasishchev M-4 (Bison-A) - Base Production Series Aircraft Designation; 35 examples produced included two prototypes.
Myasishchev M-4-2 (Bison-A) - M-4 production models converted to in-flight tanker aircraft.
Myasishchev M-6 (Bison-A) - 3M models with new engines
Myasishchev 3M (Bison-B) - Improved M-4 models; fitted with Dobrynin VD-7 engines; improved performance.
Myasishchev 3M-5 (Bison-B) - Improved M-4 models; fitted with Dobrynin VD-7 engines; improved performance; launch platform for KSR-5 missiles.
Myasishchev 3MD (Bison-C) - Cruise Missile Platform; 9 examples constructed.
Myasishchev 3ME (Bison-B) - Avionics upgrade; single prototype completed
Myasishchev 3MS-1 - New-build long-range bomber platform fitted with Mikulin RD-3M-500a / RD-3M / AM-3A series engines.
Myasishchev 3MS-2 - New-build in-flight refueling platforms fitted with Mikulin RD-3M-500a series engines.
Myasishchev 3MN-1 - Long-range bomber; de-rated VD-7 engines with improved reliability.
Myasishchev 3MN-2 - In-flight refueler platform; de-rated VD-7 engines with improved reliability.
Myasishchev 3MSR-1 - Long-range bomber; upgraded avionics; provision for VD-7 engines but fitted with Mikulin RD-3M-500a, RD-3M or AM-3A series engines.
Myasishchev VM-T - Heavy-lift cargo transport modifications; three examples converted as such; cargo pod affixed atop the fuselage; fins added to wingtips of tailplane; transport for Buran space shuttle and Energiya launch vehicle.
Myasishchev 3M-A - Proposed nuclear-powered reconnaissance variant
Myasishchev 3M-M - Proposed flying boat
Myasishchev 3M-R - Proposed high-speed reconnaissance variant
Myasishchev 3M-K - Proposed strategic missile strike platform
Myasishchev 3MP - Proposed "quick-change" tanker-bomber airframe
Myasishchev 3M-T - Proposed "quick-change" tanker-missile carrier airframe.