Were there Soviet contemporaries to the U-2, X-15 and SR71?

We’ve heard about how amazing and technically advanced the U-2, X-15 and SR71 were as airships. During the time that those planes were operational did the Soviets have anything equivalent, or nearly equivalent to each of them? Did they have anything performing similar missions or research? Did they have a technologically superior plane performing missions of which the USA had no equivalent?


First, the US had bases surrounding the USSR (Germany, Turkey, Norway, etc.) The best the USSR could do was Cuba. The U2 flew higher and faster than any Russian plane of the day. There was a major arms race to try and build air-to-air missiles good enough to take it out. Eventually they succeeded - but one item I read suggested that they pushed their limits doing so; suggestions they shot down some of their own chase planes, and that at least one time, the aircraft ran out of fuel trying to catch it.

(The Americans were so confident that the Russians must have destroyed the aircraft they finally shot down, they were caught red-faced when the Russians produced Gary Powers alive.) the same applied to the SR71. For a while, it fle higher and faster than any chase plane or missile could reliably go.

there was an ongoing arms race to go higher and faster. The Americans were winning. Unfortunately, eventually controlled missile technology eventually made that obsolete. Anything high in the air was a sitting duck. Hence the newer techs, radar stealth and ground-hugging like the B1 bomber.

the X15 was strictly research into spaceplanes - fly up to the edge of space, and able to return in controlled flight. It never did much more. the USAF IIRC had a DynaSoar program until NASA bumped them out of the budget wars. they wanted to build a rocketplane like the X15 that could fly up like the shuttle, cruise over wherever in space or near space, and then return to anywhere on earth. Congress put an end to a second space program for the military.

The MIG-25 was technically faster than the SR-71, but they didn’t have intercept capability. The later MIG-31 was even a bit faster and more capable, and had better missiles. That model came into use in the late 80s, and it probably was not a coincidence that the SR-71 was (temporarily) retired soon after. No SR-71 was ever shot down, but there was enough of a deterrent effect that the missions didn’t make as much sense anymore. By that time, much of what a Blackbird could have determined was available from one or more satellites. The only benefit was more flexibility over timing, since by then they could see it coming way before it crossed over into Soviet territory, even if they couldn’t touch it. Kind of a moot point, though, since the Union collapsed under its own weight only a few years later.

They didn’t have a U2 equivalent, and the X15 was totally experimental even on our side.

I still consider the SR-71 to be one of the most badass planes ever. The thing was designed with bloody slide rules, and still was unmatched when it was retired — out of budgetary concerns, not for performance reasons — in 1999.

According to Wiki the SR-71 still holds the record for the fastest air breathing aircraft that takes off and lands on its own, so cite that the MIGs were faster.

I believe the Mig made a ballistic altitude record but not a sustained altitude record.

You can thank this guy (no, not the guy that killed it, the guy that dreamt it and built it).

Well, there’s the Myasishchev M-55, which has a comparable service ceiling to the U-2, but not the speed or range. A somewhat different intended mission, too—it was developed from a design originally intended as an armed balloon interceptor.

The Soviet Union didn’t need to spend billions on fancy planes. A few million buys a lot of Aldrich Ames.

Going by Wikipedia, the SR-71 is still the fastest. The difference in top speed between it and the MIGs is nominal though and all these speeds are in an best case scenario. I really doubt the MIGs could carry missiles on hardpoints and still hit those speeds. The best thing they could do is be on an intercept path and fire an air-to-air so that the SR-71 would still be in range of the missile(s). IIRC, the SR-71 was for recon and was not originally designed to carry missiles. They did develop that capability later on and they had to be mounted on the outside of the fuelselage but it had an impact on speed and stability.

That aside, the range of the SR-71 is twice that of the MIGs which at its speed is a huge difference.

There were a lot of erroneous reports of impossibly high speeds for the Mig25 soon after it’s debut. That mixed with pure fiction from the movie Firefox having a Mig31 reach mach 6. Comfirmed speeds have the Mig25 somewhat under the speed of the SR-71. The Mig31 is slower but I think can sustain max speed over much longer distance than the Mig25.

If you frequent some old Habu mailing lists, Blackbird was retired because it was too good. Satellite intelligence (at the time) was often obscured by weather conditions and regular orbits. Blackbird suffered no such ills. There was no plausible deniabilility with Blackbird intel. I once worked with someone whose spouse was based at Kadena on Okinawa. The stories they told and the (illicit) photos they had were an aircraft spotter’s dream.

The Foxbat reached a higher altitude record than both U and SR. And it was not designed to shoot down either plane. It was meant for the B-70.

The SR-71 was never developed to carry missiles. There was a derivative of the slightly smaller A-12 that carried Missiles. It was called theYF-12A and had internal missiles. They chopped the chines back near the nose for radar and to compensate for it they added a 3rd rudder underneath the plane. It had to fold before landing.

There was also another derivative of the A-12 designed to carry a drone on it’s back. It was the M-21. The drones were D-21’s and looked like single engine versions of the blackbirds. Note the narrower chines on this plane than an SR-71. That’s how you tell the difference between the A-12 family and the SR-71.

the A-12 came out before the SR-71 as a CIA plane. They ran a competition between the 2 planes and chose the SR-71. The original speed and altitude records were set by the YF-12A and then bettered by an SR-71 years later.

For a fun note, I actually have seen bits about a proposal to develop an SR-71 variant as a bomber—with a weapon loadout of four bombs (B-43 nuclear gravity bombs, or SRAM nuclear missiles), carried internally (either in the chines, or in some manner of rotary launcher). I even remember reading that Kelly Johnson had the idea of using it to drop 2000 lb inert steel “bombs,” at Mach 3, as a kinetic penetrator.

Aha! This appears to be a passably legit scan of the former. The supersonic “bullets” one was from Ben Rich’s Skunk Works.

I think it was the MIG25 that was clocked on radar (in the Middle East?) doing close to Mach3. Apparently that scared the heck out of the USA military establishment. Then, IIRC it was the memoirs of the guy who stole a Foxbat, mentioned that the one they had clocked at that speed landed and had to have it’s engines replaced. It was not meant to go quite that fast.

However, I guess the price of a new engine was worth it for scaring the hell out of the CIA and the USAF.

We only found out later that the Foxbat had to have its engines pulled and overhauled after it went mach 3. Which kinda begs the question, are US designs capable of mach 3 level flight (fighers F-15/16/22 etc.) or are they governed to not exceed mach 2 point something in flight.

Edit forgot to add

That spotted doing mach 3 in the ME, was it that overflight that the Israelis got into hot water over in 82, for using a hawk missile to shoot it down.

Whoa, that thing was real? I thought that came from an overimaginative GI Joe toy designer!

I thought it was NASA testing ramjets with a variant of the SR-71.

It seems to stick in my mind (read the book over 20 years ago) that the Russian MIG was flying over Syria. It appeared to be a normal flight, and the US radar guys were stunned that this machine would do about Mach 3 ( or 2.7 or whatever it was), far in excess of what they and the Russians did with similar equipment and more than they estimated its capability. They only found out years later this was not the standard operating envelope.

I suppose it was a more effective way to waste a few million dollars/rubles, than the guy who pancake the F22 last year when he pulled the landing gear up prematurely on takeoff. ($35M…)

Nope. Very real. There are 11 surviving aircraft in various museums.

One of the tests went badly and it destroyed an M-21. Both pilots bailed but one was killed in the sea. They then went to aB-52 launch platform using a booster rocket. Eventually 4 mission flights were made over China. One crashed in China and sits in a museum. One flew on to Russia where it self destructed. The parts were recovered and reversed engineered but never used. 2 of them failed upon return.