Craziest Soviet Machines You Won't Believe Exist
Here are some crazy Soviet-era machines you won't believe exist!Technology
For almost 70 years, the Soviet Union was a superpower that was virtually unmatched when it came to mechanical might. They invested in many experimental designs to prove their power to the world, but some vehicles that emerged from the socialist state were jaw dropping for all the wrong reasons.
From fortresses with wings to screw-propelled trucks, and even flying saucers, no Soviet design was too much or too mad! Let's investigate some of the craziest Soviet vehicles that you won’t believe are real!
In the Soviet Union, the idea of "bigger is always better" was made pretty clear from the creation of the 2B1 Oka! The very well endowed, experimental artillery model was designed back in 1957, just as the Cold War was beginning to heat up.
America had recently rolled out their Atomic Annie Mortar, which fired huge 280 mm atomic shells, making it a wagon that could shoot relatively small nuclear bombs! In retaliation, the Soviet military developed two self-propelled nuclear artillery systems of their own, and one of them was the utterly insane 2B1 Oka.
The barrel of that canon was a horrifying 65 ft long for contrast, an entire Sherman tank is just 20 ft long! At that staggering size, the barrel could fire 420 mm rounds that weighed a colossal 1,650 lbs a piece, and could land an atomic explosion 28 miles away!
Unfortunately for the Oka, its huge gun was also a huge problem. With rounds that weighed more than a grand piano, the canon’s laborious loading process meant the Oka could only fire once every 5 minutes.
On top of that, the recoil of the colossal cannon was too much for the rest of the vehicle to endure. The steely chassis was damaged with every shot and would even rip the gearbox from its mountings!
Thankfully, the insane design was abandoned in the 1960’s when big guns made way for big missiles. But even though it was never used in combat, just rolling it out was probably enough to give Soviet enemies a real good scare!
If sci-fi movies are anything to go by, the battlefields of the future will have lasers flying in every direction! And while modern militaries are developing laser technology, there’s one Soviet vehicle that’s already built for a futuristic laser fight. This is the 1k17 Szhatie, also known as the Soviet Laser Tank!
It was developed back in the 1970’s, although, it wasn’t built to burn holes through the enemy. The array of 13 lasers on top of the tank chassis focused a powerful light source through synthetically grown rubies, with each one weighing a staggering 66 lbs!
When the array was fired in pulses, the Szhatie could destroy the optical sensors on enemy vehicles and missiles, and even cause immediate blindness when fired at enemy troops! But the otherworldly weapon never entered service for a number of very good reasons.
Firstly, rubies that are heavier than a large microwave oven are not cheap to produce! And secondly, it would have violated the Geneva Convention’s protocol on blinding laser weapons if it were ever used in an anti-infantry role.
Like war wasn’t bad enough, using that would have landed them with a lot of powerful enemies! So, it’s a good thing that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, any plans of mass laser tank production fell with it!
The Zveno Project
In the 1930s, a little over a decade since the end of the first World War, Soviet Russia realized that the skies would be the battlegrounds of the future. So, it began developing experimental aircraft just in case a Second World War started. Spoiler alert, it did!
Russia was ready to take to the air, but one of the vehicles they’d created looked more like a flying circus than a military machine! The Zveno project, also called the Chain Link project, involved a bomber that had been specially modified not to carry bombs, but smaller fighter planes!
It was an out of the box plan to save fuel on the frontlines, as the bombers were much more fuel efficient than the smaller fighters. After take-off, the fighters docked with the carrier while in flight by using some special fastenings.
And once they were all strapped down, the bomber flew them off into the fight and refueled them on the way! Each of those amazing motherships could carry up to 5 fighters, and each fighter was loaded up with around 1,000 lbs of bombs. So, if you saw one of these things on the horizon, you knew you were in for a whole swarm of trouble!
Even though those creative craft were used successfully at the beginning of World War 2, the Zveno project wasn’t developed any further. During the war time technology boom, those aircraft quickly became obsolete and were replaced by state of the art fighter jets.
The Soviets may have given up on that fortified flying circus, but they were far from done with crazy aircraft designs. Meet the unbelievable Antonov A-40, a tank with wings!
The astonishing Soviet prototype was built almost 80 years ago to determine if gliding a tank straight onto a battlefield was possible. At the time, the Soviets were testing whether bombers could be used to drop tanks into position mid battle. Some of those tests even plunged the tanks into bodies of water to see what damage they sustained on impact!
But, in 1942, Soviet glider designer Oleg Antonov took the idea one step further. He created a detachable cradle made up of biplane wings and a twin tail that could be attached onto the chassis of a light tank. The A-40 would then be towed behind a bomber and released, gliding into enemy territory where it could shed its wings and fight as a standard tank!
However, during the A-40’s maiden flight, the bomber towing it was forced to drop it early because of the incredible amount of drag the tank generated. It was more like an anchor than an aircraft! Even though the tank and its driver managed to survive the fall, the project didn’t. It was ironically dropped in favor of more conventional weapons systems.
When the Soviet military wanted some seriously heavy lifting done, they called in a Mil Mi-10 helicopter. Despite looking like the lovechild of a helicopter and a spider, the long legs on that chopper weren’t for climbing up buildings or weaving webs between the clouds.
It was designed in the late 1950’s to carry big, bulky loads that the union’s largest helicopter at the time, the Mil Mi-6, couldn’t fit in its hold. While the Mi-6 could carry a little over 13 tons, the Mi-10’s lighter design and external platform allowed it to load up to 15 tons of oddly shaped equipment.
With those long, gangly legs making it almost 30 ft high, the chopper could taxi over its loads, attach them to its fuselage, and fly off with everything in tow! That ranged from trucks and buses, to fully built buildings!
It was such a strange and shocking sight to behold that the Mi-10 was featured in demonstrations and air shows all over the world to show off its unique feature. Even though mass production of that ‘flying crane’ design didn’t take off, 55 Mi-10’s were produced during the 1960’s, and some were still in use up to 2013!
From the 1950’s through to 1997, the Soviet Union and later Russia, built a total of 245 nuclear powered submarines. That was more than all other nations combined, but the Soviet’s submarine obsession almost caused one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. In 2011, the nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine K-84, also known as Ekaterinburg, made a quick stop in a drydock.
Built in 1982, the almost 550 ft long sub was powered by two nuclear reactors and could carry up to 16 nuclear missiles. But during some routine welding work, a fatal fire broke out along the wooden scaffolding surrounding its bow.
That quickly spread to the submarine itself, and for a whole heart stopping day, firefighters struggled to control the blaze. The sub had been carrying just 4 nuclear missiles at the time, but if it had exploded, it would have caused a nuclear accident comparable to the infamous Chernobyl meltdown!
As catastrophic as it could have been, the K-84 was gradually repaired, exposing the sheer size of the sub’s sonar array. It may be a nuclear death-trap, but it looks like something out of a sci-fi adventure, its big bulb is actually the sonar array’s acoustic chamber. That is used to analyze sound waves from sonar equipment and translate it into visual data, so that the sub can navigate underwater.
As cool as it looks, that chamber was filled with a highly flammable liquid that almost ignited during the incident! I don’t know what’s crazier; the fact that those subs are practically bombs made out of bombs, or that the Soviets once had 245 of them!
Often referred to as ‘The Ugliest Plane in The World’, the M-15 Belphegor certainly isn’t the prettiest aircraft to look at. Hailing from the Soviet satellite state of Poland, the government designed crop duster was meant to replace the old, reliable An-2 biplane.
But the M-15 was not what anyone, in their right mind, would call an improvement! Like the An-2, the Belphegor was also a bi-plane, but its design traded a propeller based turboprop engine for a turbofan based jet engine!
Those powerful engines are intended for aircraft that need to reach high speeds, so using one in an agricultural aircraft was very peculiar! Despite that, it was able to carry up to three tons of pesticides in the huge pylons separating its wings, so the Soviet Bloc had huge expectations for the plane! But in reality, the design was a disaster!
For a start, it had a maximum range of just 215 nautical miles, half that of the An-2. The jet engine was also much more difficult to fix than a turboprop, and it cost much more to build and operate. And to top it off, the funky fuselage design limited the Belphegor’s usefulness to crop dusting.
In other words, that plane was a strange, high maintenance, and expensive one-trick pony! While the Union had plans to make thousands of them, production of that Polish plane was pigeonholed in 1981.
One of the most unusual vehicles from the time of the Cold War or any era, for that matter, has to be the Lun-Class Ekranoplan. At a gargantuan 242 ft long with a wingspan of 144 ft, that bizarre beast could only just fit inside the lines of a standard American football field!
You may think with all those wings and jet engines that it’s some sort of Soviet aircraft, but that amazing machine is actually a boat-plane hybrid! Instead of taking to the skies or chugging across the sea’s, the Ekranoplan exploits something called the wing-in-ground effect. As it flies closer to the ground, air pressure builds between its specially shaped wings and the surface below.
That creates a cushion of air beneath the plane, allowing the entire vehicle to float just inches over the surface of a lake or ocean. And by mounting 8 turbojet engines to the front, that behemoth could travel at a terrifying top speed of 340 mph.
Not only that, but its sheer size meant it could carry upwards of 110 tons, so it had the capacity of a ship with all the speed of an aircraft! On top of that, the six twinned cylinders lining its top are missile launchers!
With all that speed and firepower, those monsters were designed to take out any incoming US aircraft carriers intruding in Union waters. One prototype entered military service in 1987, but when the Soviet Regime crumbled 4 years later, the low flying hybrid was left to gather dust!
The conspiracy theorists might be right: UFO’s do exist, but they don’t necessarily come from outer space, they come from Soviet Russia instead! Meet the EKIP, the Soviet aircraft that looks like it was made on Mars!
Conceptualized back in 1978, the Russian flying saucer didn’t resemble any other plane of its time or our time, come to think of it! Its striking, domed design was based on aircraft that didn’t have any distinguishable fuselage, like certain stealth bombers and reconnaissance aircraft.
The elliptical shape acted like one big wing, and with its turbojet engines, the strange saucer could rely on aircushion technology to take off and land, just like the Ekranoplan! That meant it could take off from the ground as well as from the water.
It was a truly alien concept, but an all-terrain aircraft was obviously appealing to the Soviet Union’s military, no matter what it looked like! As the prototypes were developed, engineers estimated that the highly aerodynamic design would only use 14 grams of fuel per passenger kilometer.
For contrast, regular planes at the time used 45 grams of fuel per passenger kilometer, and the commercial implications it had were huge! So, larger models, like the L3, were designed to carry up to 400 passengers, and others would even be able to carry passengers alongside their cars! But its fate, like so many other crazy Soviet vehicles, was bound to the demise of the Union. The EKIP program ground to a halt and sadly never took off.
Bartini Beriev VVA-14
A lot of those experimental Soviet vehicles look like they’ve been plucked straight out of sci-fi films, but the Bartini Beriev VVA-14 might just have inspired one! It closely resembles Star Wars’ famous Millennium Falcon, but it was created in 1972, almost 5 years before Star Wars hit the silver screen.
The VVA stands for Vertikaľno-Vzletayushchaya Amfibiya or “Vertical Take-off Amphibious Aircraft” if you’re not fluent in Russian like me! Like its title suggests, it could take off from the water and fly at altitudes of up to 33,000 ft.
But it could also fly just a few feet over the ocean waves, using that previously mentioned wing-in-ground effect! It achieved that thanks to the two large pods, connected to the fuselage. The two engines at the front created a cushion of air by directing the exhaust into narrow channels between the fuselage and the pods, allowing the plane to skirt over the waves.
It needed the sea-skirting ability to destroy the USA’s Polaris Submarine missiles, which kept the Soviet Union awake at night during the Cold War. Initially, the VVA-14 was designed with 12 lift engines for vertical take-off and landing abilities, but those were never installed. And after its designer passed away in 1974, the project hit a wall. The 2 prototypes that were built were retired in 1987, although their legacy clearly lives on in the Star Wars franchise!
All terrain vehicles are designed to conquer everything off road. With huge wheels or caterpillar tracks, they can make quick work of any type of terrain and look incredibly cool doing so.
But back in the 1970s, in an effort to think outside the box, Soviet Russia’s engineers brought the strangely screw-propelled ZVM-2901 to the table! They’d fused the cab from a UAZ-452 van with two huge hollow screw drives, the blades of which dug into the terrain and propelled the vehicle over it.
The result was a vehicle that could plow through thick swamps, and miles of mud, and even float over the water! Even though it was practically unstoppable, using screws cost the vehicle its speed. With a 152 horsepower engine, it could make it to just 15mph, and cruising through the water brought that down to just 6 mph.
It had been based on similar screw propelled designs from history, like Chryslers Marsh Screw Amphibian, which was abandoned because of those laughably low top speeds. That didn’t deter Soviet Russia from taking a stab at it though!
While the experimental design was incredibly eye-catching, vehicle speeds and applications of tracked and tired vehicles were vastly superior. And so, sadly, the design was left in the past!
Nowadays, planes with wings spanning hundreds of feet are pretty common. All you have to do is look up, and you’ll see a commercial liner, like a Boeing 747, with wings stretching out around 200 ft!
But back in the 1930s, just 30 years after the Wright brothers and Santos Dumont proved that man could fly, Soviet Russia wheeled out the mega monstrosity that was the Kalinin K7. It had a wingspan of more than 170 ft and a wing area of almost 5000 square feet, which is bigger than that of a B-52 bomber!
It was initially going to be powered by 7 propellor engines, with 6 along its wings and one planted at its rear. But as it was being built, it exceeded its maximum take-off weight, and two more engines had to be added along the wing!
Once constructed, the almost 27-ton flying fortress was the largest plane in the world! But, depending on its configuration, it could be used for different missions, such as troop transport, or as a gunship or a bomber. So, it would have had the capacity to carry up to 120 people, or around 21 tons of bombs!
Unfortunately, though, it never made it into battle. The principles of flight the K7 grappled with were just too advanced for the technology of the time, and the only prototype disastrously crashed and burned during testing!
The Tsar Tank
The next machine may not have been Soviet, but you can definitely tell it was made in Russia! In the middle of World War 1, Russian engineers decided to build a tank the height of a three-story house with guns that could obliterate an entire forest.
The large front wheels were 30 ft in diameter, and its main body stretched back almost 60 ft to connect to a single rear wheel. Two turrets full of cannons and machine guns were bolted on top and underneath the raised carriage.
And to add the cherry on top, additional machine guns lined the armored pods on each side of the wheels to protect the tank from infantry. That was clearly the king of all tanks, and so they aptly named it the Tsar Tank or King Tank in English!
But what mad idea inspired that colossal design? At the time, the Russians were looking for a way to break through the Eastern Front trench system. Instead of tanks with traditional tracks, they decided to experiment with massive, spoked wheels! However, the 60-ton steel behemoth wasn’t destined to be on the battlefield.
Thanks to some bad engineering, that small, rear wheel bore too much of the tank’s enormous weight and was prone to getting stuck in soft ground and ditches. Then, during its testing phase, it got embarrassingly stuck in a field and couldn’t be dug out. The Tsar Tank remained rusting there throughout the war until it was finally scrapped in 1923.
The Evolution of MAZ Trucks
Way back in 1954, the Minsk Auto Zavod, abbreviated to MAZ, was founded in Soviet-ruled Minsk. The factory produced some of the most reliable and diverse tractors on the Soviet market, often turning the vehicles into all-terrain trucks that could carry massive loads, like the MAZ-529!
The uniaxial engine could tow up to 34 tons of just about anything, from cement mixers to ice rinks! That caught the attention of the Soviet Military, who commissioned the factory’s first biaxial vehicle, the MAZ-535.
And the 8 x 8 beast of a tractor didn’t spread manure; it spread munitions! At almost 30 feet long and 10 feet wide, it could carry up to 8 tons, meaning it could tow anything from tanks to massive missiles!
But that wasn’t MAZ’s final form. As the Soviet Union began making bigger ballistic missiles in the 1960s, the MAZ-543 was created to carry them.
The front cabin was split into two, though it was only driven from the left compartment. The divot that left in the middle of the truck allowed it to horizontally carry sensitive loads that weighed up to 15 tons!
Although, they didn’t stop there. As the size of the rockets increased, so did the MAZ, leading to the creation of the astonishing 12 x 12 MAZ-547! The six-axel truck could carry a staggering 62 ton payload and, with its 625 horsepower engine, could move at a top speed of 24 mph!
But then, somehow, the rockets got even bigger, and so did the MAZ! The next successor, the MAZ–7904, was a whopping 100 ft long, 20 ft wide and could carry missiles weighing a terrifying 200 tons!
But did they stop there? Of course not! There's also the jaw-dropping 24 x 24-wheel, 12-axel, MAZ-7907. The monstrous machine was designed to carry the Tselina-2 Missiles, which were going to weigh over 100 tons and measure a staggering 74 ft long! That’s about the same size as a 6-story building!
Unfortunately, the Soviet Union collapsed before the project could launch, and only a few prototype 7907’s were made. That was the end of the road for the mad military MAZ designs.
If you were amazed at these crazy soviet machines, you might want to read part 2. Thanks for reading!