Craziest Soviet Machines You Won't Believe Exist - Part 2
Here are some more of the craziest Soviet-era machines!Technology
From 1922 to 1991, the Soviet Union ruled vast swathes of the Eastern world and was unmatched when it came to designing massive, unconventional constructs. From hovercraft tanks and flying submarines to triangular helicopters; let's investigate mind-bending machines designed by the Soviet Union!
In 1959, British engineer Christopher Cockerell traveled from Dover to Calais on his experimental hovercraft, with many assuming him to be the founding father of hovercraft technology. But actually, the concept of hovercraft was first launched in the Soviet Union, way back in 1935 by engineer Vladimir Levkov.
After multiple trials of mechanized air cushion technology proved triumphant over difficult terrain like marshlands and waterlogged areas, Levkov realized the true potential of the tech. And so, in 1937, the prototype of the L-5 was created. The torpedo craft was made up of a full metal duralumin hull, with a glazed cabin, a turret machine gun mount, and large tail fins.
Following its success in trials, Levkov decided to take his tech one step further. Beyond a regular assault vehicle, he went on to propose the idea of a fully functioning hovercraft tank. A quarter-scale version of that was mocked up, and even though it was tiny, it looked terrifying.
Its proposed specifications indicated it would eventually be 33 ft long, could hover up to 10 inches, and hosted a turret that housed a machine gun. Two M-25 engines would provide it with 1450 horsepower, and weighing in at a little over 9 tons, that would allow it to reach speeds of up to 74 mph!
Considering most modern tanks can only move at a top speed of 45 to 50 mph, that was a monumental breakthrough. While being fast would have made it a speedy, all-terrain asset, there was one huge con; in order to hover, the weight it carried needed to be reduced, meaning its armor was just over half an inch thick, making it an easy target for anti-tank artillery.
So, sadly, it was never developed into a proper prototype. However, in the 1960s, that research helped inspire the development of Object 760. This running mock-up was everything the original hover tank had hoped to be.
Instead of a machine gun, that thing hosted a 73 mm 2A28 cannon as its main armament, and could hover high enough to avoid anti-tank landmines, making it perfect for reconnaissance missions! Unfortunately, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 before it could be put into full production.
Tank designs have really evolved over the years, and nothing makes that clearer than one of the early Russian tanks. In 1911, a little over a decade before the Soviet Union was established, the Mendeleev-Rybinsk Tank was designed. The rectangular unit was 42 ft long and 32 ft wide!
With 100 mm thick armor, it was designed to carry 8 crew who would operate the 120 mm Canet gun attached to its front, alongside the light machine gun in the turret on its top. The Canet would be able to swivel left and right, as well as up and down, and feature a specialized recoil system instead of a fixed mount, making it incredibly sophisticated for the time.
But the most sophisticated part of that design was its propulsion system. Alongside the use of continuous tracks, it would employ pneumatic piston suspension, allowing individual wheels to be lowered and elevated to whatever height the terrain required.
It also meant the entire tank could bunker down when necessary, transforming it into a mobile fortress! What’s more, it was also supposed to combine with a device that would allow the entire machine to use railway tracks, so it could move on its own or be towed by a train.
For a big metal box with a gun attached to the front, this all sounds incredible! Except when you look at the weight of it, which was a staggering 173 tons. Considering most modern tanks weigh roughly 60 tons, that behemoth was almost 3 times as heavy, making it super slow and difficult to maneuver!
Because of that, the project quite literally never got off the ground. It failed to secure financial support from backers and the government, leaving it as a series of plans on paper!
In 1951, the USA produced a prototype tank called the T-42. Weighing in at 36 tons, the medium tank was designed to be a more heavily armored version of the popular M46 Patton Tank.
Interestingly, the T-42 actually shared its name with a Soviet Tank designed back in 1930, but there was nothing medium about that bad boy. Feast your eyes on the schematics for what would have been a 112-ton monster of a machine, the T-42 Super Heavy Tank.
Weighing so much, it’s estimated the running length of the tank would have been about 60 ft, while the beam across would have been about 12 ft. Aside from being more than twice the size and weight of standard tanks of the time, the standout feature of the bizarre behemoth was the sheer number of turrets attached to the front.
Various armament schemes show some designs boasted 3 turrets, others had up to 5, though almost all of them contained a 107 mm 1910/30 field gun as the main armament. The smaller turrets housed 45 mm anti-tank guns and up to 5 DTM machine guns, while the armor of the thing itself, at least at the front, was some 3 ½ inches thick!
That thing was practically a rolling fortress, powered by multiple diesel-fueled engines that would output some 2000 horsepower. Considering the majority of modern tanks output 1,200 to 1,500 horsepower, that’s massive for a tank designed almost 100 years ago!
The only problem was that wasn’t enough to make the tank practical. While it was estimated those engines would let it run at around 17 mph, it was likely optimistic, with a more realistic top speed hitting just 12 mph on a good day.
So, while it had firepower, it was severely lacking in the mobility department, which is a tactical quality that tanks of the World War 2 period relied on. Considering how impractical and expensive it would have been to construct, that beast never made it into the prototype phase. Even so, it certainly took the USA’s T-42 down a few pegs!
While most insane soviet designs were made for military purposes, there’s at least one that was made with more commercial applications in mind: the MAZ 2000.
We covered MAZ trucks in part one of this series. Remember, the 100ft long 24 x 24 trucks? Turns out that wasn’t all that Minski Avtomobilny Zavod, aka MAZ, was making during its time in the Soviet Union. In 1985, the company started developing the MAZ 2000, also known as the Perestroika, a semi-trailer tractor truck that caused a stir when it was first unveiled at the 1988 Paris Motor Show.
Unlike other trucks of the time, the MAZ 2000 was based on a modular design. That meant its engine, gearbox, and even its axles were all mounted on detachable trolleys that could be swapped out and reconfigured to suit the job at hand.
The body of the truck was made of fiberglass, and thanks to the low air resistance of the design, the truck could achieve a top speed of just over 80 miles per hour. After its success at the Paris Motor Show, the MAZ 2000 was set to revolutionize truck design the world over.
But then, just 3 years later in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. Funding suddenly dried up, and MAZ simply couldn’t get the cash together to put the truck into production. The two prototypes that were built for that Motor Show have been preserved in Minsk, where they remain to this day.
Mil V 12
When it comes to historic helicopters, the Soviet Union was the undisputed king of the skies. In the 60s and 70s, bigger was definitely better. For example, the Mil-Mi-26 is the largest production helicopter in the world with a payload capacity of more than 55,000 lbs. The Mil-Mi-10 held several world records for the heaviest payload carried to the highest altitude.
But neither of those behemoths could compare to the Mil-V-12. It is, quite literally, the largest helicopter that has ever been built. And I mean ever. Consisting of a 121 ft fuselage, and a 219ft wingspan across the two rotor blades on each wing, that monster weighed in at more than 76 tons and that was when it was empty.
Despite its immense weight, the dual rotors, powered by 2 Soloviev d-25F turboshaft engines, gave it a top speed of 160 mph, with a range of 310 miles. It was designed to be the heavy-lift helicopter of the future, capable of transporting intercontinental ballistic missiles to remote regions in order to hide them.
But the V-12 came with some pretty serious limitations. For a start, it needed a six-man crew to fly and a double-decker cockpit for operation. That crew consisted of a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, and electrical engineer in the lower cockpit, while a navigator and radio operator were located in the upper cockpit, where they had improved visibility.
While its development was greenlit in 1962, testing of that new dual rotor feature would take 6 years to perfect, and by that time the purpose it had originally been designed for no longer existed.
Newly launched US satellites could spot missile storage sites from space, rendering the long-range hiding tactic kind of useless. As such, the jetliner-sized helicopter was never placed into production, and only two prototypes were ever built.
While designing a helicopter with two main rotors was a pretty innovative push for the 1960s, the idea of having three main rotors, even today, is downright insane. However, that was nearly a reality for the Soviet Union when they came forward with the conceptual designs of the Mil-Mi-32 back in 1982.
This machine is essentially an isosceles triangle with a rotor blade attached to each point! Apparently, that insane-looking chopper was designed for military purposes, acting as a super heavy transporter, sort of like a sky crane.
The cargo, weighing up to 60 tons, would be carried on an external sling attached to each of the three gondolas, which were in turn connected to one another by beams. The two beams attached to the cockpit would be 131 ft, while the third would be 118 ft long, each capable of housing fuel tanks and equipment.
The rotors themselves were designed to be powered by two D-136 turboshaft engines each. Together, with the six units working simultaneously, the Mi-32 would be working with some 60,000 horsepower, giving it a range of over 745 miles and a top speed of 140 mph. For something that looks like it was designed in Minecraft, that ain’t bad!
It was submitted to the Soviet Council of Ministers and central committee for approval, but despite promising feedback, an official decision never followed. And so, sadly, the Mi-32 never even saw the prototype phase and was instead destined for the archives as yet another crazy mechanical soviet concept.
So three rotors were considered pretty insane. Surely, no one in the Soviet Union was crazy enough to design an aircraft with even more rotors, were they? Yes, obviously they were. Started by the Yakovlev bureau in the mid-1960s, Project GDP-6 proposed the construction of a heavy, multi-rotor helicopter designed to carry special payloads.
The result was the VVP-6, a 160 ft long, 20 ft wide fuselage, about as long and wide as a Boeing 777, with 6 rotor blades attached to it.
Those rotors would be powered by 24 turbofan engines, with 12 on each side and 4 motors each powering the six contra-rotors. Those rotors would be able to rotate in different directions to steady the craft, or slowed to allow it to steer, supposedly negating the need for a tail.
Even so, its elongated shape and un-aerodynamic design would have meant it flew like a brick! All the thrust the rotors generated would have allowed it to carry somewhere up to 50 tons of cargo; perfect for six nuclear-tipped, surface-to-air missiles that could be housed comfortably alongside apparatus built to launch them from the vehicle itself, even while it was flying!
But that’s not the only thing it could carry. The platform attached to that could be changed out, allowing it to carry troops, supplies, and even aircraft depending on the task at hand. That meant that thing could be transformed into a real-life Heli-carrier, like something out of a Marvel movie!
Unfortunately for the wannabe Soviet Nick Fury, that went the way of the mi-32 and mi-12, as the original need to quickly transport missiles like that was overcome in different ways. So sadly, the VVP-6 was only ever brought to life on paper and later, in the "Avengers” films!
In part one of this article, you might remember we looked at the M-15 Belphegor, which was designed to replace the old, reliable An-2 Biplane. While the Belphegor failed to take off for many reasons, it wasn’t the only suggested replacement for the An-2. Meet the An-14, a utility craft reliant on twin engines that was produced back in 1966.
It was designed to be simple to build, maintain, and fly. The only problem was that the An-2 was just too good at its job, selling more than 18,000 units in its time, some of which are still used today! But it was obsolete, and the Soviets were determined to improve on excellence.
So, to give the new AN-14 an edge, they added a few modifications, and that’s where the AN-14sh comes in. Instead of an undercarriage, that thing basically had a hovercraft mounted underneath it. That certainly improved its landing capabilities in contrast to the AN-2, allowing it to land on water, swamps, ice, just about anywhere!
But there was a major trade-off: simplicity for novelty. Test pilots complained that you needed to know how to handle the aircraft while it was on the ground, and the hovercraft system itself took up a lot of the aircraft’s capacity, reducing its maximum payload and messing with the aerodynamics. Testing continued until 1986, but the AN-2 won out, and the project was dropped.
Typhoon Class Submarine
The Soviet Union’s mechanical might holds world records over the skies, having built the largest helicopter and the largest planes in existence. But they also hold dominion under the waves, thanks to the creation of the unfathomably huge, nuclear-powered Typhoon Class of Submarine back in the 1970’s. The Typhoons are the largest submarines to have ever been built.
Stretching some 574 feet long, those submarines are longer than the Washington Monument is tall! When underwater, that supersized sea monster can displace around 48,000 tons of water; for contrast, the US Ohio class subs, the largest ever built for the US Navy, only displace around 19,000 tons.
At that size, the sub is able to comfortably accommodate up to 160 crew members submerged for months on end. That submarine is so huge, it has its own arcade, gym, and sauna, and there’s even a small indoor pool! But that’s not all! There’s also room for a few animals on board like birds, and even a small aquarium. Even the mess hall is reliably roomy!
When you look at other submarine designs of the time, which barely seem to have enough room for sailors to sleep in, the Typhoon is an underwater hotel in comparison! But why would the Soviet Union build a sub so big? Surely it wasn't just for the benefit of the crew?
If you consider the almost 40-foot-long, 40-ton intercontinental nuclear missiles that the sub carried part of the crew, then yes it was. Costing more than $30 million each, up to 20 nuclear missiles were also loaded on board, along with their launchers.
Considering that 6 of those mega subs were built, together they were carrying about $3.6 billion worth of nuclear doom at any given time. Pretty horrifying to think they were lurking at the bottom of the ocean for months on end!
Luckily, once the Cold War fizzled out, no more were commissioned or made. The majority of them have now been decommissioned, with only one remaining in active service, though it’s due to be decommissioned in 2026. Until then, who knows where it might be lurking!
Ushakov's Flying Submarine
The concept of a flying submarine has been explored in fiction since 1912, with the aptly named ‘Flying Submarine’ book by Percy Westermann. Although, that was more about a submarine that flew via a tiny propellor attached to its front, not exactly how the rules of aerodynamics work!
But in 1934, the idea was explored further, and brought to life by Soviet engineering student Boris Ushakov. But instead of designing a submarine that could fly, he brought forward designs for a plane that could submerge, carrying all the equipment of a regular sub.
If it worked, that plane would theoretically be able to scout for enemy ships, before submerging itself and ambushing them, doing the jobs of two war machines in one!
It would be powered by three engines, it would fire torpedoes, and would even include a conning tower and periscope to adhere to traditional submarine design. The machine would fly out to sea, land on its pontoons like a normal seaplane, and then flood the spaces within its wings and hull to sink below the waves.
On paper, it looked like a weirdly perfect machine, but there were a lot of technical loose ends. For a start, Ushakov never detailed how he’d seal the three radial engines from saltwater.
Plus, the weight added to the aircraft to turn it into a sub would have made it cumbersome and slow. That meant its missions may have been cut short, with enemies more likely to spot it struggling to get across the sky! While plenty of models and mock-ups of the plane exist, it was never actually built in real life.
Of all the things a plane needs to fly, there’s one pretty essential feature they really can’t do without: wings. Planes need wings. Doesn’t matter how small or big they are, standard planes need wings to generate lift. This is what makes the Soviet NIAI RK-I something of a deviant because, on the prototype plane constructed in 1940, the wings were designed to be retractable.
The 28 foot long fuselage had two sets of small, thin tandem wings with guide tracks attached to their side, with a hydraulically controlled, telescopic sliding wing that extended over them. When fully extended, that more than doubled the wing area, increasing it from 128 to 301 square feet.
But why would a plane need retractable wings? In the piloting world, landings and take-offs are much easier at lower speeds, and for that, you need large wings which create more lift at low speeds. But once you're aloft, pilots want to minimize lift because lift also increases drag, the force that opposes an aircraft’s movement through the air.
So, by making parts of the wings retractable you can reduce the lift and adjust the wing for higher speeds when flying, and lower speeds when taking off or landing in places with more difficult terrain. Joseph Stalin, the then leader of the Soviet Union, was so interested in the project, that he insisted that the plane be given the most powerful engine available; the M-106.
However, the M-106 was an experimental engine that had a lot of cooling problems. That meant that even though the plane was completed in 1940, it sat in a workshop un-flown because the engine was dangerously unreliable.
WIG Aircraft Carrier
Robert Bartini was a Soviet aircraft designer and scientist who became notorious for some of the envelope-pushing designs his aircraft took on. In part one of this series, we covered the Bartini Beriev VVA-14, a wing-in-ground effect vehicle.
As futuristic as that machine seemed, that was just Bartini getting started. Seeing the potential of that design, Bartini went one step further and proposed an utterly immense monstrosity of a model: the wing-in-ground effect aircraft carrier.
The wing-in-ground effect is utilized by aircraft with specially designed wings and fuselages to generate lift when close to water, allowing them to rise on a sort of cushion of air below. That gives the vehicles the speed of a plane which can be combined with the weight of a ship, and the ship Bartini had in mind here was a full-scale aircraft carrier!
At its largest, that thing would have weighed in at 5,000 tons, but could still operate at speeds of up to 310 mph! Considering modern aircraft carriers travel at top speeds averaging around 35 mph, that sort of speed would have given the Soviet Union a huge advantage over the enemy.
The design was also brilliantly unique, with what appears to be the cockpit and main engines of the vehicle all attached to the right-hand side of the craft. That's more like the Millennium Falcon than the VVA-14!
Unfortunately, Bartini passed away in 1974 shortly after proposing those designs. And then in 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union meant those designs were relegated to the history books. Well, who knows, maybe we’ll see something similar feature in the next Star Wars sequel!
If you were amazed at these crazy Soviet machines, you might want to read part 1 of this series. Thanks for reading!