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The Soviet Buran program decided to use a carrier aircraft to move their orbiter and Energia tanks similarly to the American Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. However, the Soviet Union built two types to do the job.

The famous An-225 project was started early, but they also decided to build a backup aircraft based on a Myasishchev 3M bomber. This aircraft, the VM-T Atlant, was finished much earlier. Since the An-225 wasn't ready yet the Atlant played delivery truck for the initial and only Buran launch.

Of course the An-225 is much more capable than the Atlant, but if the Atlant can do the job why go through the effort and expense of developing a second massive airplane?

Atlant carrying Energia tank

Atlant carrying Buran orbiter

Further reading on the VM-T Atlant.

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  • $\begingroup$ Those are some huge vstabs!! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 19:06

1 Answer 1

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As you can see in the second photo, the VM-T was unable to lift a fully-assembled Buran. The VM-T max payload is 50 tonnes, a Buran weighs on the order of 80 tonnes.

So for the VM-T flights they had to strip the Buran to get the weight down, including removing the tailplane.

The An-225 could lift a fully-assembled Buran, but was not ready in time, so they used the VM-T as an interim solution.

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    $\begingroup$ Soviet ingenuity $\endgroup$
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 8:38

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