Yakovlev Yak-25RD Mandrake


After the recovery of Gary Power’s U-2, the Soviets realised how far behind the USA their own aviation industry lagged. The Soviet leadership also recognised the requirement for a similar high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and the benefits that clandestine reconnaissance of neighbouring countries would bring.

Their solution was to do what Clarence ‘Kelly’ Johnson had done and adapt a fighter design to achieve the performance required. The Vakovlev design bureau settled on adapting the Yak-25 fighter by adding a new nose, a single cockpit and an enlarged wing - the resulting aircraft was the Yak-25RD ‘Mandrake’. Equipped with two Tumansk RD-9 turbojets the Mandrake first flew in 1960 and in Apr 63 entered operational service. Between 15 to 20 examples were eventually built in two versions, the Mandrake R or YAK-25RM and Mandrake-T or YAK 26.

Although the Mandrake certainly had a greatly increased high-altitude performance, it’s operating ceiling of 65,000ft was still 10,000ft below the U-2. In operational service, it is believed the Mandrake conducted a number of reconnaissance sorties over Middle Eastern countries, China, India and Pakistan, but with only limited success. Mandrake's were also observed operating near the border regions of NATO during the early ‘60s.