Coming into service early in the war, the spy plane was by far the most advanced jet aircraft of its time and remained so for the duration of the war, possibly only being rivaled by the MiG attack aircraft which entered service later in the war. The Allies, who were generally far behind the Soviets in terms of aircraft technology, had no true equivalent.
Designed for performance at extremely high speeds and altitudes, the plane was almost impossible to shoot down. However, the stresses this put on the aircraft's engines were great, and the planes needed to be serviced outside the area of operation when not in use. They can be periodically called in after the construction of a Soviet Airfield.
It fell out of usage sometime prior to the Third World War, but during the Psychic Dominator Disaster, the Soviets deployed a different kind of spy plane, which would take several photographs in a straight line while moving rather than one large circular patch.
When called for, the spy plane would take off from a distant runway off-screen, fly over the designated area at high speed, and take a few snapshots. These would be transmitted to a commander's terminal, and the topography of the immediate area recon was requested for would be revealed.
Its widespread usage most likely led to the adoption of the Gap generator by the Allies as a standard base defense.
While the area revealed by the recon photos was decently sized, the Allied GPS was a superior reconnaissance system. While three plane trips could be planned and carried out in the time it took the Allies to launch a GPS satellite, GPS would reveal the entire map.
Unused cameos of the plane as a unit:
- The spy plane was possibly inspired by the , in that is a high-speed/high-altitude aircraft and is also used for reconnaissance.
- Although the spy plane may appear to dodge anti-aircraft fire with its high speed, in fact it does get hit by enemy fire and it is only due to its high hitpoints that it is able to survive its mission. This can be demonstrated if the spy plane's armour and hitpoints in the rules.ini file are greatly lowered to the equivalent of a MiG's. The spy plane will fly as fast as usual, but will no longer be as durable over enemy air defenses.
- In the the PlayStation port of Red Alert and in Retaliation, the cameos of the spy plane and the standard MiG are switched.
- The thumbnail of the spy plane is the same as the MiG, just shaded blue.
- The in-game sprite features a canard design, while the icon has a conventional design.
- In certain missions the spy plane serves as a supersonic nuclear bomber.
- Mission maps have an option to disable Spy Planes. Spy Planes are always disabled in missions where the player faces the Soviets while not having access to the Spy Plane themselves.