Tupolev Tu-144: Soviet rival convicted to Concorde

Read stories of unknown and curious design origin here.

Everyone was impressed when the Soviet Concorde rival made his first foreign appearance at the Paris Air Show in 1971. In the heated race to develop a supersonic passenger jet, it was the USSR that originally set off.

French President Georges Pompidou advocates nationalism, called him “a nice plane.” The makers of Concorde agreed that this was “quieter and cleaner”.

The Tupolev Tu-144 was very similar to the Anglo-French rival who inevitably earned him the nickname “Concordski”, but it was a little more exotic and mysterious. And the Soviet’s track record in the aviation field demanded respect: they made their first probe landing on Mars that same year and launched the first space station. They seemed to be perfectly positioned to defeat the West in supersonic passenger travel.

Instead, Concordski, with a mixture of shortcomings and bad luck, would soon become one of the biggest failures of civil aviation.

Supersonic flight race

Despite being Concorde, who won a place in history, the lesser-known Tu-144 beat him twice to the sky: on December 31, 1968, he made his first flight two months before Concorde, and then made his first supersonic flight. June 1969, beating the contest for four months.

These were not minor victories. Americans came out of the supersonic race (Congress canceled financing In 1971 he applied for a similar Boeing project), but the program was still an honor badge for the Soviet Union.
Tu-144, exhibited in Moscow's international airport in 1968.

Tu-144, exhibited in Moscow’s international airport in 1968. Credit: Bettmann / Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

“Development started in the middle of the rivalry between the two political systems,” said Ilya Grinberg, a Soviet aviation expert and engineering professor at Buffalo State University, by email. “The expectations were high. The entire USSR was extremely proud of the Tu-144, and the Soviet people did not doubt that it was better than Concorde. And it was beautiful!”

Both planes were far ahead of their time, because civil aviation was only switching from propellers to jets. But their striking resemblance has long been spying stories: “Tupolev’s design was not the result of espionage. Although they seem similar, they are quite different planes with many different aspects. External similarities are based on functional criteria and necessary parameters. Concorde’s outline it is definitely possible that it influenced some conceptual decisions. “

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Tupolev was slightly larger and faster than Concorde, but its most distinctive feature was a pair of “canard” or wingers just behind the cockpit, which provided extra lift and improved handling at low speeds.

An accident on Paris

After playing the show at the biggest event in the aviation industry in 1971, Tu-144 did it again in 1973 due to tragedy rather than victory.

The opponents jumped once again. Concorde first completed his demonstration without a hitch, but Tupolev made a much more daring show with twists and turns that proved to be fatal: the plane remained in the air and collapsed He entered the village of Goussainville, six on the ship and eight on the ground died.
The bad unfortunate TU-144 is just before the explosion and crash.

The bad unfortunate TU-144 is just before the explosion and crash. Credit: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

A foreign conspiracy theory claims that Tupolev collapsed to avoid colliding with a French Mirage fighter. photographyHowever, Grinberg quickly dismissed this: “Mirage had nothing to do with this collision. Attention was speculation to deviate from the real cause, which was the Tu-144’s hard maneuvers that exceeded the permissible stress limits.”
Camera image It shows that the accident Tupolev had entered a nostril to possibly recapture the engines after firing. Under too much pressure, the wings burst.

“Pilots tried to impress the public and the world press to show that the Soviet aircraft could be sexier than Concorde’s more conservative show. This is pretty clear from the footage.”

55 flights

This was the beginning of a downward spiral, where the Tu-144 never recovered. The Paris accident postponed the Soviet program for four years and allowed Concorde to enter service first. However, he did not entirely convince the Soviets that the aircraft needed more tests.

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“Political priorities to overcome the West, no matter what, they obviously played a negative role because they preferred to rush into proper programming in an extremely challenging and complex space,” Grinberg said. Said.

When it finally started flying passengers in 1977, it turned out that the Tu-144 was cramped, breaking and unbearably loud, because – unlike Concorde, it could sustain supersonic speeds using afterburners like military aircraft: “Jonathan Glancey wrote in his book”Concorde. “
Tu-144's cabin.

Tu-144’s cabin. Credit: Miroslav Zaj / CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Images

Aeroflot used the Tu-144 to serve a fairly sparse two-hour route between Moscow and then Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan, and was chosen because it passes through sparsely populated areas. However, weekly flights were mostly half empty and the aircraft carried more cargo and mail than people. Service It is cancelled six months later.
In the short life as a passenger plane – only 55 return flights Tu-144 has experienced hundreds of faults, many of which are flying, from depressurization to engine failure, to alarms that cannot be turned off. Over the years, all sorts of stories have emerged about the troubles of the plane, including reports that passengers had to communicate through written notes due to deafening noise. Perhaps more frankly, every flight from Moscow is only in plane inspected by airplane designer Alexei Tupolev.

“The country was not ready to deploy such aircraft as a whole. There were teething problems, it was not economical, and ultimately there was no real need for high-speed passenger transport,” Grinberg said. Said.

The end of an era

Tu-144 had already set off when there was another fatal accident. On May 23, 1978 someone fired near Moscow and Emergency landing Meanwhile, two flight engineers were killed. Although the accident was a complete ban on passenger flights, the real cause of the plane’s death lay elsewhere.

“In addition to the Soviet leadership, this program had lost interest in Aeroflot top rice. The headaches associated with this highly complex program were sufficient. There was no real economic incentive to use in the Soviet domestic markets,” said Grinberg.

Over the next few years, without too many fans, the plane retired quietly and the production of new aircraft was stopped. At the end of the program grounded In total, only 17 Tu-144 were produced, including prototypes. Most scrappinghowever, a few are on display at aviation museums in Russia and Germany.
The final flight of the Tu-144 happened in 1999 thanks to NASA, which sponsored a three-year US-Russian partnership. research program in supersonic flight. The plane used was the last Tu-144, which recorded only 82 flight hours. The program flew 27 times near Moscow without being conserved due to lack of funds.
Tupolev dealt with the idea of ​​a successor, briefly called. Ti-244but I actually haven’t built one. Concorde himself flew in 2003, but has been convicted since he was the only deadly Accident in 2000He killed 113 people near Paris – not far from where the first Tu-144 collapsed in 1973.

Many supersonic aircraft have been proposed since then, but none of them went into production. “I don’t anticipate one soon. In the age of the internet and real-time video conferencing, there is no need for high-speed transport for business purposes,” Grinberg said. Said.

“It is a pity that Tu-144 and Concorde leave the sky. Despite economic constraints and basic needs, people need a dream to travel comfortably at supersonic speed. I think it’s not the worst dream.”

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