Tupolev Tu-144The Tupolev Tu-144 (NATO codename: Charger) was a supersonic airliner constructed under management of the Soviet Tupolev design bureau headed by Alexei Tupolev (1925-2001).
Western media nicknamed the plane Konkordski, because of its superficial similarity to Concorde. A prototype first flew on December 31, 1968 near Moscow, two months before the Concorde. The Tu-144 first broke the sound barrier on June 5, 1969, and on May 26, 1970, it became the first commercial transport to exceed Mach 2.
|Table of contents|
2 In service
4 External link
5 See also
The Tu-144s design owned much to industrial espionage, with the Aerospatiale's French factory proving particularly open to infiltration. When Sergei Pavlov -- officially head of Aeroflot's Paris office -- was finally arrested in 1965, he was in possession of details of Concorde's brakes, landing gear and airframe. However another agent, Sergei Fabiew, whose successes included obtaining the complete prototype blueprints, was not arrested until 1977. While such espionage defined the basic shape of the plane and assisted considerably in its development, the 1970 prototype was far from a simple copy, and based on flight tests, considerable changes were made between the prototype and the model that was to fly in 1973.
At a Paris air show on June 3, 1973, the development program suffered a severe blow when one of the aircraft crashed. While in the air it undertook a violent turn down (allegedly to avoid a French Mirage fighter plane that was, apparently unknown to the Tu-144's crew, escorting it), probably stalling the engines. Trying to pull out of the subsequent dive, the plane broke up and crashed, destroying 15 houses and killing all six on board and eight on the ground.
The Tu-144 went into service on December 26, 1975, flying mail and freight between Moscow and Alma-Ata in preparation for passenger services, which commenced in November 1977. The first Tu-144D experienced an in-flight failure and crash-landed with fatalities on May 23, 1978. The passenger flight on June 1, 1978 would be the Tu-144's 102nd and last.
A total of 17 Tu-144s were built, including the prototype and five Tu-144Ds, which featured more powerful engines and longer range. Although its last commercial flight was in 1978, production of the Tu-144 would not cease until six years later, in 1984.
In 1990, Tupolev approached NASA and offered a Tu-144 as a testbed for its High Speed Commercial Research program, intended to design a second-generation supersonic jetliner. In 1995, serial number RA-77114, a Tu-144D built in 1981 with only 82 hours, 40 minutes total flight time, was taken out of storage and after extensive modification at a total cost of $350 million was designated the Tu-144LL. It made a total of 27 flights in 1996 and 1997. In 1999, the project was cancelled. The Tu-144LL was reportedly sold in June 2001 for $11 million.
The plane did not sell after all. Tejavia reported on September 2003 that the deal was not signed. The replacement Kuznetsov NK-321 engines (from the Tupolev Tu-160 bomber) are military items. The Russian government would not allow them to be exported. Two flyable aircraft are still at the Tupolev production plant.
It is known that Aeroflot still continued to fly the TU-144D. One last report showed that it was used on a flight from the Crimea to Kiev in 1987.
It should be noted that the TU-144 equipped with the NK-144 jets could not cruise at Mach 2 without the afterburner on. A cruising speed of Mach 1.6 was possible. Currently the Testbed 144LL and the last remaining 144D are under restriction to not exceed Mach 1. Latest news is that one of the two planes has been sold to a Belgium museum and will be shipped - not flown - there in 2004. The NK-321 jet engines will have been removed.
Public domain image from NASA