The history of Tupolev TU-144

Vuelo inagural del TU-144

The first flight of the TU-144 the 31 of December of 1968 accompanied by an airplane battle Mig-21

  In 1961, Krushchev heard about the Anglo-French supersonic aircraft: Concorde. As Alex Poukov recalls, they were told that they could not let the West get ahead in this technology. Andrei Tupolev was the chief designer of the time and was given the unenviable task of creating a supersonic passenger aircraft in less time than the West. It was thought at the time that the market for supersonic aircraft was worth billions, and so the race was on to develop a supersonic plane first. The Tupolev teams was 2 - 3 years behind the Concorde team, especially so far as the engines were concerned. The team needed to see the Concorde's blueprints in order to catch up.

Spring of 1963 and the spy network of the USSR was instructed to find out about the airframe and engines of Concorde. Information was recorded on microfilm and placed in towel dispensers, bins, cigar tins and toothpaste tubes in order to smuggle the valuble secrets back to the Soviet Union. It wasn't until 1964 that it was realised that the Soviets had penetrated the Concorde programme. Everything was examined by the Soviets, including tyre scrapings from the runway. At this point false information was given to the Soviets, including a chemical formula for the tyres that was actually the consistency of bubblegum. the designers still chuckle at the thought of the Soviet scientists despirately trying to turn bubblegum into supersonic aircraft tyres!. February the 1st 1965, The Soviet spy was captured and deported. Sergei Fabiew - the Aeroflot Chief in Paris - followed up the work of the spy and was not caught until as late as 1977, when he was arrested. It was too late

1968 and the Soviets had caught up with Concorde. The prototype was nearly ready to fly and there would be extensive overtime before the first flight in order to ensure they were flying before Concorde. December 31st1968 saw the first test flight. Tupolev and his sons were present as the graceful monster took to the skies and made three passes over the airfield before landing. However, the shape and grace of the aircraft was unmistakably copied from the West, and the aircraft was soon nicknamed "Konkordski". Although it was instantly recognisable as a copy, an exact copy could not be made by the Soviets as they didn't possess the necessary technology, had different measurementts, screws and bolts. The Soviets could only follow the characteristics of the design, "building around" the pieces they couldn't copy. However, the wing design was wrong and the design didn't create lift and stability through the speed ranges and so when the Tu -144 was shown off at the Paris airshow in 1973, canard foreplanes had been added to just aft of the cockpit.

At the Paris airshow of 1973, the Tu-144 was said to be cleaner and faster than Concorde ands certainly was bigger. On the third day of the show it was time for the two supersonic aircraft to duel against each other in the sky - a battle of the displays. Concorde flew first and performed a breathtaking display of the sort that we are now accustomed to from the big white wonder. Whilst on the runway, the pilot of the Konkordski was told that he now had only half the time in which to perform his display, his time had been cut. The Tu-144 took off and climbed to 4 000 feet - suddenly there was a violent change in the pitch of the aircraft and it fell out of the sky, the aircraft broke up at 1 500 feet and feel onto the nearby village. All six crew and several civilians died from the accident.

Inmediately after the crash the cover-up of the reasons for the crash began, a cover-up that seemed to involve both the French and the Soviets. In 1974 there was a joint French/Soviet statement that read that it was impossible to define the cause of the crash of the Tu-144, the "Black Box" had apparently been destroyed.This seems a most unlikely event due to the design of "Black Box"'s and the record of crashes where the Box has survived despite the aircraft plunging into the ground

Shortly before the Tu-144 took off, a French Mirage fighter launched from a nearby airfield. The Mirage was fitted with reconnaissance photographic equipment. The Tu-144 crew were not informed of the Mirage, this was in breach of the airshow regulations. The Mirage climbed to 4 000 feet and began to film the canard foreplanes of the Tu-144. As the Konkordski climbed it was climbing towards the Mirage above them. The Tu-144 suddenly burst through the clouds and saw the Mirage, in a despirate attempt to avoid a collision the Tu-144 pilot performed a -1G dive. This manoevre caused thrust to be lost as a result and the aircraft stalled. The pilots despirately tried to windmill-start the engines as the plane fell out of the sky. The crew managed to virtually recover the plane, but tragically it was too late as the airframe was overstressed to destruction. This was why there was a cover-up and why the deaths of 8 people had no explanation.

The French couldn't admit to the top secret mission of the Mirage. The official report stated that it was pilot error that led to the loss of the Tu-144, not evasive manoevres. The -1G dive caused a systems failure and structural collapse - Concorde would most probably have survived the manoevre, this is why the Soviets wanted to hide the real reasons behind the loss of the aircraft - they couldn't admit to technological failure. So despite beating the West into producing a supersonic aircraft, it appears that theirs could well have been the inferior of the two. Another explanation provided for the loss of the aircraft was that the 4th crewmember aboard the Tu-144, Benderov, was photographing for the French in the cockpit of the Konkordski. He had dropped his camera during the climb and this had wedged in the control stick well and had jammed the flight controls into the dive position, the Soviets even demonstrating the yawning joystick well to illustrate their point. However, the cockpit of the Tu-144 was discovered in the cellar of a house and their were 3 bodies pulled out, there was NO fourth person. A fireman from the scene testifies to this.

Tupolev 144

Tupolev TU-144 in his first flights

1973 and sales were not as expected for Concorde. The environmental lobby was against sonic booms and the environmental damage that they might cause. Thus supersonic travel was limited to over the sea and remote places where there weren't any population. Only 16 Concordes were built instead of the 200 that were envisaged. Konkordski's future was more uncertain. After the loss of the Tu-144 at Paris the Konkordski was limited to use for domestic flights only. After 103 flights, and a second rumoured crash in 1976, the Tu-144 was withdrawn from service. The aircraft was deemed to be too expensive and only 17 were ever built. This was to be the end of the story...

Early in 1996 the Konkordski rose from the ashes thanks to U.S. and Russian cooperation. The Tu-144 is to be used as a testbed for the 2nd generation of supersonic transports. The competitors in this competition are the combined U.S./Russian project Vs. the European Son-Of-Concorde. The Americans and Russians are off the blocks first, one of the original Tu-144's has been refitted and stripped. The interior has had state-of-the-art instruments and recording devices fitted and is about ready for her first test-flight. The story isn't over for the Konkordski, it has only just began...

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