Sunday, September 25

The Soviet Union had its own “Concorde” and it also ended in tragedy: the rise and fall of the Tu-144


After World War II, the Western powers and the Soviet Union competed in all kinds of arenas. Arrive first and show superiority they were key elements when promoting propaganda messages. When one of the blocks took an important step, the other followed almost immediately, sometimes with results that were curiously traced.

In the Space Race, for example, the Soviet Buran space shuttle shared aerodynamic characteristics with the American space shuttle, but they were not the only flight-capable vehicles that bore similarities to rival proposals. The Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic passenger plane It was like a photo of the Concorde from France and the UK.

The Concorde of the Soviet Union

In Xataka we have already talked about the rise and fall of the Burán ferry. Now it’s time to immerse ourselves in the history of the Tupolev Tu-144, an aircraft that came before the Concorde and flew through the air with passengers at Mach 2.15 and was even used by NASA in the 1990s. Did Tupolev Tu-144 manage to fulfill the Soviet dream? What happened along the way? Let’s see.

In the early 1960s, specifically on November 29, 1962, France and the United Kingdom signed a treaty that formally established the start of Concorde developmentalthough the origins of the project date back to 1950 when the director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) requested to form a committee to study the concept of supersonic aircraft, explains GlightGlobal.

Since the race between the Western powers and the Soviet Union was on, the latter rushed in and tried to gain the upper hand. The June 26, 1963, the USSR Air Ministry began the development of an aircraft called the Tu-144. The plan was to build five prototypes, with the first of these being delivered in 1966.

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The prototypes had delta wings which, unlike those of the Concorde, lacked a tapered slant. After several tests, the developers chose to equip the production aircraft with double delta wings. In addition, as we can see in the images, added two small “mustache” wings behind the cab to increase lift at low speeds.

Tu 144 Soviet Supersonic Airliner 2

According to the BBC, a distinctive feature of the Tu-144, which was also shared with the Concorde, was a “nose” that could be tilted down while still on the runway so that pilots could get a better view and reduce landing speed. The Soviet plane also braked with the help of a parachute, a system that is currently totally out of the question on commercial aircraft.

Despite certain similarities to the Concorde, the Soviet aircraft was 3.7 meters longer (67 meters total) and 20 tons heavier (99,200 kg empty) and faster (Mach 2.15 vs. Mach 2.04) . Nevertheless, offered a range limited to 2,500 kilometersmuch less than its rival’s 6,500 km, requiring stopovers on long journeys and intended to function primarily within the USSR.

Controls Tu 144 Soviet Supersonic Passenger Plane 4

Responsible for flight at supersonic speeds were four large afterburning turbojets located under the wings. The problem? To maintain constant speed couldn’t turn off the afterburners, which translated into higher fuel consumption and a sharp drop in autonomy. What good was a supersonic plane if it didn’t fly at supersonic speed? But this was not the only problem.

Whereas traveling on the Concorde was offered as a luxurious experience where you could chat with other passengers while enjoying food and drink on board, everything on the Tu-144 was more rustic, so to speak. Passengers were exposed to noise levels of 90-95 dB from the engines, making conversation almost impossible.

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Meeting in front of the Concorde and tragedy

At the 1973 Paris Air Show, the Concorde and the Tu-144 faced each other before the eyes of thousands of people. The first made a new success, but the second ended up engulfed in flames. The pilots attempted a demanding maneuver, but the plane stalled and moments later the fuel tank exploded, killing six crew members and eight people on the ground, Aviation Safety said.

The French board of inquiry determined that the rupture of the left wing damaged the fuel tanks, causing them to explode. It is also believed that the plane stalled due to the deactivation of a safety component in order to carry out more risky maneuvers. The Soviets, for their part, said the pilots tried to avoid a suspected French fighter plane that was flying too close while taking photos of the Tupolev that day and that is why the accident occurred.

Despite the terrible accident, the Tu-144 continued to fly. In total, it made 102 commercial flights, but only 55 with passengers on board. The Tu-144 program was canceled by a Soviet government decree on July 1, 1983 that also provided for the future use of the remaining Tu-144 aircraft as airborne laboratories. Precisely, its last uses were for the training of pilots of the Burán shuttle and atmospheric investigations.

Tu 144 Soviet Supersonic Airliner 1

But the story did not end there. In 1990, a Tu-144 was used as a supersonic flight research aircraft by NASA. As the agency explains, the former Soviet passenger plane was the focus of a joint international investigation aimed at developing technologies for a future supersonic aircraft. The use of the aircraft made it possible to compare real flight data with computer simulations.

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Ultimately, the Tu-144 did meet a precipitous end. It was too noisy and expensive to offer regular commercial flights. In his later days he made a few trips without straying too far from Moscow and the program officially ended in 1999. There are currently no operational supersonic passenger planes, but many companies are working on projects that seek to offer commercial flights with such characteristics again. .

Pictures | Wikimedia Commons (1, 2, 3, 4)

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