A result of the cold war's technology rivalry
when the Soviet Union copied many things the west made including
the Concorde and
Space Shuttle. The Tupolev TU-144 was one of the
Soviets least successful project. Built as a competitor to the
Anglo-French Concorde from modified
plans stolen from the French it was the first supersonic
commercial aircraft beating Concorde
by two months.
The programs first disaster was when a TU-144 (or Concordski as
the media called it) crashed in front of TV-cameras during a
presentation at the Paris Air Show 1973. The French had sent up a
Mirage III jet to photograph the TU-144 in flight, but did not
tell the Russians. The plane found itself on a collision course
with the Mirage when they took evasive action the plane stalled
and then when they tried to recover from the stall they
overstressed the air frame causing the plane to break-up and
crash, It was also suggested that the pilot who was under pressure
to show off the planes abilities against the
Concorde, possible was pushing the
plane too hard when he attempted the steep climb that caused the
After several modifications the Concordski was put back into
service on mail and cargo runs as the TU-144D between Alma Ata and
Moscow in 1975. The Russians wanted to prove the plane was safe
before starting passenger service in 1977. A second crash soon
after passenger service began put commercial service on hold again
in 1978. while a third crash landing sealed the fate of the TU-144
with the last jet to fly in 1985.
The TU-144 could hold 40 more people than the
Concorde and was slightly faster but
it used more fuel and had less range, only 17 TU-144's including 1
prototype and 5 TU-144D models were built, while there were 16
production and 4 prototype Concorde's built, 14 of which went on
sale to Air France and British Airways.
The TU-144 flew again in the mid-1990s, when Boeing and NASA
partnered with Tupolev to test supersonic flight. Using a heavily
modified TU-144D renamed TU-144LL and set up as a flying test
laboratory for future supersonic development. Developed for NASA's
High-Speed Civil Transport program it made 32 flights up to 1999
near Moscow. Since then Boeing has shelved plans for a supersonic
plane, deciding to continue improvements on their 777 series jets.
NASA's part in the project has also stopped as their hopes for
large scale use of supersonic aircraft had proven too costly.
Despite this, Tupolev (the Russian company behind the TU-144 and
Buran space shuttle) are still hopeful to not only forge ahead
with plans to update the TU-144 but also get the planned
next-generation TU-244 supersonic plane flying within a decade.
But it expected that the funding that Tupolev want to build their
TU-244 will never come and their dream will never go further than
the plastic model in their boardroom.
Concorde was not the only
supersonic commercial jet, the Russian
Tupolev TU-144 was a copy of
Concorde and its first flight was 3 months prior to the
Concorde. After many problems and several crashes it
stopped service in 1985.