A look at the Tupolev Tu-144 ‘Concordski’

A Tupolev tu-144 'Concordski' takes off.
clipperarctic, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Built to compete with the Concorde, the Tupolev Tu-144 was a Soviet supersonic passenger airliner designed by the Tupolev Design Bureau in the 1960s.

There have been many unusual airliners throughout history, but one that stands out is the Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-144, also (for some very obvious reasons) known as the “Concordski”.

The Tupolev Tu-144 was perhaps one of the most unusual airliners in history due to its unique design and the technical challenges which plagued it.

A supersonic challenger

Designed as a supersonic passenger airliner, the Tu-144 was intended to compete with the British-French Concorde. However, the Tu-144 faced numerous obstacles that ultimately led to its limited success.

The Tu-144 was actually the world’s first commercial supersonic transport aircraft with the maiden flight of the prototype taking place from Zhukovsky Airport on 31 December 1968, two months before the British-French designed Concorde.

One of the most unusual features of the Tu-144 was its design. The aircraft had a pointed nose and a drooping front edge on its wings, which gave it a very distinctive appearance.


Photo Credit: Milan Nykodym, Czech Republic, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The drooping wing design was intended to help the aircraft maintain stability at high speeds, but it also created a number of technical challenges. The Tu-144 was also notable for its use of afterburners, which were used to increase the aircraft’s speed.

The Tu-144 made its first flight in 1968, two months before the Concorde. While the Tu-144 was faster than the Concorde, it had a shorter range and was less fuel-efficient.

Photo Credit: Oleg V. Belyakov – AirTeamImages, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

The aircraft also faced a number of technical challenges that prevented it from achieving the success of the Concorde.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Tu-144 was its reliability. The aircraft experienced a number of technical problems during its early flights, including issues with its engines and landing gear.

View of Tupolev Tu-144 cockpit.
Photo Credit: BeltyukovРусский: Александр Бельтюков via Wikimedia Commons

Accidents and incidents

These problems led to a number of accidents and incidents, including a fatal crash during a demonstration flight at the 1973 Paris Air Show.

The crash, which killed all six crew members and eight people on the ground, was a major setback for the Tu-144 program.

Another challenge facing the Tu-144 was its limited operational range. The aircraft was designed to fly at supersonic speeds, but it could only do so for a limited period of time before running out of fuel.

This limited range made it difficult for the Tu-144 to compete with the Concorde, which had a longer operational range and was more fuel-efficient.

Despite its challenges, the Tu-144 continued to fly for a number of years, primarily in Soviet military service. The aircraft was used for a variety of purposes, including research and development, as well as for transporting VIPs and other high-ranking officials.

Tupolev Tu-144 at Air Show
Photo Credit: Doomych, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Discontinuation in 1983

However, the Tu-144 was never able to achieve the commercial success of the Concorde, and the program was eventually discontinued in 1983.

Today, the Tu-144 is remembered as a fascinating example of Soviet-era aviation technology. While it was not as successful as the Concorde, it played an important role in the development of supersonic aviation technology.

The aircraft’s unique design and technical challenges have made it an object of fascination for aviation enthusiasts around the world.

In retrospect, the Tupolev Tu-144 was one of the most unusual airliners in history due to its unique design and technical challenges.

While it was rather clearly and obviously designed to compete with the Concorde, the Tu-144 faced a number of obstacles that ultimately prevented it from achieving the same level of success.

Despite this, the aircraft remains an important part of aviation history and it stands as a rather fascinating example of Soviet-era technology.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 6 Min Read
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