Simanaitis Says

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RUSSIAN AIRCRAFT DESIGNER Andrei Tupolev was familiar with Soviet “requests.” His 1932 ANT-20 Maksim Gorki was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this Russian writer’s first publication. This vast aircraft’s career ended in a horrific aerial collision over Moscow. 

The 1937 Tupolev ANT-25 was to put Soviet aircraft in the distance record books. And, indeed, maybe ANT-25s flew non-stop from Moscow to the western United States. Or maybe pairs of them accomplished this with a tag-team tactic midway in Sitka, Alaska.

And, in 1947 the Tupolev Tu-4 answered Stalin’s request to reverse-engineer Boeing B-29s left stranded in late 1944 in eastern Siberia. One of these planes was disassembled, its components transformed into engineering drawings. A second was flight-tested to determine its capabilities. A third was kept for later evaluations.

Tupolev’s reverse-engineering of the B-29 was close: Maximum speed dropped from 358 to 354 mph; range diminished from 3107 to 3045 miles. And Tu-4s remained in Soviet service into the 1960s; Chinese versions, in use until the 1990s.

The Tupolev Tu-144 Supersonic Transport. This and following images from FlyPast, September 2021.

Tupolev’s SST. So, is the Tupolev Tu-144 merely a ripoff of the Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde? Tidbits in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow examine this.

Timing is in the Tupolev SST’s favor: As described by Piotr Butowski in “Red Express,” FlyPast, September 2021, the Tu-144 made its maiden flight on December 31, 1968. The Concorde first lifted off the tarmac March 2, 1969. 

By June 5, 1969, the Tupolev SST went supersonic. The Concorde didn’t go supersonic until October 1 of that year.

The Tupolev flew at Mach 2 on May 25, 1970. On July 15, 1970, it demonstrated its highest speed of Mach 2.35 (1800 mph). The Concorde’s maximum speed, temperature limited, was Mach 2.04.

What About the Characteristic Droop Snoot? Both the Tu-144 and the Concorde have extreme nose shapes. Butowski notes in FlyPast, “The Tupolev nose design limited the pilot’s view during take-off and landing. The designers considered a retractable pilot’s cabin or a glass bottom in the front fuselage, but in the end a tilting noise was created.”

Droop snoot Tu-144 in the foreground; nose up in the background. 

The Concorde employed a similar tilted nose.

Who Was First? Indeed, Wikipedia suggests, “It had been alleged that Soviet espionage efforts resulted in the theft of Concorde blueprints, supposedly to assist in the design of the Tu-144. As a result of a rushed development programme, the first Tu-144 prototype was substantially different from the preproduction machines, but both were cruder than Concorde.”

The first three Tu-144 aircraft, CCCP-68001, CCCP-77102, and CCCP-77101, at the Tupolev test base, Ramenskoye airfield on April 10, 1973.

Design aspects were to plague the Tu-144 through its brief career. Tomorrow’s Part 2 addresses this. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

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