Before entering the place where you can see the supersonic passenger plane of the Soviet Union, let’s first look at the plane and see how it came to be. In January 1962, the Soviet government published an article describing a supersonic airliner concept.
Development of the aircraft designated Tu-144 began on July 26, 1963, after its design was approved by a cabinet of ministers. The plan called for five prototype aircraft to be flying within four years.
The Tu-144 flew before Concord
The first prototype made its maiden flight from Zhukovsky International Airport (ZIA) in Moscow on December 31, 1968, two months before the Anglo-French Concorde. Nicknamed the “Concordski” due to its similar appearance to the Anglo-French jet, the Tu-144 was actually larger and faster than the Concorde, capable of reaching speeds of Mach 2.04.
One of the main differences between the two aircraft was that Concorde used an electronic engine control device made by Lucas Industries. Tupelov could not buy it from the Birmingham firm because it could also be used on military aircraft.
Crash at the Paris Air Show in 1973
During the 1973 Paris Air Show, at the end of a demonstration flight, instead of landing as planned, the aircraft began a steep climb before performing a violent descent maneuver. The plane broke up and crashed, killing all six people on board and eight people on the ground.
The crash and steadily rising fuel prices limited the aircraft’s viability of being a commercial success. Soviet national flag carrier Aeroflot introduced the aircraft into passenger service on December 26, 1975, flying between Moscow and Almaty in Kazakhstan. Less than three years later, Aeroflot retired the Tu-144 from service after the supersonic jet crashed a second time on May 23, 1978.
A Tu-144 on display at the Central Air Force Museum of Russia in Monino. Photo: Martinique through Flickr.
A total of 16 airworthy Tu-144 aircraft were built, with the Tu-144 performing 102 commercial flights, of which only 55 had passengers.
The decision to cease Tu-144 production was issued on January 7, 1982, followed by a USSR government decree dated July 1, 1983, to end the entire Tu-144 program.
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Where to see a Tu-144
Looking back at where things went wrong with the Tu-144, we can see that the aircraft suffered from the rush of the design process and the need to get it flying as soon as possible. The quality and construction of the aircraft’s parts were also held responsible for its eventual failure. The Tu-144 made its last flight on June 26, 1999 with the surviving aircraft now on display at the following locations:
- Two Tu-144s with tail numbers СССР-77114 and СССР-77115 are displayed outside at the LII Aircraft Test Center in Zhukovsky, 24 miles southeast of Moscow.
- Tail number 77115 was purchased in 2005 by Zhukovsky’s Heros Club and remains on display at the MAKS International Aviation and Space Show.
- Tail number 77114 was repainted in Aeroflot livery and displayed at Zhukovsky International Airport (ZIA).
- Tu-144 registration СССР-77106 is on display at the Central Air Force Museum of Russia in Monino in Shchyolkovsky Oblast.
- The Tu-144, tail number СССР-77107, is on display in Kazan in the Republic of Tatarstan.
- The TU-144S, tail number СССР-77110, is on display at the Civil Aviation Museum in Ulyanovsk, Oblast, 483 miles east of Moscow on the Volga.
- The only Tu-144 on display outside the former Soviet Union was acquired by the Auto & Technikmuseum Sinsheim in Germany. Painted in Aeroflot livery tail number СССР-77112 was shipped to the German Museum in 2001 and displayed alongside an Anglo-Franch Concord.
The Technikmuseum Sinsheim in Baden-Württemberg in southwestern Germany is the only place in the world where the Tu-144 and Concord are exhibited together.
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