Friday, January 28, 2005

Binge Drinking (Tupolev 144 and Concorde)

I recently read an article in the Sunday Times about the binge drinking problem in the UK. Excessive drinking, too much noise, trouble making and complaints from neighbours. This made me think about the two greatest binge drinkers and noisy trouble makers of the civil aviation world, the Concorde and its even rowdier big brother the Tu 144 :)

I have to make it clear that I have a lot of admiration for these two planes. Yes they failed in their mission (to bring supersonic travel to the masses) but they showed what could be done given the will (and more importantly a healthy bank balance). Unfortunately they both suffered from a severe drink problem not to mention excessive noise when let out of the airport.

Alexei Tupolev (son of the Russian "Aviator" Andrei Tupolev) and his team have been long been accused of using spies to steal Concorde's designs etc. While this may be true to a certain extent lets not forget that the Russian aerospace industry at its height was as capable as any other western equivalent.

Yes the two planes looked remarkably similar. However with a given set of design considerations (supersonic, preferably mach 2, approx 100 passengers) you would hardly expect one country to produce a plane that looked like a Cessna and the other that looked a jumbo. Language, culture, food may differ between countries but the laws of physics do not! They were both trying to achieve a similar goal and it no big surprise that the planes were similar in appearance.

I have been lucky to have been able to view both of these planes up close. Sometime in late 2000 when poor ol Concorde was in rehab (getting kevlar protection for the wing fuel tanks) I had the opportunity to visit a top secret russian airforce base deep in siberia . Naah not carried away there thanks to a Clancy novel I was reading recently. I did however visit the Monino Air Force Base museum just outside Moscow which is open to visitors.

The first thing that struck me when I saw the Tu-144 at this museum was the sheer size. The size difference up close was quite amazing. The Tupolev is significantly bigger and it was designed to carry more passengers and go faster. The second thing that struck me was the sorry state it was kept in. The rusting dirty old fuselage appeared to be a sad end to what might have been.

Let me finish with a few interesting facts about the less known aircraft:

1. Tu-144 (Nato Codename: Charger) made its first flight on 31-Dec 1968 (2 months before Concorde). On 15-July-1969 it became the first passenger airliner to reach Mach 2.

2. The early Tu-144 models could not supercruise (supersonic cruise without the use of afterburners) unlike Concorde which drastically reduced the range of the Russian Jet.

3. The Tu-144D: I might be mistaken but I believe this model did indeed have the capability to supercruise. However it was too late in the day to convince anyone to buy it as even Concorde was beginning to look a failure at this stage.

4. The Tu-144s clocked up little over 100 passenger and also freight and mail only flights with Aeroflot (probably the most expensive post service in the world). It was eventually withdrawn from official service.

5. Sometime in 1996 and 1997 NASA/Boeing and Tupolev jointly dug a Tu-144 out of the ground and restored it to flying condition. This Tu-144LL (Flying Lab) was used for joint reasearch into the next generation supersonic aircraft.

I have said in my earlier post that the current new planes the 7E7, A380 and the A350 do not bring the two things I want to see the most : speed and comfort for the masses.

I doubt comfort will ever be available for economy class passengers as regardless of the size of the plane the airlines will cram it with seats. Therefore the only answer is speed. I know that I wont really care if I am squashed into a seat designed for hobbits if the flight time itself was only 2 or 3 hours :)

London to Australia in 3 hours? Mission Impossible? naah..just a matter of time.


Blogger Shreyan said...

Those are some rather unknown, but interesting, facts. Made for a great read.

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Dhonai,

I think I actually saw an episode on Discovery which had a whole special on the Tu-144. Was quite interesting, as was this article. When you defecting from the dark side?


8:21 PM  
Blogger The Unknown Aviator said...

Thanks for your comments!

5:33 PM  
Blogger jhgasuhvkjahklnsdlksnlknmlwvlckn said...


Nice write up. The Tu-144 actually came in two distinct forms - the initial versions had been derived from the Tu-125 and the Tu-135 long (/intermediate) range bombers - and decidedly these were impractical given their slender fuselages...but the final Tu-144 which went into production and commercial flights (until 1978) was essentially a distinct design. The Tu-125 looked a lot like a smallish XB-70A with B-1B type intakes...

And I did notice that too - NASA chose the Tu-144 for the Flying Lab and not the Concorde - interesting...

And I was looking forward to see the Sonic Cruiser develop - never happened I guess :(

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there,

You won't know me, but I'm a friend of Vijay's (I understand you were in school together) - I work with him, and I'm a bit of an aviation freak myself! Greetings.

Very, very nice article. I've watched that Discovery channel episode too, btw - the one on the Tu-144; it was all about industrial espionage, and the Russians copying Concorde. If you're talking about Tupoev expertise in supersonic large aircraft, it's worth noting that the only supersonic strategic bombers ever put into service were Tupolev's (the Tu-22M 'Backfire' and the Tu-160 'Blackjack'; also the Tu-22, if you can really count that - it could only manage supersonic speeds in short dashes). The Tu-160 was built in competition to Rockwell's B-1A, if I'm not wrong; we know who won that competition. And Valkyrie was never operational, either. Tupolev seems to know its business, in this area.

I haven't ever heard of the Tu-125 or the Tu-135, though: were they ever put into active service? Must look them up.

Great articles, the whole lot of them. I'll be coming back!


6:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS Also - thank you for that posting on the world's largest aircraft - I'm literally grateful. It aggravates in the extreme when I hear people talking (very knowledgably, mind you) about the A-380 being the 'world's largest aircraft', and looking blank whenever anyone mentions the An-124. I don't think the An-124 has a very large number of operators, though - the Ukrainian and Russian governments, almost certainly, and I've heard of a company called HeavyLift (also called Volga-Dnepr) who operate it for organisations like the UN, and some special customers - no one outside that, though.


6:18 AM  
Blogger The Unknown Aviator said...

Thank you very much for your comments Rahul. I usually update my blog once every 2 weeks or so but will try and post more often. I think you might also be interested in looking at Rajesh's Aero Blog (link on my page).

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