How the Soviets Developed Supersonic Passenger Flight (Ту-144)


Soviet Ty-144 

I (and my family) recently visited the permanent Brooklands Concorde Exhibition (in Surrey), and was enthused with the ‘futuristic’ design and technology that we saw close-up, and the simulated Concorde flight that we took. Although now decommissioned and very much a museum piece (despite that fact that there is nothing in the world of commercial aeroplanes that comes close to a functioning Concorde today), I was surprised to learn that the British and French governments ‘co-operated’ to build a supersonic aircraft that cost far too much to design, build and fly, and which no commercial airline in the world would buy. Why would two former imperialist powers emerging out of the destruction and bankruptcy of WWII, waste valuable financial and material resources upon a project that due to its lack of commercial viability, was guaranteed to be an economic failure?


Brooklands British Concorde (GBBDG) Prototype

As matters transpired, we were told that the British manufacturers of Concorde could not ‘sell’ their completed prototypes, and so had to ‘give’ British Airways a number of these supersonic aircraft for ‘free’. Even so, the tickets to fly from London to New York in just 3 hours (at Mach 2.04 – or 1,354 mph – 2,180 km/h at cruise altitude), were so expensive that only the very rich could afford to travel. This proved to be a business failure, as Concorde to never attract the general public, and become a popular mode of mass transportation. As a consequence, the Western Concorde worked the skies from around 1969 to their eventual grounded in 2003, operating at huge loses. Despite its progressive design and extraordinary technology, capitalist economic forces brought the life of Concorde to an end. We are now faced with the absurdity of a futuristic piece of technology literally ‘rotting’ in a museum!


Soviet Ty-144 in Flight

When I checked historical sources, I saw that the government of the United States was behind the initial financing of the Anglo-Fremch project to build a ‘faster tha sound’ passenger carrying aeroplane – as a means to equal the Soviet Ty-144 supersonic jet. Although the Soviet Union had suffered between 27 – 40 million dead and wounded during the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), Joseph Stalin led the Socialist State in its recovery and development of nuclear power and space technology. Out of this monumental collective effort, the Soviet scientists and engineers eventually developed the ‘Ty-144’ passenger carrying, supersonic aeroplane. This aircraft was designed and built by the Tupolev Design Bureau throughout the 1960’s, was designed to demonstrate the superiority of the Soviet Socialist organisation of society. This project (like every Soviet innovation) was not designed to produce monetary profit, but rather to progress the social evolution of humanity. Whereas a single ticket to fly on the Western Concorde cost thousands of pounds, in the USSR, a traveller could fly from one side of the country to the other on the Ty-144, for the equivalent of just five British pounds. Although a piece of Socialist technology designed to carry unarmed civilians, nevertheless, declassified NATO Records state that the Ty-144 was considered a ‘military threat’ to Western capitalism, and was designated by the NATO code-word ‘Charger’. This code-word was to be used as and when the leaders of the Western (liberal) democratic countries decided it was time for NATO to ‘shoot’ the Ty-144 out of the sky.


Soviet Ty-144 Replete with ‘CCCP’ and ‘Red Flag’ Markings

The Ty-144 did not have such elements of the wing design as flaps and slats. Decrease in landing speed to acceptable values (​​of 350-400 kph) was carried out by a unique method for civilian aircraft, using the deflected toe on the fuselage and the unique front wing design. During the transition to supersonic mode, a complicated procedure was performed for transferring fuel to the centring tank in the cargo compartment, which compensated for the displacement of air pressure at the centre. Whilst flying at supersonic speed, it was recommended not to use the elevons – the control was carried out by changing the thrust of the engines. The aircraft did not have the thrust reversal of the engines, but it had powerful brake fans in the chassis, the initial speeding-off at landing, at the commander’s discretion, was effected by the release of a braking parachute. The Flight Manual forbade flights at night, although all the equipment needed for this was available. The aircraft used the most advanced scientific and technical solutions. At the disposal of the pilots was even an analog GPS-navigator – PIN (Projection Indicator Navigation Conditions). On a small screen, a map of the airfield was generated from a video tape, which superimposed the position mark of the aircraft; the geographic coordinates of the mark were calculated by an automated process, which processed data from the radio-navigation systems. Unlike the Western Concorde, the Ty-144 had an auxiliary power unit with the ability to start engines in mid-air, as well as the ability to power the aircraft and air conditioning whilst on the ground.

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Already in 1947, the American prototype Bell X-1 – for the first time in world history – overcame the sound barrier. Since 1954, there was the production of supersonic fighters such as the American F-100 and the Soviet MiG-19. The USSR was already developing plans for a supersonic passenger aeroplane when the British and French started showing their designs at airshows around the world. The Soviet motivation was to make fast plane that could traverse vast distances very quickly and efficiently, and which did not have to continuously land for refuelling. Work on creating a supersonic passenger airliner in the USSR began in the Tupolev Design Bureau in the early 60’s. The Tupolev Design Bureau was chosen as one of the most experienced in the field of passenger aircraft, especially jet aircraft. On July 16th, 1963, the Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the USSR No. 798-271 was issued. The Soviet State envisaged the creation of a supersonic liner with a cruising speed of 2300-2700 kph, with a practical range of 4000-4500 kilometres, which could carry around 80-100 passengers on board, or travel 6000-6500 kilometres with additional fuel tanks and just 50 passengers on board. The construction of the first prototype began in 1965, and a second copy for static testing was also built with it. The first flight of the Ty-144 took place on December 31, 1968 (it was carried out by the Tupolev EDO testor Eduard Yelyan), that is, two months earlier than the Western Concorde. The Ty-144 was the first passenger airliner in history to overcome the sound barrier, it happened (June 5th, 1969) at an altitude of 11,000 meters. The next symbolic milestone was breaking the 2 Mach sound barrier, which was achieved by the Ty-144 on May 25th, 1970, flying at an altitude of 16,300 m at a speed of 2,150 kph. The aircraft combined a huge number of advanced development and design solutions. For example, the retractable whilst in flight were the front horizontal plumage (PGO), which significantly increased manoeuvrability in the air whilst reducing the speed at landing. The Ty-144 could land and take off in 18 airports of the USSR, whilst the Western Concorde, whose take-off and landing speed was 15% higher, required a separate landing certificate for each airport. During the design period, tremendous work was carried out. Inparticular, the modelling of the wing was carried out in full-scale tests on a specially prepared MiG-21I fighter (a special flying laboratory designed for studying the wing of the Ty-144 aircraft). Mass production of the aircraft was carried-out at the Voronezh plant number 64. By the abandonment of operation, 16 Ty-144 aircraft were built (four more planes were still being built), which made a total of 2556 sorties and flew 4110 hours. However, despite this Soviet success, the Ty-144 never saw commerical deployment due to a number of tecnical issues that were difficult to over-come. After a near tragedy during a test flight in 1981, the Ty-144 project was finally cancelled in 1983. It is believed that the Western Concorde was premised upon Soviet designs, but that the Western engineers were able to iron-out (or completely alter) a number of design issues. After Brezhnev’s death, the attitude of the new leadership of the country to the plane changed. Preference was given instead to the simpler and more reliable subsonic IL-86 airbuses.

Russian Language Source:Ту-144

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