• Short Summary

    The Soviet supersonic airliner, the Tupolev 144, will begin regular passenger flights next Tuesday, November 1st.

  • Description

    The Soviet supersonic airliner, the Tupolev 144, will begin regular passenger flights next Tuesday, November 1st. It will be flying an internal route, between Moscow and Alma Ata, in Soviet Central Asia, and will make the 4,000 kilometre (2,500 mile) journey in under two hours.

    SYNOPSIS: The TU-144 is remarkably similar in its general lines to the Anglo-French Concorde. It made its first test flight from an airfield near Moscow on New Year's Eve, 1968, the first flight by any supersonic aircraft. It might have been in service ahead of Concorde if it had not run into setbacks.

    Andrei Tupolev, the leading Soviet aircraft designer, was 80 years old when he watched the first test flights. The 144 was the last of his creations. He died four years later. His son, Alexei Tupolev, was the actual designer of the new aircraft. It has a cruising speed of 2,500 kilometres (1,560 miles) an hour -- more than twice the speed of sound -- and a range of about 6,500 kilometres (4,000 miles), and was planned mainly for domestic use.

    The first time the TU-144 was seen outside the Soviet Union was in 1971. It went first to Prague and then to Paris, where, using drag parachutes, it touched down at Le Bourget Airport to take part in the Paris Air Show. This gave spectators and buyers their first chance to compare it directly with the Concorde. The two aircraft stood not far apart on the tarmac.

    Alexei Tupolev, who was there to see them, said the world was big enough for both aircraft. The "Concordski" -- as the west nicknamed the Soviet aircraft -- can carry 140 passengers, rather more than Concorde. Two of its problems, on which Soviet engineers have been working, were fuel economy and vibration.

    The programme suffered a tragic setback in 1973, when the TU-144 crashed at the Paris Air Show. The cause of the accident has never been fully established. It was suggested at the time the pilot might have been too ambitious in demonstrating its capabilities.

    The aircraft disintegrated as it fell into Goussainville, an outer suburb of Paris. Huge chunks of metal crashed through the roofs of houses. The crew of six, and seven people on the ground, were killed. Further checks on the aircraft were ordered, and certain modifications made. Its schedule was put back for several years as a result.

    Concorde started scheduled passenger flights first -- in January of last year. But it has run into objections on its international routes that do not affect the TU-144, flying entirely inside the boundaries of the Soviet Union. The Soviet supersonic plane began regular flights between Moscow and Alma Ata a month before Concorde went into service. But up to now, it has carried freight and mail only.

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