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TsAGI centenary in the history of aviation: the supersonic passenger Tu-144

4 June 2018

The Tu-144 first went supersonic in June 5th 1969. The airliner, created in the era of “arms race,” became a breakthrough for Soviet aircraft. Some say that the Tu-144 was not only “ahead of sound,” but also ahead of its time.

The first steps to create a supersonic passenger airliner were made in the late 1950’s in the United States, Britain and France. Similar works were started in the Soviet Union in the beginning of the 1960s, the project being developed by the Tupolev design bureau. TsAGI launched numerous studies of the main problems of the supersonic aircraft. The wing design was the most time-consuming step: its 200 configuration options were tested at the Institute. TsAGI scientists and the Tupolev design bureau aerodynamicists created a triangular wing with a leading-edge extension, providing the aircraft with high supersonic speeds and Mach number close to 8. The Soviet aircraft surpassed by far the Anglo-French Concorde project. The power-plant layout was chosen on the basis of TsAGI scientists’ research, giving it an advantage in aerodynamics and flight range.

Academician G.S. Bjushgens and his colleagues from TsaGI suggested using integral algorithms in augmented controls. This maintained an acceptable level of aircraft handling, whatever its flight regime, centering and weight.

The cockpit setting angle made the Tu-144 configuration recognizable: to improve viewability at takeoff and landing, the nose sunk but it stayed coplanar with the fuselage in cruise flight.

The Tu-144 was a tailless aircraft. Designers designed this almost 200-ton bird with canard surfaces which helped to improve the craft’s controllability at takeoff and landing. At the same time, the aircraft design was free of flaps and slats.

The first flight of the supersonic passenger aircraft took place on December 31, 1968. In June 26, 1970 the Tu-144 twice exceeded the speed of a sound. From 1977 the aircraft was used as a cargo aircraft and passenger transport. Including the 55 passenger flights, there were 102 scheduled Aeroflot flights.

But the Tu-144 was short-lived as the hope of the Soviet aviation industry. A Tu-44 crashed in 1973 during a demonstration flight at the Le Bourget air show in Paris. In May 1978, another Tu-144 (an improved version, the Tu-144D) crashed on a test flight. As a result there was a decommissioning of this machine, and then the complete closure of the program.

However, the unique Tu-144 was used in other projects: solar eclipses, measuring the ozone layer and focused sonic boom research. These aircraft became the Buran program Cosmonauts’ training centers. In 1983 pilot S.T. Agapov achieved thirteen world aviation records in the Tu-144D and they still stand at the present time.

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