Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute
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TsAGI–Tupolev: Tu-144 First Supersonic Transport

14 October 2022

  • Испытания авиалайнера Ту-144 в аэродинамической трубе ЦАГИ Испытания авиалайнера Ту-144 в аэродинамической трубе ЦАГИ
  • Сверхзвуковой пассажирский самолет Ту-144 Сверхзвуковой пассажирский самолет Ту-144

‘Сlubs of snow, dust, exhaust gases swirl behind the “one hundred and forty-fourth”; it meant the engines started. The crew requests for takeoff clearance—the flight control officer confirms it. A short twenty-five-second run—and the aircraft takes off.’ Mark Gallay, Test Pilot and Hero of the USSR, described so the maiden flight of Tu-144, the first Soviet supersonic transport, in his book, ‘The Third Dimension’. The maiden flight proceeded on December 31, 1968. The aircraft was piloted by Eduard Yelyan and his crew.

Creating the Tu-144, A. Tupolev sought to improve the domestic remote air transport conditions. Additionally, the experience accumulated by the combat aviation became the basis for safe operation of such an aircraft.

In the early 1960s, TsAGI started its research into the key issues related to designing and creating the world’s first supersonic transport. To provide 6,500 km flight range with 100–120 passengers, the 2,300 kph cruise velocity had to be reached. Also, there was need to provide structural strength under increased temperatures. Special attention was paid to the propulsion and to the study of sound boom impact on buildings and people.

The Government decree prescribed two work stages for the Tu-144. During the first one, TsAGI and Tupolev Design Bureau developed a special profile for the tailless aircraft’s triangle wing—the leading-edge extension which enabled supersonic velocity. The Tu-144 was recognizable by its tiltable crew cabin: the nose was lowered at takeoff and landing for better view, and it was fixed coplanarly to the fuselage at cruise flight.

Apart from that, the developers implemented the idea suggested by Academician Byuschgens and his colleagues to use integral algorithms in automatic control system. This provided acceptable controllability of the aircraft regardless of flight mode, center and weight.

Initially, the Tu-144 was supposed to be powered by Kuznetsov NK-144 boost engine, yet Kolesov Design Bureau’s RD-36-35P engine was installed at the first stage on the aircraft on the initiative of TsAGI, providing targeted flight range. This configuration allowed the Tu-144 to deliver 100 passengers for about 6.500 km with standardized emergency fuel supply.

Simultaneously, England and France developed a similar supersonic transport—the Concorde. TsAGI specialists met with their foreign colleagues to discuss some common issues yet without specifying any details which were classified. It turned out later that the Soviet Tu-144 was not only released earlier than the Concorde but also had better aerodynamics.

On June 26, 1970, the aircraft’s velocity exceeded that of sound by two times. Soon it was nationally certified to start passengers and cargo deliveries in 1977.

However, the Tu-144 was decommissioned and the program was cancelled soon, partially due to the Le Bourget demonstration flight crash and subsequent test accidents. Nevertheless, the work on the Tu-144 provided a unique experience which became a basis for a number of national strategic aviation projects, including those related to the creation of new-generation supersonic transport.

Sources: Andrey Tupolev: Life and Activities. [In Russian]. Published in Moscow by TsAGI Publishing Department in 1991; Kerber L.L. Tupolev: The Man and the Aircraft. [In Russian]. Published in Moscow by Sovetskaya Rossiya in 1973; Byuschgens G., Bedrzhitsky E. TsAGI: The Center of Aviation Science. Published in Moscow by Nauka Publishers in 1993; Andrey Tupolev: The Edges of Ambitious Creativity. Published in Moscow by Nauka Publishers in 1988.

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