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  • The Concorde could rip across the Atlantic in just over three hours, twice

  • as fast as any modern-day airliner. And you'd do it in style while sipping

  • champagne. Wait a minute... This isn't Concorde!

  • This is the only other supersonic jet to ever carry commercial passengers.

  • No, this isn't Concorde. This is the Soviet Union's Tupolev 144.

  • And yes, it looks like the Concorde but flying on this thing was nothing

  • like the Concorde. The Tu-144 was kind of like the Concord's crazy older sister.

  • She was loud, uncomfortable and a little dangerous. But the 144 story is

  • definitely worth telling. It clearly knocked off a lot of the

  • Concord's design - just look at - it but it actually did some things better, like

  • carry more passengers, it even flew faster. But ultimately the 144's story is

  • about faking it. About deceiving the world. In the 1960's the race to build a

  • supersonic passenger jet, well it was more than about just flying fast, it was

  • about asserting superiority for both the Soviets and the West. And the race to be

  • the first actually started as a three-way between the Americans with

  • their half-baked Boeing 2707, the joint British-French Concorde, and the Soviets

  • with their Tu-144. The Americans ruined their shot by tying themselves up in

  • bureaucracy and cost overruns, this put the Concorde project firmly in the lead.

  • The Soviets who had more primitive technology had a lot of catching up to

  • do, so they relied on good old Soviet ingenuity.. oh and they stole a whole

  • bunch from the Concorde program. Early on Soviet spies made out with over 90,000

  • technical documents on the Concorde and other aircraft so they caught up to the

  • Concorde program and the 144 took flight two months before Concorde

  • It's obvious the Concorde was designed around passenger experience. Journalists

  • marveled at how quiet and smooth supersonic flight was and how flight

  • attendants had no trouble chatting up passengers while they served martinis. In

  • the 144? Well caviar and champagne were also brought out, but Western journalists

  • fixated on the cramped seats, window shades that would suddenly drop without

  • being pulled, and that some of the bathrooms weren't even working. The 144's

  • more primitive engines and cooling system worked together to produce a

  • sound so loud that passengers couldn't talk to one another. Instead they had to

  • pass around handwritten notes and playing pass the note with other

  • passengers must have killed some of the opulence. Not that flying on the 144

  • was ever going to be a normal experience. The plane only ever saw passenger

  • service on a single lonely route between Moscow and Almaty, Kazakhstan. The thing

  • is the 144's engines burned so much fuel, it couldn't actually fly much

  • further, it couldn't even cross the Soviet Union. Compare that to the

  • Concorde, its route spanned continents and oceans and the Tu-144 flew only once

  • a week, even though there were seven more certified and ready for service. This

  • shows how confident Soviet leaders were in the 144. Out of 102

  • scheduled flights there were 226 mechanical failures, 80 of which were

  • serious enough to delay or canceled the flight altogether. The possibility of 144

  • crashing with passengers on board was a huge political risk. From

  • the very beginning the one full force air worthiness was in serious question.

  • It crashed in front of thousands of spectators during the 1973 Paris Air

  • Show. Then again in 1978 when a cargo version

  • went down after a fuel line rupture. And yet again in 1981 one suffered an engine

  • explosion, forcing an emergency landing. The problem was the Tu-144 had clearly

  • been rushed in its development. Getting this thing built before the Concorde was

  • more important for the Soviets than actually building it well, and the 144's

  • engineers had fewer resources and inferior technologies. But still, you

  • gotta hand it to them for actually getting it done. The Concorde's design

  • team had state-of-the-art rolls-royce olympus engines with computer-controlled

  • engine inlets that allowed for something called super

  • cruise. So once Concorde reached supersonic

  • her fuel thirsty after burners could be switched off while still maintaining

  • supersonic. Tu-144 engineers had to make do with engines that needed continuous

  • afterburners to maintain supersonic. The Concorde had a sophisticated wing

  • optimized for both supersonic and low-speed flying, the Tu-144's wing was

  • really only good for supersonic, so pilots had to land the 144

  • at higher speeds, making for brutally hard landings that even required a

  • parachute. The Soviets worked around their wing limitations by designing

  • canards, little deploy-able wings at the front of the aircraft which would

  • improve low-speed stability. But all the innovation on both sides of the Iron

  • Curtain couldn't overcome the reality that supersonic travel was just too

  • expensive. In the capitalist West you could price Concorde tickets at 5 or 6

  • times what a regular flight would cost, so the Concorde became about glitz and

  • glamour, but on the other side of the Iron Curtain things were a little bit

  • more awkward. Who exactly in the Communist Soviet Union was supposed to

  • fly aboard the Tu-144? The price of a ticket was set at just 37 rubles, not

  • much more than you'd expect to pay on a regular flight and not nearly enough to

  • cover operational costs. The 14 Concordes that entered service found a small niche

  • serving celebrities and the rich, but even with that Concorde itself was still

  • a commercial failure. The French and the British had poured billions into

  • developing it even as they knew very early on that they'd never be able to

  • sell hundreds of Concordes needed to recoup development costs. But the 144

  • without the same premium niche to fill on the other side of the Iron Curtain,

  • could only ever be used as a propaganda tool and a prestige project. The Concorde

  • would ferry passengers for 27 years up until it was retired in 2003. The Tu-144? Well it

  • was retired from regular passenger service not even a full year after it

  • started.

The Concorde could rip across the Atlantic in just over three hours, twice

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B1 US concorde tu supersonic soviet flight passenger

Why You Wouldn't Want to Fly On The Soviet Concorde - The TU-144 Story

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    OolongCha posted on 2021/01/24
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