Cold War Era

Footage shows crash of Russian Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic transport aircraft at 1973 Paris Air Show

The Tupolev Tu-144

The Tupolev Tu-144 (Russian: Tyполев Ту-144; NATO reporting name: Charger) is a retired jet airliner and commercial supersonic transport aircraft (SST). It is one of only two SSTs to enter commercial service, the other being the Anglo-French Concorde. The aircraft was conceived during the Cold War by Tupolev design bureau, headed by Alexei Tupolev, and manufactured by the Voronezh Aircraft Production Association in Voronezh, Russia. It conducted 55 passenger flights, at an average service altitude of 16,000 metres (52,000 ft) while cruising at a speed of around 2,000 kilometres per hour (1,200 mph, or Mach 1.6).

The prototype first flew on Dec. 31, 1968 near Moscow, two months before the first flight of Concorde. The Tu-144 first went supersonic on Jun. 5 1969, and on May 26, 1970 became the first commercial transport to exceed Mach 2.

Tupolev Tu-144 crash at 1973 Paris Air Show

As the video in this post shows, on Jun. 3, 1973 a Tu-144 crashed at the Paris Air Show.

The flight crew of the Tu-144 attempted to perform an impressive steep climb manoeuvre to wow spectators, but they overstressed the airframe while pulling their plane out of a dive and it broke up in mid-air. The crash killed all 6 crew members aboard plus 8 people on the ground, while injuring 28 others.

The crash delayed the Tu-144 development. The aircraft in fact was introduced into passenger service on Nov. 1, 1977, almost two years after Concorde. In May 1978, another Tu-144 (an improved version, named Tu-144D) crashed on a test flight while being delivered, and the passenger fleet was permanently grounded after only 55 scheduled flights. The aircraft remained in use as a cargo plane until 1983.

The Tu-144 was later used by the Soviet space program to train pilots of the Buran spacecraft, and by NASA for supersonic research.

Photo credit: Screenshot from video and Isaac Low via Quora

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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