Using the Tu-144LL to conduct flight research experiments, researchers compared full-scale supersonic aircraft flight data with results from models in wind tunnels, computer-aided techniques, and other flight tests
NASA teamed with American and Russian aerospace industries for an extended period in a joint international research program featuring the Russian-built Tu-144LL supersonic aircraft. The object of the program was to develop technologies for a proposed future second-generation supersonic airliner to be developed in the 21st Century. The aircraft’s initial flight phase began in June 1996 and concluded in February 1998 after 19 research flights. A shorter follow-on program involving seven flights began in September 1998 and concluded in April 1999.
All flights were conducted in Russia from Tupolev’s facility at the Zhukovsky Air Development Center near Moscow. The centerpiece of the research program was the Tu 144LL, a first-generation Russian supersonic jetliner that was modified by its developer/builder, Tupolev ANTK (aviatsionnyy nauchno-tekhnicheskiy kompleks-roughly, aviation technical complex), into a flying laboratory for supersonic research.
Using the Tu-144LL to conduct flight research experiments, researchers compared full-scale supersonic aircraft flight data with results from models in wind tunnels, computer-aided techniques, and other flight tests. The experiments provided unique aerodynamic, structures, acoustics, and operating environment data on supersonic passenger aircraft. Data collected from the research program was being used to develop the technology base for a proposed future American-built supersonic jetliner. Although actual development of such an advanced supersonic transport (SST) is currently on hold, commercial aviation experts estimate that a market for up to 500 such aircraft could develop by the third decade of the 21st Century.
The Tu-144LL used in the NASA-sponsored research program was a “D” model with different engines than were used in production-model aircraft. Fifty experiments were proposed for the program and eight were selected, including six flight and two ground (engine) tests.
The flight experiments included studies of the aircraft’s exterior surface, internal structure, engine temperatures, boundary-layer airflow, the wing’s ground-effect characteristics, interior and exterior noise, handling qualities in various flight profiles, and in-flight structural flexibility. The ground tests studied the effect of air inlet structures on airflow entering the engine and the effect on engine performance when supersonic shock waves rapidly change position in the engine air inlet.
A second phase of testing further studied the original six in-flight experiments with additional instrumentation installed to assist in data acquisition and analysis. A new experiment aimed at measuring the in-flight deflections of the wing and fuselage was also conducted. American-supplied transducers and sensors were installed to measure nose boom pressures, angle of attack, and sideslip angles with increased accuracy.
Two NASA pilots, Robert Rivers of Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia, and Gordon Fullerton from Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, assessed the aircraft’s handling at subsonic and supersonic speeds during three flight tests in September 1998. The program concluded after four more data-collection flights in the spring of 1999.
The Tu-144LL model had new Kuznetsov NK-321 turbofan engines rated at more than 55,000 pounds of thrust in full afterburner. The aircraft was 215 feet, 6 inches long and 42 feet, 2 inches high with a wingspan of 94 feet, 6 inches. The aircraft was constructed mostly of light aluminum alloy with titanium and stainless steel on the leading edges, elevons, rudder, and the under-surface of the rear fuselage.
Photo credit: NASA