Losses and Aviation Safety

[Video] The crash of Russian Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic transport aircraft at 1973 Paris Air Show

On Jun. 3, 1973, at the 1973 Paris Airshow, the flight crew on a 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.

Taken on Jun. 3, 1973 at Paris Air Show the horrific video in this post features the crash of Russia’s Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic transport aircraft (SST).

The Tu-144 (Russian: Tyполев Ту-144; NATO reporting name: Charger) is one of only two SSTs to enter commercial service, the other being the Anglo-French Concorde. The aircraft (that looked so much like the Concorde that Western observers dubbed it “the Concordski”) 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.

Despite being less technologically advanced, less reliable, more fuel hungry and louder than Concorde, the Tu-144 had more powerful engines.

The Tu-144 had a top speed of ≈2,500 km/h (≈1,510 mph) compared to Concorde’s ≈2,179 km/h (≈1,354 mph), making it the fastest supersonic airliner ever.

The Russian jet performed its maiden flight on Dec. 31, 1968, two months earlier than Concorde, and became the first supersonic commercial airliner to take flight.

On Jun. 3, 1973, at the 1973 Paris Airshow, the flight crew on a 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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