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What Was the Concordski?

The "Concordski" was the nickname for the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144, an aircraft remarkably similar to the Concorde, designed to be Russia's answer to supersonic passenger travel. Its story is a fascinating blend of innovation, rivalry, and Cold War intrigue. How did it fare against its Western counterpart? Join us as we delve into the race for the skies.
S. Mithra
S. Mithra

The Concordski was a Western European nickname given to the Soviet Russian supersonic airplane called the Tupolev 144, similarly modeled to the Anglo-French Concorde. At a time when America, Russian, Britain, and France were participating in a technology race, the Concordski represented possible innovations of the Soviets over other nations. However, the plane crashed under suspicious circumstances during an air show in 1973, thus dashing the hopes of Tupolev's success in jet planes.

Developing and engineering a safe, feasible, large capacity airplane that could transport people and goods at speeds exceeding the speed of sound was a prestigious and important enterprise. All the developed nations of the world in the 60s researched aerodynamics and mechanics toward the end of building, testing, and manufacturing a large, supersonic airplane. Not until the Paris Air Show in 1973 did the opposing developers have a chance to show off their models: the Anglo-French the Concorde and the Russians the Tu144, the Concordski.

Man holding a globe
Man holding a globe

Such pressing competition bred industrial espionage among the factions and created private spy programs. It was rumored that the Russians had stolen plans for the Concorde. The Concordski had some individual characteristics, such as carrying its engine on the fuselage instead of on the wings. It also added smaller wings, or canards, to stabilize the vehicle. It was curiosity over these canards that eventually led to a disaster on 3 June, 1973 in Paris. Both jets had already been transporting goods, but this was an opportunity to end the rivalry by naming a winner in capacity, performance, and grace.

Unfortunately, the French sent up a small Mirage fighter with the intent to spy on the functionality of the canards while in the air, unbeknownst to the Concordski pilot. On a cloudy day, the Mirage lost track of the Tu144 as it ascended in a steep climb, demonstrating its dynamic ability. Fatefully, the airplanes found themselves on opposite paths with collision imminent. The Tu144 dove sharply, which stalled the engines. While it avoided the initial collision, it could barely restart the engines in time to pull up from crashing, and ending up putting such force of the body of the plane that it broke apart in midair. This accident killed six people on the plane and eight more with its debris.

This event alone did not force Tupolev to abandon manufacturing. In 1977, they were confident enough to begin to fly passengers. Yet, another crash that year, near Alma-Ata airport, destroyed their reputation such that they ceased constructing the Concordski in 1985. Even though the Concordski beat the Concorde in first breaking the sound barrier as a commercial aircraft, in 1969, one could say it lost the longer race to become a feasible and profitable jet airliner.

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Discussion Comments


Is there any way to find out more about the accident that happened near Alma-Ata in 1977 involving a Tupolev?

Also, I'm not an expert at this, but wasn't that a Tupolev-104(A) and not a 144 back then?


The idea that the engines stalled in a dive sounds, perhaps, plausible but as someone who watched the disaster in real time, I can attest that the Tu-144 was *climbing* at the time the body started to break apart and had not come out of a steep dive.

I would like to know what actually happened but, until the truth is finally revealed, we are stuck with the conclusion that it had a design fault/metal fatigue/whatever, and couldn't stand the dynamic forces involved in supersonic flight for long. Subsequent crashes in the USSR - which definitely did not involve French Mirages - were what seemed to put the Russians off. The plane was relegated to cargo duties for the rest of its curtailed career.

(No, I know it wasn't supersonic at Paris - but it had been, a number of times previously.)

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