The aviation industry of the Soviet Union was perhaps not the best in the world, but it was definitely one of the five (if not three) absolute leaders in the market. Moreover, the engineers of the USSR could well have issued a strong, interesting design for a machine that would be truly progressive and innovative. This is exactly the case with the Tu-144 supersonic passenger airliner. Unfortunately, despite the bright start, the fate of the project turned out to be sad. What happened?
It was not only sound that had to overtake the Tu-144, but also its direct western competitor, the Concorde. And the point here is not so much about the speed of the aircraft, but about the moment of their release into the series. The Tu-144 made its first test flight on December 31, 1968, while the French-British supersonic airliner took to the skies for the first time on March 2, 1969. Thus, the Soviet model became the first aircraft in commercial passenger aviation that was able to overcome the sound barrier.
It should be understood that with the development of military aviation and the advent of supersonic combat aircraft, the idea of supersonic passenger aviation suggested itself. She excited the minds of engineers and designers on both sides of the Iron Curtain. As a result, in 1963, a decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR was issued, which ordered the creation of a supersonic airliner with a take-off thrust of at least 20 tons. The Kuznetsov Design Bureau immediately got down to business, and a little later the Tupolev Design Bureau joined the project.
They decided to implement the project of the liner according to the tailless low-wing design with a composite delta wing. In parallel, several options for the future aircraft were developed at once. Each of these has been tested to determine and select the best layout. The draft design was completed already in 1965, after which the engineers moved on to deep development. The first aircraft was ready for the winter of 1967. The Tu-144 was assembled in Voronezh, after which it was delivered to Zhukovsky near Moscow with the help of a Mi-10 crane helicopter.
The cruising speed of the Tu-144 was 2,500 km / h. The flight range reached 6,500 km. The optimal takeoff weight is 130 tons. The machine would have to perform working flights at an altitude of 20 km. The aircraft was propelled by four NK-144 engines. 121 passengers could be accommodated on board. One of the 144's most characteristic external features was the unusual cockpit, the nose of which could be lowered. The first pre-production aircraft was built in early 1971. By this time, the T-144 had already flown 231 flights. Everything was going too well.
And so, on July 3, 1973, during the display of the Tu-144 at the Le Bourget air show, a disaster occurred. During a demonstration flight, the liner crashed. Six crew members were killed and eight others on the ground. After the incident, the supersonic aviation project was almost frozen. The plane was sent for revision, as a result of which the Tu-144 made a new flight only on December 26, 1975, delivering mail from Moscow to Alma-Ata. After that, the first passenger flights were also launched. True, despite the grandiose plans of the Soviet government, they limited themselves to only one direction, the same route Moscow - Alma-Ata.
Unfortunately, the Tu-144 was not destined to establish itself in domestic air transportation. Throughout the history of the project, a huge number of intrigues took place around the 144th. Not everyone in the bureaucratic apparatus of the country wanted the appearance of a new liner and frankly put a spoke in the wheels, interfering with development and testing at different stages. The fact that tickets for passenger flights cost 68 rubles for him, while a ticket price of 48 rubles for a similar flight for a regular plane, did not speak in favor of the new Tupolev. Finally, on May 23, 1978, another crash occurred in the test vehicle, resulting in the deaths of two test pilots. This event finally put an end to the project of domestic supersonic aviation. However, the foreign Concorde was not doing much better, there was no place for a super-fast and expensive aircraft in a market economy either.
If you want to know even more interesting things, then you should read about project "Pygmy": why the air submarine was not accepted into service.