The Russian Concorde … and why you haven’t heard of it

I was recently talking with my colleague Fred Schenkelberg from FMS Reliability (this conversation can be heard here), about a plane that he had never heard of. Most of the world hasn’t heard of it. And there is a reason you probably haven’t either. The plane in question is a case study on how to design something to fail.

The plane I am talking about is the Tupolev Tu-144 … but it is better known as the Russian Concorde. The early 1960s was saw the frenetic start to the Cold War. The Soviet government announced it would be developing a supersonic passenger plane in response to the Anglo-French Concorde. And here is the first clue as to why the Tu-144 would never be a commercial success: the over-arching goal was to create a ‘geopolitical statement’ and not to produce aircraft to enter a competitive marketplace.

A basic internet search can identify many pictures and photographs of the Tu-144. And it is easy to see why it is referred to as the ‘Russian Concorde.’ Both the Tu-144 and Anglo-French Concorde look similar. Both aircraft have delta wings and long ‘pointy’ noses. Both noses pivoted down at take-off and landing. But the differences between the two are within the fuselage. And these differences are substantial.