Supersonic Transport Week

Anything You Can Do, I Can Steal Better

Hmmmm...that looks familiar

The Soviets had a long history of producing aircraft and spacecraft that looked shockingly similar to their western counterpart. Often times, this lead to accusations of espionage. Sometimes, the espionage charge was a little harsh. For instance, the Buran looked similar to NASA’s Space Shuttle mostly due to the fact that aerodynamics doesn’t change. Soviet aerospace engineers may have looked at pictures of the space shuttle, but no known actual information leaked.

In other cases, the accusation of espionage may have been right on target. Such is the case with the striking resemblance between the Concorde and the Tupolev Tu-144. Although the Konkordski flew 2 months before the Concorde (and crashed three times as much), two incidents in Paris point to industrial espionage giving Soviet engineers at least an indication of where the Anglo-French engineers were going with their design. In 1965 Aeroflot’s representative in Paris was arrested for spying. In his possession were detailed drawings of the braking system, landing gear and airframe. In 1977, another Soviet was arrested in Paris and it was found that he had passed on complete sets of plans of the prototype in the mid-60s.

The official word from Aérospatiale was that the prototype plans were early engineering concepts and would not have been useful as design drawings. There has also been assertions that the British and French knew the USSR was snooping in their drawers and so they produced a fake set of plans and that is what was passed on. However, considering the less elegant wing design of the Tu-144 and necessary redesigns after a crash or two, it’s entirely possible the Russians built their SST off the early Concorde plans.

Either way, it makes an intriguing story.