Airborne Awesomosity

Imitation or Innovation: The Tupolev TU-144 Charger

The Tupolev TU-144 Charger

The Konkordski has been written about on this site before but lets go a little further into what it does and doesn’t share with its more famous Euro cousin.




The business end of the TU-144


We have been looking at the Russian aircraft of the Cold War and talking about whether they were innovative or just imitations. To most people this aircraft is considered as pure an imitation of the Concorde as the TU-4 Bull had been of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.  When you dig deeper its start to raise some interesting questions. Mostly of how far can you go with tin snips and bailing wire.


The real Concorde in flight


As we have seen throughout these articles we like to assume that there was no innovation in the USSR during the Cold War. That we, as Americans, sleep better believing that only we are capable of creating new technology.  While this is true, in a lot of cases, what we don’t do well is to adapt. We like to innovate, we like to push to the bleeding edge. We just don’t to improve upon this once we have. So we fly airliners today that are no faster then their ancestors in the late 50’s.  This gave the English and French a chance to create the first supersonic transport while ours sat on the drawing board.


The TU-144 on static display


The Tu-144 is a story of adaption. It shows what a group of engineers can do when faced with impossible requirements and very basic equipment to accomplish this with. Their goal may have been to copy the Concorde using, reportedly, stolen early documents but they would never able to duplicate our level of technology.  Looking at this image above you will say that its identical to the Concorde image above it.

From a design standpoint let me point out a few things here. First is the shape of the tail is different as is the shape of the delta wing.  Even the position of the engines isn’t the same on both aircraft. The British placed their Olympus engines mid wing while the Russians located theirs up against the body.  Next you may notice the retractable canards on the TU-144 that are absent on the Concorde. The Russians ran into a problem that the Concorde didn’t with slow speed control and found a unusual way around it.

The engines were also another point of difference. The Concorde was capable of supercruise. It could fly past Mach 1 without the use of afterburners. The TU-144 didn’t have this luxury and had to fly with the afterburners running full time. A later TU-144 update included engines capable of supercruise but it was never used on the production aircraft.

Next we will start to get into some details you can’t see in these images. First the metals and location of the engines allowed the Concorde to be relatively quiet during the flight. The TU-144 not only had its loud engines up against the frame but also ran cooling lines throughout the aircraft to cool the metal during high speed flight. Reports are that the TU-144 was so loud it was impossible to hold a conversation with someone even at a full scream.





In the end the TU-144 was under developed and had many issues the designers were fully aware of. They knew it was a dangerous aircraft that would cost lives but they had no choice but to rush it into production for the sake of national pride. My job here is not to convince you that the TU-144 Charger was superior to the Concorde. It wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination. What I want to show you is that that the Russians were masters of adapting and making things work in any situation.  The TU-144 looked similar looked like the Concorde but was so fundamentally difference to not be the same aircraft.


[all images from]

  • CaptianNemo2001

    They are very different aircraft…

    • fodder650

      To most people they are one in the same.

      • CaptianNemo2001

        I know and its annoying but besides having a passion for cars, trains and racing engines i love planes and i enjoy reading about how people come up with the damnedest things to solve a problem.

  • This plane was developed when international travel to and from the Soviet Union was really restricted. According to Wikipedia, it had a very brief career with passenger service between Moscow and Almaty, Kazakhstan. That must have been the real jet set there. I mean come on, they couldn't have gone somewhere nice and really far away , maybe Moscow to Beijing or Havana. It appears they ended up as cargo planes and NASA used one for a while in the late 1990s.

    Also found this gem relating to reliability: "Alexei Tupolev, Tu-144 chief designer, and two USSR vice-ministers (of aviation industry and of civil aviation) had to be personally present in Domodedovo airport before each scheduled Tu-144 departure to review the condition of the aircraft and make a joint decision on whether it could be released into flight."

    • fodder650

      Tupolev knew it was unreliable and dangerous but he didn't have a choice but to rush it into production so that it could beat the Concorde into the air.

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    I would call it convergent evolution. All large supersonic aircraft of the era ended up with long thin fuselages and rear set delta wings. This would include the Concorde, the Boeing SST and the XB-70 Valkyrie as well as the TU-144. A similar thing happened with fighter planes in the 70s, the Mig-29, F15, F18, and SU-27, share a similar layout with twin engines, mid mount clipped delta wings and twin vertical stabilizers.

    • fodder650

      I completely agree with you. A lot of the aircraft of the time had similar looks. The problem with the Concorde and TU-144 is that is you look at the pictures separately they look identical. Look at them together and you see the differences. Plus people didn't want to believe the Russians could pull it off. Which they only kind of/sort of did really since it was a horrid aircraft.

    • Yeah, but that's like saying that all paper aeroplanes are the same shape by design. It's not by design, it's just that it's difficult to fold an A4 piece of paper without involving a triangle somewhere along the lines. In the late '60s the vast majority of hi-supersonic aircraft were of Delta planform, or hybrid Delta, because that was the easiest shape to get supersonic. Therefore, lots of planes looked the same. QED. Compare Convair Hustler and Delta Dart, for example.

      *Breathe out.*

      TU-144 looking similar to Concorde was, as Fodder rightly expresses, because the Ruskies wanted to achieve the same objective as Concorde, but without the research or knowledge on how to do it. Therefore, they went for the technique of making it look the same and guessing the rest.

      Hmm. Partial credit; Tupolev. Must try harder.

  • I_Dunno

    Didnt NASA use Konkordski as a flying test bed ?

    • fodder650

      Yes it did use the Konkorski that way. Which is a rather interesting end to its career.