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.
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.
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 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 wikipedia.org]