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Tu-144 Tupolev
ASCC codename: Charger
Long-Range Jetliner

Though officially designed to meet an Aeroflot requirement for a high-speed airliner, the ill-fated Tu-144 was built primarily as a statement of Soviet national pride. In so doing, the Soviets could claim parity with Western powers designing the competing Concorde and a possible American supersonic transport. Although outwardly similar to the Concorde, the Tu-144 was a somewhat larger and higher performance design. Able to seat up to 140, the Tu-144 could reach a higher cruise speed up to Mach 2.35 at a greater altitude than Europe's supersonic airliner.

The Tu-144 design owed much to earlier studies of the Tu-125 and Tu-135 bombers. Although these aircraft were never built, they gave Tupolev engineers experience in optimizing the aerodynamic behavior of Mach 2 configurations. This experience included dealing with heating issues, designing engine inlets, and addressing other concerns associated with high-speed flight like sonic booms. The resulting design featured a highly-contoured ogival wing similar to that of Concorde and employed elevons for pitch control rather than a standard horizontal tail. Also like the Concorde, the engines were placed in pairs near the trailing edge under each wing, and the forward fuselage employed a drooped-nose mechanism to improve pilot visibility during takeoff and landing.

Though first publicized in 1965, most of the world did not get a good look at the new aircraft until a Tu-144 appeared at the 1973 Paris Air Show. Unfortunately, this aircraft crashed in full view of the world press giving a major blow to the Soviet program. The production model was not deemed airworthy until several post-crash modifications were made. Among these were the addition of retractable canards for improved low-speed performance, a new inlet design, increased wingspan, a lengthened fuselage, and removal of the pilot ejection seats seen on the prototypes.

The Tu-144 first entered service in late 1975 and began a series of cargo and mail flights between Moscow and Alma Ata. Two years later, passenger service was also introduced between these cities. These flights lasted only seven months, however, before a second fatal accident resulted in termination of Tu-144 operations. Following the final commercial flight on 1 June 1978, the remaining Tu-144s were put into storage or donated to museums.

The only version that continued to fly was the improved Tu-144D used as a supersonic research testbed. One of these was further upgraded to the Tu-144LL standard and operated jointly by Russia and the United States as part of NASA's High Speed Civil Transport (HSCT) project. This aircraft completed about 27 research flights to conduct tests of supersonic engine technologies, fuel systems, advanced flight controls, noise reduction techniques, and other concepts intended to make supersonic transports more economical and environmentally friendly. The sole Tu-144LL was later sold to a private owner over eBay for $11 million in 2001.

Last modified 20 September 2009

First Flight 31 December 1968
Service Entry

26 December 1975 (mail service)
22 February 1977 (passenger service)

CREW: three flight crew: pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer

PASSENGERS: 98 in two classes
120-140 in one class



Wing Root unknown
Wing Tip


Length 215.54 ft (65.70 m)
Wingspan 94.48 ft (28.80 m)
Height 34.42 ft (10.50 m)
Wing Area 4,714.75 ft (438.0 m)
Canard Area


Empty 187,395 lb (85,000 kg)
Normal Takeoff unknown
Max Takeoff 396,830 lb (180,000 kg)
Fuel Capacity internal: 154,325 lb (70,000 kg)
external: not applicable
Max Payload


Powerplant four Kuznetsov NK-144 turbofans
Thrust 176,368 lb (784.56 kN)

Max Level Speed at altitude: 1,555 mph (2,500 km/h), Mach 2.35
at sea level: unknown
cruise speed: 1,430 mph (2,300 km/h)
Initial Climb Rate unknown
Service Ceiling 59,055 ft (18,000 m)
Range 3,510 nm (6,500 km)
g-Limits unknown

Tu-144 Prototype
Tu-144S Serial production model; about 14 built
Tu-144D Improved model, possibly with more fuel efficient engines, and used primarily for high-speed research
Tu-144LL Refurbished Tu-144D fitted with more powerful engines, updated avionics, and various test equipment and operated jointly by Russia and NASA for high-speed research

Civil Aeroflot
Government/Military Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Voyenno Vozdushniye Sili (Soviet Air Force)
United States (NASA)



  • Donald, David, ed. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1997, p. 886, Tupolev Tu-144.
  • Donald, David, ed. The Encyclopedia of Civil Aircraft. San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 1999, p. 745-751, 802, Tupolev Tu-144 'Charger'.
  • Gunston, Bill, ed. The Osprey Encyclopedia of Russian Aircraft. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1995, p. 436-438, Tu-144.

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