How the Soviets made world’s first supersonic airliner that was so LOUD passengers couldn’t talk and fell from sky at Paris Air Show killing 14 people

  • Concorde Air France Flight 4590 crashed during take-off 21 years ago today, killing all 109 people onboard
  • Whilst the ultra-fast plane remains a global icon, its Russian-built competitor is far less well-known
  • On December 31, 1968, three months before Concorde’s first test flight, the Tupolev Tu-144 was unveiled
  • At start of following June, the plane became the first passenger airliner to go faster than the speed of sound
  • It crashed at the Paris Air Show in 1973, killing six crew members and eight people on the ground

By Harry Howard, History Correspondent For Mailonline

Published: 13:27 EDT, 26 July 2021

It was a tragedy which made headlines around the world and marked the beginning of the end for Concorde, the world’s most famous supersonic passenger airliner.

Air France Flight 4590 crashed during take-off on this day 21 years ago, killing all 109 people onboard. A little over three years later, the global Concorde fleet was retired.

But whilst the ultra-fast plane remains a global icon, its Russian-built competitor is far less well-known.

On December 31, 1968, three months before Concorde’s first test flight, the Tupolev Tu-144 – which was dubbed the ‘Konkordski’ due to its resemblance to its Western competitor – was unveiled by the Moscow-based Voronezh Aircraft Production Association.

Named after A.N. Tupolev, the Soviet engineer who designed it, the plane was wheeled out of a secret hangar and successfully completed a 38-minute trip at record-setting speeds.

At the start of the following June, the plane became the first passenger airliner to go faster than the speed of sound, beating the British-French Concorde by four months.

In May 1970, the airliner then became the world’s first commercial transport plane to exceed Mach 2, or 1522.41 miles per hour.

But it was also dogged by disaster – the most famous being when it fell out of the sky and burst into flames at the Paris Air Show on June 3, 1973, killing six crew members and eight people on the ground, including three children.

Its myriad design flaws also meant that it was so loud that passengers reported being unable to have a conversation whilst onboard.  

On December 31, 1968, three months before Concorde's first test flight, the Tupolev Tu-144 - which was dubbed the 'Konkordski' due to its resemblance to its Western competitor' - was unveiled by the Moscow-based Voronezh Aircraft Production Association. Above: The plane in Germany in 1971

On December 31, 1968, three months before Concorde’s first test flight, the Tupolev Tu-144 – which was dubbed the ‘Konkordski’ due to its resemblance to its Western competitor’ – was unveiled by the Moscow-based Voronezh Aircraft Production Association. Above: The plane in Germany in 1971

Named after A.N. Tupolev, the Soviet engineer who designed it, the plane was wheeled out of a secret hangar and successfully completed a 38-minute trip at record-setting speeds

Named after A.N. Tupolev, the Soviet engineer who designed it, the plane was wheeled out of a secret hangar and successfully completed a 38-minute trip at record-setting speeds

The incident at the Paris Air Show set progress on the airliner back, meaning Concorde won the race to be the first to launch a passenger service in 1975.

Two years later – on November 1, 1977 – the Tupolev Tu-144 finally welcomed customers on an Aeroflot route between Moscow and Alma-Ata (now Almaty) in Kazakhstan.

The plane carried passengers at a speed of around 1,200mph and at an average height of 52,000ft.

However, the following year, the commercial service was stopped after another test flight crash and a string of failures.

The Tupolev Tu-144 continued to fly cargo routes until it was finally grounded in 1983. 

Like Concorde, it was prohibitively expensive to run the Tupolev Tu-144 and it was plagued by malfunctions.

Unlike its Western competitor, the plane was bigger, heavier and less technologically advanced. It was also loud and uncomfortable for passengers.

Concorde's Air France Flight 4590 (pictured) crashed during take-off on this day 21 years ago, killing all 109 people onboard. A little over three years later, the global Concorde fleet was retired. But whilst the ultra-fast plane remains a global icon, its Russian-built competitor is far less well-known

Concorde’s Air France Flight 4590 (pictured) crashed during take-off on this day 21 years ago, killing all 109 people onboard. A little over three years later, the global Concorde fleet was retired. But whilst the ultra-fast plane remains a global icon, its Russian-built competitor is far less well-known

Like Concorde, it was prohibitively expensive to run the Tupolev Tu-144 and it was plagued by malfunctions. Unlike its Western competitor, the plane was bigger, heavier and less technologically advanced. It was also loud and uncomfortable for passengers. Above: Its interior

Like Concorde, it was prohibitively expensive to run the Tupolev Tu-144 and it was plagued by malfunctions. Unlike its Western competitor, the plane was bigger, heavier and less technologically advanced. It was also loud and uncomfortable for passengers. Above: Its interior

Whilst the Tu-144 was larger and more powerful than Concorde, it was also 20 tonnes heavier, meaning its aerodynamic performance was not as good: Above: Air hostesses are seen smiling at a press event for the plane in 1969

Whilst the Tu-144 was larger and more powerful than Concorde, it was also 20 tonnes heavier, meaning its aerodynamic performance was not as good: Above: Air hostesses are seen smiling at a press event for the plane in 1969

Concorde had pioneered some cutting-edge technology – such as an electronic fly-by-wire control system and carbon-based brakes.

Its advanced systems meant its wings also slightly changed shape during flight to reduce drag.

By contrast, whilst the Tu-144 was larger and more powerful than Concorde, it was also 20 tonnes heavier, meaning its aerodynamic performance was not as good.

At the 1973 Paris Air Show, the Tu-144’s pilots were seeking to wow the spectators as they competed with Concorde, which was also on display.

After Concorde had taken off and put on a dazzling display, the Tu-144 took off and made an initial 360-degree turn, which was successful.

But when it levelled off and began descending towards the ground, the plane could not withstand the stress it came under and it began to break up.

The plane then crashed in a nearby village, killing everyone onboard as well as eight French civilians on the ground.

The plane was dogged by disasters ¿ the most famous being when it fell out of the sky and burst into flames at the Paris Air Show on June 3, 1973, killing six crew members and eight people on the ground, including three children. Above: The aftermath of the crash

The plane was dogged by disasters – the most famous being when it fell out of the sky and burst into flames at the Paris Air Show on June 3, 1973, killing six crew members and eight people on the ground, including three children. Above: The aftermath of the crash 

After Concorde had taken off and put on a dazzling display, the Tu-144 took off and made an initial 360-degree turn, which was successful. But when it levelled off and began descending towards the ground, the plane could not withstand the stress it came under and it began to break up. The plane then crashed in a nearby village, killing everyone onboard as well as eight French civilians on the ground

After Concorde had taken off and put on a dazzling display, the Tu-144 took off and made an initial 360-degree turn, which was successful. But when it levelled off and began descending towards the ground, the plane could not withstand the stress it came under and it began to break up. The plane then crashed in a nearby village, killing everyone onboard as well as eight French civilians on the ground

The Tu-144 is seen in France in 1973. On November 1, 1977 - the Tupolev Tu-144 finally welcomed customers on an Aeroflot route between Moscow and Alma-Ata (now Almaty) in Kazakhstan

The Tu-144 is seen in France in 1973. On November 1, 1977 – the Tupolev Tu-144 finally welcomed customers on an Aeroflot route between Moscow and Alma-Ata (now Almaty) in Kazakhstan

From left to right: The Tupolev Tu-144's test pilot Mikha Kozlov, the engine's commander Edouard Elian, the chief engineer A.A. Tupolev, the academician A.N. Tupolev and engineers Vladimir Benderov and Yuri Seliverstov

From left to right: The Tupolev Tu-144’s test pilot Mikha Kozlov, the engine’s commander Edouard Elian, the chief engineer A.A. Tupolev, the academician A.N. Tupolev and engineers Vladimir Benderov and Yuri Seliverstov 

Whilst some put the crash down to pilot error, some Russian observers claimed that a Mirage fighter aircraft which was also being exhibited had caused the pilot to swerve and lose control.

Regardless of the exact reason for the crash, the disaster shook the world’s faith in the Russian plane.

It was not until 1977 that passengers started to fly on the Tu-144 – a year after Concorde began doing so.

However, passengers said that they were unable to even have a conversation onboard because the noise from the aircraft was so loud.

Part of the noise stemmed from the vast air conditioning units, which were necessary to prevent passengers from overheating.

Tu-144 continued to fly cargo routes until it was finally grounded in 1983. Above: Observers look at the plane during a press event

Tu-144 continued to fly cargo routes until it was finally grounded in 1983. Above: Observers look at the plane during a press event

Soviet aircraft Tupolev Tu-144 is seen, 12 December 1968, during its maiden flight. It was built under the direction of engineer Alexei Tupolev

Soviet aircraft Tupolev Tu-144 is seen, 12 December 1968, during its maiden flight. It was built under the direction of engineer Alexei Tupolev

People who travelled on the Tu-144 also complained that the seating was too cramped and that the toilets did not work.

The final straw for the plane came in 1978, when a modified variant crashed on a pre-delivery flight to operator Aeroflot.

When Aeroflot decided to pull the plug on the plane in 1982, the Tu-144 had carried out just 102 commercial flights – only 55 of which had passengers onboard. 

By comparison, Concorde flew more than 50,000 flights with British Airways alone. 

By the end of the 1980s, all the Tu-144s had been mothballed, after a brief period in which some where used to train crew for planned Soviet space shuttle flights.  

Overall, 16 Tu-144s were built, compared to 20 Concordes.  

A history of Concorde and how a crash contributed to its demise 

Concorde changed the game of long distance travel by reaching extreme speeds and using a drooping nose for takeoff. 

The planes were one of the most advanced aircraft ever to fly passengers around the world with just 20 built over a 15-year period.  

But on this day 21 years ago, Concorde’s Air France Flight 4590 en route from Paris to New York crashed shortly after take-off due to an engine fire, killing all 109 people onboard as well as four people on the ground. 

The crash marked the beginning of the end for Concorde, the world’s most famous supersonic passenger airliner. A little over three years after the tragedy, the global Concorde fleet was retired. 

The Concorde fleets of British Airways and Air France were grounded pending an inquiry and although transatlantic flights resumed from London and Paris following a safety upgrade in November 2001 it wasn’t to last.

In April 2003 it is announced that Concorde would be taken out of service due to a sharp dip in passenger numbers amid global economic problems and the aftermath of September 11.

The last Concorde touched down in October 2003 after a special flight from London Heathrow to Airbus UK’s Filton airfield in Bristol.

Now the 17 remaining Concorde jets which once hosted celebrities and royalty are dotted about the world in museums or storage. 

Among Concorde’s most distinctive features was its pointed nose, which drooped downwards during take-off to allow for better pilot visibility.

Its triangular ‘delta’ wings were also instantly recognisable and offered stability and efficiency.

Innovations born with Concorde advanced aeronautics, including the weight-saving aluminium for the body and the first ever use of electronic controls to replace manual ones.

According to BAE Systems, the estimated final overall cost of developing the Concorde was around 1.6 billion dollars.

Its inaugural scheduled passenger flights were on January 21, 1976: the Paris-Rio route operated by Air France and London-Bahrain by British Airways. 

Jock Lowe, who was the longest serving Concorde pilot, said flying the aircraft was ‘like driving a sports car compared with a normal car’.

He continued: ‘The most exhilarating part was the power you had on take-off. The acceleration was really quite special.’

Concorde quickly established itself as the way to travel for the discerning tycoon and Hollywood star.

Its fine wines and five-star cuisine assured it a large, well-heeled fan base, with regular passengers including the likes of Joan Collins, Sir Paul McCartney and Diana, Princess of Wales.

But shorter travel times came at a price: a return London-New York ticket in 2003 cost around £8,300 pounds ($11,960).  

‘Son of Concorde’ takes shape! NASA shares construction time lapse for ‘quiet’ supersonic jet that will break sound barrier with ‘sonic thump’ rather than a boom when it takes flight in 2022

  • The clips shows the fuselage, wing and tail assembly coming together
  • The craft, called the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology, is said to travel at Mach 1.4 (925mph), which is faster than the speed of sound (767mph)
  • The X-59’s GE F414 engine is purposefully designed to sit in the upper section of the craft to produce a quieter noise to people below 
  • A 30-foot-long nose  is specifically designed to minimize resistance associated with shock from the craft traveling faster than the speed of sound

By Stacy Liberatore For Dailymail.com

Published: 15:49 EDT, 3 August 2021

NASA‘s incredible supersonic aircraft dubbed the ‘son of Concorde’ is taking shape as it gears up for its first test flight next year. The American space agency shared a time lapse video of the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology’s (QueSST) construction for the craft, which is taking place at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California.  The craft is designed to prevent a startling sonic boom from being heard on the ground when it cruises at Mach 1.4, or 925 miles per hour. For comparison purposes, the speed of sound is 767mph. 

The short 43-second clip shows the development of the fuselage that houses the cockpit, and the 29.5-foot-wide wing that holds the fuel systems and parts of the control systems.  At the end of the video, viewers see the tail assembly coming together. This section is built with heat resistant materials that protect the aircraft from the heat given off by the X-59’s GE F414 engine, which sits in the upper section of the craft. This is one of many purposeful design elements that ensure the aircraft is shaped as desired to produce a quieter noise to people below. Also nearing completion is the tail designed with heat resistant materials, which will contain the engine compartment.

 NASA's incredible supersonic aircraft that will travel faster than the speed of sound, which is 767 miles per hour, is taking shape as it gears up for its first test flight next year

NASA’s incredible supersonic aircraft that will travel faster than the speed of sound, which is 767 miles per hour, is taking shape as it gears up for its first test flight next year

Jay Brandon, NASA chief engineer for the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD) project, said in a statement: ‘We’ve now transitioned from being a bunch of separate parts sitting around on different parts of the production floor to an airplane.’ X-59, first announced in 2018, is being made in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, which said the move ‘marks a milestone to bring supersonic commercial travel over land one step closer to reality.’

NASA awarded the American aerospace and defense company a $247.5 million contract to build the X-59, which is set to finish development this year and begin test flights in 2022.

The team began the venture by creating laser projects of the aircraft’s wing, tail assembly and fuselage to ensure their designs fit perfectly.

The American space agency shared a timelapse of the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology's (QueSST) construction for the craft dubbed the 'son of Concorde,' which is taking place at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California

The American space agency shared a timelapse of the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology’s (QueSST) construction for the craft dubbed the ‘son of Concorde,’ which is taking place at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California

The short clip shows the development of the fuselage that houses the cockpit and the 29.5-foot-wide wing that holds the fuel systems and parts of the control systems

The short clip shows the development of the fuselage that houses the cockpit and the 29.5-foot-wide wing that holds the fuel systems and parts of the control systems

As the project has progressed, Lockheed and NASA have started to put the pieces together, with Lockheed Martin’s program director David Richardson likening it to Legos.  ‘The extensive use of features and pre-drilled, full-size fastener holes has significantly reduced the time it takes to locate and fit parts, especially mating large assemblies like this,’ Richardson said in a statement. ‘It is sort of like how Legos go together. We used the laser tracker to make sure it is all aligned per the engineering specs before we permanently bolted it all together.’ The team celebrated when they confirmed all the hardware would fit in the real craft. Dave Richwine, NASA’s LBFD deputy project manager for technology, said: ‘A milestone like this – seeing the airplane coming together as a single unit – really reinvigorates and motivates the team.’

Also nearing completion is the tail designed with heat resistant materials, which will contain the engine compartment

Also nearing completion is the tail designed with heat resistant materials, which will contain the engine compartment

The front part of the craft, known as the fuselage, helps form the entire shape of the supersonic craft. This area will soon get its 30-foot-long nose that is specifically designed to minimize resistance associate with shock from the craft traveling faster than the speed of sound.

The front part of the craft, known as the fuselage, helps form the entire shape of the supersonic craft. This area will soon get its 30-foot-long nose that is specifically designed to minimize resistance associate with shock from the craft traveling faster than the speed of sound.

The fuselage (the front part of the craft) helps form the entire shape of the supersonic craft. This portion of the craft will soon get its 30-foot-long nose that is specifically designed to minimize resistance associated with shock from the craft traveling faster than the speed of sound. According to NASA, the cockpit will look more like an office with its cutting-edge technology that helps pilots navigate the powerful aircraft. The cockpit will contain the forward-facing ‘window’ the eXternal Vision System (XVS), which consists of two cameras mounted above and below the X-59’s nose. The XVS serves as an additional safety aid to help the pilot maneuver safely through the skies; it’s also the only system that will fit in the cockpit – other variations would protrude through the canopy, according to NASA. The video also shows the wing, what NASA says is the ‘most recognizable part of the airplane.

Later this year, Lockheed Martin plans to ship the X-59 to a sister facility in Ft. Worth, Texas, where ground testing will be done to ensure the aircraft can withstand the loads and stresses that typically occur during flight

Later this year, Lockheed Martin plans to ship the X-59 to a sister facility in Ft. Worth, Texas, where ground testing will be done to ensure the aircraft can withstand the loads and stresses that typically occur during flight

Dubbed the 'son of Concorde,' the craft is designed to prevent a startling sonic boom from being heard on the ground when it cruises at Mach 1.4 (925mph)

Dubbed the ‘son of Concorde,’ the craft is designed to prevent a startling sonic boom from being heard on the ground when it cruises at Mach 1.4 (925mph)

Richwine explained that this was ‘the most complicated section and first section of the X-59 that was fabricated by Lockheed Martin.’  ‘The Lockheed Martin team used robotic machines with names that sound like pilot call signs – Mongoose and COBRA – to manufacture the wing before its mate to the tail assembly and fuselage,’ NASA shared in the statement. ‘Mongoose is a tool with the ability to weave together composite wing skins using ultraviolet light to bind the composite material COBRA – Combined Operation: Bolting and Robotic AutoDrill – efficiently created holes that allowed the team to attach the wing skins to the wing frame.’   Later this year, Lockheed Martin plans to ship the X-59 to a sister facility in Ft. Worth, Texas, where ground testing will be done to ensure the aircraft can withstand the loads and stresses that typically occur during flight.  The team will also calibrate and test the fuel systems, sending the X-59 back to California for more tests before it hits the skies for its first test flight sometime in 2022.

In 2024, NASA will fly the X-59 over several communities around the nation to gauge people's response to the sonic thump sound produced by the aircraft – if they hear anything at all

In 2024, NASA will fly the X-59 over several communities around the nation to gauge people’s response to the sonic thump sound produced by the aircraft – if they hear anything at all

If the test flight is successful, NASA plans to fly X-59 over the test range at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California in 2023 to prove it can produce a quieter sonic thump and is safe to operate in the National Airspace System.  In 2024, NASA will fly the X-59 over several communities around the nation to gauge people’s response to the sonic thump sound produced by the aircraft – if they hear anything at all.  ‘The data collected will be given to the Federal Aviation Administration and the International Civil Aviation Organization for their consideration in changing the existing bans on supersonic flight over land,’ according to NASA.

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