Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring good news.
Some of you might have heard that Tu-144 ship 15 (CCCP-77115) was almost scrapped this winter. This aircraft was built in 1985 and retired in 1986 having flown only 86 hours. To date it is the only Tu-144 with RD
-36 engines installed. It is perfectly preserved to this date, the only thing missing are the seats from the passenger cabin and the exterior needs a new paint job.
In the late 90's, the assets of the Tupolev design bureau were divided into two companies: OAO "Tupolev" - the company that continues to design and test aircraft and ANTK "Tupolev" - a shell company that was given all the debts and useless assets, including Tu-144 ship 15 and 14. Last fall ANTK Tupolev (now bankrupt) sold both aircraft to a company called "TsvetMetProekt" - a company specialising in salvaging and recycling metals. Last December salvage workers tried to get into Zhukovsky airport to scrap ship 15 but they were denied access to the airfield. After some precistance they gained access and cut off the lower casing of the number 1 and 2 engines (this part weighed about 300kg and was made of almost pure titanium.)
In response to this, Alexei Nikolaevich Anikin, a technician formerly responsible for the 144 (now responsible for Tu-334 ship 01) started a petition and began calling ever body he knew to try to stop the scrapping of the aircaft. Among the people he called were Governor of the Moscow region Hero of the Russian Federation Boris Gromov; Pilot-cosmonaut, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union, Hero of Vietnam, General Alexei Leonov; Pilot-Cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union Colonel Igor Volk; Test pilot, Hero of the Soviet Union, first man to fly the Tu-144 Eduard Elyan and many other individuals including cosmonauts, test pilots and aircraft designers. The Heroes Club of Zhukovsky (a non-profit organisation that comprises of people that have been given the medal and status "Hero of the Soviet Union" or "Hero of the Russian Federation") took a leading role in the saving of this aircraft.
A month ago a deal was reached with TsvetMetProekt - Governor Gromov allocated 40% of the sum needed to purchase the aircraft from budget. The rest of the money still needs to be handed over before the 30th of June, if the complete sum is not handed over by then the contract is disolved and the aircraft will remain with the current owners, but donations are coming in from private citizens and commercial organisations.
On the 31st of May I was at a press conferance hosted by the Heroes Club of Zhukovsky - the main topic of the press conference was where the 144 would be placed, what will be it's fate and just to let everyone know what is going on right now. No conclusion has been reached on the place and the status that the aircraft will have, but one thing is for sure - the aircraft will be saved and it will be on public display. The question is where and how? The idea that most people like is to put it on a pedestal inside the fence of the Gromov Flight Research Institute (for those of you that have been to MAKS - it is the place behind the gates at the Zhukovsky airport where some small aircraft are standing on display). This area will be open to the public on certain days so that they can see the aircraft and perhaps go inside it and since the aircraft is behind the fence (which by the way is electric and has barbed wire and has soldiers patrolling the perimeter, afterall, it is the fence of the Zhukovsky airport) we can exclude the possibility that hooligans will damage the aircraft. The director of the Gromov Flight Research Institute stated that the Institute would donate the land that it will stand on, but will not be able to assist with the restoration or with the accompanying structures in any way. He also endorsed the idea to put up several simple simulators of the 144 cocpit so that the public could get an idea of what it was like to fly the 144.
The other idea is to put it up in the city of Zhukovsky itself - near Gromov Square (the center of the city). If it is to be put up here, it would have to be erected on stilts like in Germany.
There were also some emotions shown at the conference after a reporter asked how this aircraft was sold to a scrap company in the first place - and for the price of it's metal. The question was answered by the aircraft's first pilot - Test Pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union Edward Elyan. He was outraged that this aircraft, especially since it was the very last 144 built, the only one with RD
-36 engines was sold as scrap. According to him, the aircraft should be protected by the state. He compared selling a Tu-144 for the price of it's metal the same as selling a painting by Picasso for the price of it's canvas. He also stated the Aeroflot did not want this aircraft from the start and did everything in their power to stop the Tu-144 project.
After the press conference, all those attending boarded a bus were taken to the airport (with a two car police escort) to see the aircraft in question. For those of you that have not been inside a Tu-144 (I take it that most of you haven't) you notice several things right away. First of all, the nose landing gear is very long, so the L1 door is 5m above the ground. It is quite unusual boarding through such steep and high airstairs. (Just a note - when the Tu-144 was conducting regular flights, the airstairs used to board it had moving steps - it was an escalator). Compared to the 144 it has a very large entry door - I am 188cm tall and I did not have to duck - I do in a Tu-154. The thing that you notice as soon as you enter the aircraft is its very low ceiling (see photo). The ceiling is 190cm. The forward part of the cabin had 3-2 configuration and it goes to 2-2 in the last 4 rows of seats.
As for the cocpit - very cramped. After being used to a Tu-204, I felt like I was in a coffin. Note in the photo that on the throttle the 1 and 4 engines engines have reverse levers - thrust reversers were supposed to be installed on later models of the aircraft.
The suprising thing is that the aircraft still had the "new car" smell after 20 years of standing on a ramp.
Parts of the conference and the aircraft tour were shown on national TV
I also got a chance to talk to Edward Elyan and flight engineer Selevertov - both of these individuals flew every single Tu-144 that was ever built. Edward Elyan was the chief pilot of the Tu-144 test program and also was in command of the Tu-144D that crashed (crash-landed) near Yegoryevsk. He just told me the flight characteristics of the aircraft. He said that on the first flight of the 144 he had to fight to keep the aircraft in the air at low speeds. When the canards were added, it became a whole new plane.
I apologize for taking 5 days to write this. I had a friend visit me in the last serveral days (an A.net member by the way) so I had my hands full.
I attached some photos with this post, if anyone wants more, PM me or I can attach some more if the public wants it
This is the site dedicated to the 144 on the Heroes Club of Zhukovsky site (in Russian) http://testpilots.ru/club/tu144/
Edit: got pictures to work.
[Edited 2006-06-07 23:18:37]
I do not dream about movie stars, they must dream about me for I am real and they are not. - Alexander Popov