The Tu-144: The Future That Never Was

RIA Novosti - 03-06-2008

1  MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) – Thirty-five years ago, on June 3, 1973, a Tu-144 supersonic airliner crashed during a demonstration flight at Le Bourget in France. The first and last Soviet supersonic passenger plane, which was the fastest commercial aircraft in history, opened the way for liners of a new class. Unfortunately, the road proved too short.

Work on the Tu-144 began in 1960, practically at the same time as the Anglo-French Concorde project. Tupolev has often been criticized for using industrial espionage to copy Concorde technological decisions, but most specialists say similarities between the aircraft were due to similar solutions found by designers for one and the same problem.

The Tu-144 first took to the air on December 31, 1968, two months ahead of the Concorde. Five months later, on June 5, 1969, it became the first passenger airliner to break the sound barrier.

In general, the Tu-144 was on a par with its European counterpart, but surpassed it in maximum speed and service ceiling, which resulted in lower noise levels over towns it overflew.

The Tu-144, however, suffered from a traditional shortcoming of Soviet aviation – it guzzled fuel. The defect was partly compensated for by its highly aerodynamic design, which ensured a flight distance of 6,500 km on a fuel supply of 70 tons. The Concorde, with 95 tons of fuel, covered a distance of 7,500 km.

But the Soviet liner had no luck. Its first major setback came on June 3, 1973. The disaster was caused by a French Mirage fighter appearing in the flight zone, which had climbed to take pictures of the liner. The sharp maneuver to avoid a collision led to a loss of control and the plane fell to the ground. The disaster killed 13 people – 7 on the ground and 6 crew.

This disaster, however, did not prevent the Tu-144 from beginning commercial flights. Its Moscow - Alma-Ata flights started on December 26, 1975, but they were short-lived. The career of the world's first supersonic passenger jet was ended by a second disaster when, on May 23, 1978, an advanced prototype, the Tu-144D, fitted out with improved engines, made a forced landing near the Moscow Region town of Yegoryevsk, caused by flames that erupted as one of the fuel lines burst. Two of the seven crew members were killed.

On June 1, 1978, Aeroflot's management decided to cancel Tu-144 passenger flights. One of the improved Tu-144Ds was used for a time on the Moscow-Khabarovsk route to deliver urgent cargo. Between 1995 and 1999, another Tu-144 was exploited as a flying laboratory in a joint Russian-American program to look into the future of supersonic air travel.

Aside from the disasters, another factor that killed the Tu-144 was its low commercial potential – the Concorde, which was also expensive to operate, managed to turn a profit, thanks to the large numbers of people in the West who considered time to be money and needed fast intercontinental travel. In the Soviet Union, such people did not exist at all, which automatically made the Tu-144 a superfluous. In the eight years of its production in the Soviet Union, only sixteen planes were built. Seven of them are now in aviation museums in Russia and abroad.

10  Concorde went commercial in 1976. Two companies – British Airways and Air France – flew the planes on the route from Paris or London to New York. The usual seven-hour flight time was cut to three and a half. Altogether, 14 Concorde aircraft were built, of which British Airways used five, and Air France, four. The others were employed as stand-bys and later as sources of spare parts.

11  Although the Concorde trod a precarious path between profit and loss, the airlines stuck to it – the airliner provided a sort of insignia for French and British civil aviation. But eventually an air disaster put a stop to its operation, as in the case with the Tu-144.

12  On July 25, 2000, Concorde No. 203 of Air France took off on a flight from Paris (Charles de Gaulle Airport) to New York. As it was climbing, its landing gear tripped across a 40-cm metal strip that had come off the thrust reverser of an engine on a DC-10 aircraft which had taken off a few minutes before. The piece struck and made a hole in the lining of one of the fuel tanks. The fuel that flowed out caught fire in the engine's jet stream. The crew tried to continue taking off, turn around and land on the nearby aerodrome at Le Bourget but failed. The Concorde crashed, killing all 109 people on board, and another four on the ground. By a grim irony, it hit the ground just a few kilometers from the spot where the Tu-144 was wrecked in 1973.

13  The disaster required the costly upgrading of the other airliners to make them safer, but that did not save the liner – supersonic travel lost its appeal, and became unprofitable. The final line was drawn by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, which dealt a serious blow to passenger aviation. In 2003, all Concordes were withdrawn from service.

14  Current work on a new generation of supersonic passenger planes in many countries, including Russia, is concerned only with theoretical principles – growing petroleum prices practically rule out the commercial success of such aircraft, while engines burning alternative fuels are still a long way off.

© RIA Novosti (



par. 1

par. 1
to open the way for frayer la voie pour
unfortunately (adv) malheureusement

par. 2

par. 2
designer concepteur

par. 4

par. 4
to be on a par with être l'égal de
counterpart homologue (n)
to surpass (tr) dépasser, surclasser
to overfly (-flew, -flown) (tr) survoler

par. 5

par. 5
shortcoming (n) défaut
to guzzle fuel (to guzzle : engloutir) siffler du carburant
to compensate for a defect compenser un défaut

par. 6

par. 6
major setback sérieux revers
to climb (intr) grimper, prendre de la hauteur
sharp maneuver manœuvre brusque

par. 7

par. 7
to be short-lived être de courte durée, ne pas durer longtemps
advanced protoype protoype évolué
to be fitted out with être équipé de
improved engines réacteurs améliorés

par. 8

par. 8
to cancel (tr) annuler
to look into the future of se pencher sur l'avenir de

par. 9

par. 9
aside from (loc. prép.) en dehors de
in the West en Occident
abroad (adv) à l'étranger

par. 10

par. 10
altogether (adv) en tout et pour tout

par. 11

although (conj.) bien que, quoique
to tread (trod, trodden) a precarious path between... and... louvoyer de façon précaire entre... et..., suivre une ligne ténue entre... et...
to stick (stuck 2) to ne pas se séparer de
to provide a sort of insignia for (insignia, pl inv. ou insignias : insignes) être comme le fleuron de
eventually (adv) (fa) finalement

par. 12

par. 12
to trip across sth passer sur qch (en trébuchant)
to come off sth tomber de qch (en parlant d'une pièce, d'un bout de qch)
to strike (struck 2) (tr) heurter
lining (n) revêtement
to turn around faire demi-tour
to land (intr) atterrir
to fail (intr) échouer
By a grim irony Ironie tragique, ...
spot (n) endroit

par. 13

par. 13
costly (adj) coûteux
upgrading (n) modernisation, mise à niveau
to make safer rendre plus sûr, accroître la sécurité de
to lose (lost 2) one's appeal perdre de son attrait
to become unprofitable commencer à perdre de l'argent
to draw (drew, drawn) the final line mettre un coup d'arrêt final
to deal (dealt 2) a serious blow to porter un rude coup à

par. 14

par. 14
current (adj) actuel, en cours
including (prép.) y compris
theoretical principles principes théoriques
to rule out (tr) écarter, exclure (telle ou telle éventualité)
while (conj.) alors que
alternative fuel carburant de remplacement
to be still a long way off être encore bien loin



I - Vocabulaire de l'avion et de ses caractéristiques
- Trouver dans le texte la traduction de / Find in the text the translations for:

profil aérodynamique (§5)  
distance de vol (§5)  
réserve de carburant (§5)  
réacteurs améliorés (§7)  
conduites de carburant (§7)  
train d'atterrissage (§12)  
inverseur de poussée (§12)  
réservoirs de carburant (§12)  
le souffle du réacteur (§12)  

II - Vocabulaire de l'aviation commerciale supersonique
- Trouver dans le texte la traduction de / Find in the text the translations for:

avion de ligne (§1)  
vol de démonstration (§1)  
avion de transport de passagers (§1)  
aéronef commercial (§1)  
briser le mur du son (§3)  
plafond d'exploitation (§4)  
inaugurer les vols commerciaux (§7)  
avion de ligne à réaction (§7)  
membres d'équipage (§7)  
acheminer des cargaisons urgentes (§8)  
potentiel commercial (§9)  
être d'une exploitation coûteuse (§9)  
faire des bénéfices (§9)  
déplacements intercontinentaux (§9)  
passer au stade de l'exploitation commerciale (§10)  
faire voler un avion entre... et... (§10)  
durée de vol (§10)  
servir d'appareils de réserve (§10)  
servir d'appareils à cannibaliser (§10)  
compagnie aérienne (§11)  
décoller (§12)  
mettre un terme à son exploitation  (§11) (son = its)  
un vol Paris - New-York (§12)  
l'aviation commerciale (§13)  
être mis hors service (§13)  

III - Vocabulaire de l'accident d'avion
- Trouver dans le texte la traduction de / Find in the text the translations for:

s'écraser (§1)  
catastrophe aérienne (§6 et 11)  
éviter une collision (§6)  
perte des commandes (§6)  
tomber au sol (§6)  
faire un atterrissage forcé (§7)  
jaillir (en parlant des flammes) (§7)  
exploser (en parlant de conduites de carburant) (§7)  
prendre feu (§12)  
percuter le sol (§12)  
se briser (§12)  

IV - Empilements
- Traduire en français les exemples suivants / Translate the following examples into French


RIA Novosti military commentator (§1) Trad. :
en 1 : military commander, avec commander en 1a et military en 1b  
en 2 : RIA Novosti (reste tel quel)  
TU-144 supersonic airliner (§1) Trad. :
en 1 : supersonic airliner, avec airliner en 1a et supersonic en 1b  
en 2 : TU-144  
(the) first and last Soviet supersonic passenger plane (§1) Trad. :
en 1 : first and last (garder l'ordre)  
en 2 : passenger plane  
en 3 : supersonic  
en 4 : Soviet  
(the) fastest commercial aircraft (§1) Trad. :
en 1 : commercial aircraft, avec aircraft (aéronef) en 1a et commercial en 1b  
en 2 : fastest  
(the) Anglo-French Concorde project (§2) Trad. :
en 1 : Concorde project , avec project en 1a et Concorde en 1b  
en 2 : Anglo-French (garder l'ordre)  
Concorde technological decisions (§2) Trad. :
en 1 : technological decisions, avec decisions (choix) en 1a et technological en 1b  
en 2 : Concorde  
lower noise levels (§4) Trad. :
en 1 : noise levels, avec levels (niveaux) en 1a et noise en 1b  
en 2 : lower  
highly aerodynamic design (§5) Trad. :
en 1 : design  
en 2 : highly aerodynamic, avec highly en 2a et aerodynamic en 2b  
Moscow - Alma-Ata flights (§7) Trad. :
en 1 : flights  
en 2 : Moscow - Alma-Ata (garder l'ordre)  
Moscow Region town (§7)  
en 1 : town  
en 2 : Moscow Region avec Region en 2a et Moscow en 2b  
TU-144 passenger flights (§8) Trad. :
en 1 : passenger flights, avec flights en 1a et passenger en 1b  
en 2 : TU-144  
Moscow-Khabarovsk route (§8) Trad. :
en 1 : route  
en 2 : Moscow-Khabarovsk (garder l'ordre)  
joint Russian-American program (§8) Trad. :
en 1 : Russian-American program, avec program en 1a et Russian-American en 1b (garder l'ordre)  
en 2 : joint (conjoint)  
supersonic air travel (§8) Trad. :
en 1 : air travel, avec travel (transport) en 1a et air en 1b  
en 2 : supersonic  
low commercial potential (§9) Trad. :
en 1 : commercial potential, avec potential en 1a et commercial en 1b  
en 2 : low  
fast intercontinental travel (§9) Trad. :
en 1 : intercontinental travel, avec travel en 1a et intercontinental en 1b  
en 2 : fast  
usual seven-hour flight time (§10) Trad. :
en 1 : flight time, avec en 1a time et en 1b flight  
en 2 : seven-hour (garder l'ordre)  
en 3 : usual  
French and British civil aviation (§11) Trad. :
en 1 : civil aviation avec aviation en 1a et civil en 1b (rendre  aviation par un pluriel)  
en 2 : French and British (garder l'ordre)  
40-cm metal strip (§12) Trad. :
en 1 : metal strip avec strip (bande) en 1a et en 1b metal  
en 2 : 40-cm (garder l'ordre)  
the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack Trad. :
en 1 : terrorist attack avec attack en 1a et terrorist en 1b  
en 2 : September 11, 2001 (intervertir les deux premiers termes)  
supersonic passenger planes (§14) Trad. :
en 1a : passenger planes avec planes en 1a et passenger en 1b  
en 2 : supersonic  
growing petroleum prices (§14) Trad. :
en 1 : petroleum price avec en 1a price et en 1b petroleum  
en 2 : growing (en hausse)  

V - Cas possessifs
- Traduire en français les exemples suivants / Translate the following examples into French

the world's first supersonic passenger jet  (§7) :
comprendre the first supersonic passenger jet of the world
Trad. :
Aeroflot's management (§8) : Trad. :
comprendre the management (direction, dirigeants (pl)) of Aeroflot  
the engine's jet stream (§12) : Trad. :
comprendre the jet stream of the engine  

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To print, use landscape mode

© Christian Lassure - EFT
Le 5 avril 2010 / April 5th, 2010

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