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Boeing 2707 SST Competition

The Tu-144 was one of only two first-generation supersonic transports or SSTs (the other being the Anglo-French Concorde) to go into actual production and commercial service. The sleek, double-delta-winged craft was the brainchild of famed Russian aircraft designer Andrei N. Tupolev, who oversaw the development of the Tu-144 as general designer. Andrei Nicholayvich Tupolev was born in 1888 and was responsible for the design of many Russian aircraft. He acted as the general designer for the Tu-144 and after his death in 1972 was succeeded by his son, Alexei. Both Andrei and Alexei Tupolev were present for the maiden flight of a prototype Tu-144.

The Soviet Union's TU-144 won the race into the air. The Tupolev TU-144 prototype became the world's first supersonic transport to make its maiden flight on 31 December 1968. But the crash of a TU-144 during a demonstration flight at the Paris Air Show on 03 June 1973 dealt a serious blow to the Soviet supersonic transport program. As a result of this disastrous crash, the Concorde to beat the Russian SST into commercial passenger service. On 26 December 1975 the Soviet Union inaugurated the world's first regular supersonic airline service, with the departure of a Tupolev-144 from Moscow for Alma-Ata in the Kazakh Republic. But the plane carried only mail and cargo over the 2,500-mile route. On Nov. 1, 1977, the Russian airline Aeroflot inaugurated passenger service with a production model Tu-144 when it flew from Moscow to Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan.

The final Tu-144D version of the aircraft was 215 feet, 6 inches long and 42 feet, 2 inches high with a wingspan of 94 feet, 6 inches. The aircraft is constructed mostly of light aluminum alloy with titanium and stainless steel on the leading edges, elevons, rudder, and the under-surface of the rear fuselage. The Tu-144D was powered by four Koliesov RD-36-51 turbojets which gave it a maximum cruising speed of Mach 2.15 (2.15 times the speed of sound or approximately 1,450 mph) at 59,000 feet altitude. It had a maximum range of less than 2,500 miles and an absolute ceiling of 62,000 feet. The Tu-144D was designed to carry up to 140 passengers, although earlier models used in actual passenger service were configured for only 100 seats.

Sud Aviation and the British Aircraft Corporation had unveiled a prototype of the British-French Concorde, the West's first supersonic transport, in Toulouse, France on 11 December 1967. On 02 March 1969, the Concorde made its first flight. A total of 20 Concordes were built and 14 entered airline service. There were 2 prototypes, 2 pre-production models and 2 "first off the line" production models.

The Concorde measures 204 ft in length, however because of heating that takes place during flight, the air frame stretches between 6 and 10 inches. Although its signature nose droop looks aerodynamic, it was designed to improve pilots' visibility, especially during take off and landing. The Concorde's four engines have been specially modified to produce more than 38,000 lbs of thrust, with the injection and combustion of additional fuel, and this permits the final stage of the engine "burn" to generate the extra power required for take-off and the transition to supersonic flight. Concorde takes off at higher speeds than do subsonic aircraft, 220 knots compared to 165 knots, and landing speeds are also higher. In flight, however, the Concorde handles similarly to other commercial jets.

An advantage for the aircraft at flying high is that travelling at Mach 2 and at 60,000 feet effectively removes any moisture that may have collected on its frame while on the ground - this helps prevent corrosion. While the windows of a subsonic commercial jet feel cool, the Concorde's windows are warm to the touch, due to the heating of the frame that occurs in flight. In addition, at full altitude, encounters with clear air turbulence aren't a concern.

Instead of a round trip fare on a normal subsonic flight of approximately $500 between New York and London, a typical one way ticket on the Concorde would cost more than 12 times this amount - more than $1 per mile! Even with this hefty fare, the on-board amenities aren't particularly noticeable at first. For instance, since the Concorde is smaller than other commercial jets, the seats are slightly smaller.

On 27 April 1973 an FAA rule imposing a virtual ban on civilian supersonic flights over the United States went into effect. The rule, first proposed on 10 April 1970, prohibited any operator of a civil aircraft from exceeding the speed of sound (Mach 1) when flying over the land mass or territorial waters of the United States, except when such operations would not cause a "measurable sonic boom overpressure to reach the surface." This wording left room for certain authorized operations at the lower end of the supersonic speed range. The rule was not seen as a bar to planned operations of the Anglo-French supersonic transport Concorde, which was expected to fly subsonic over US territorial waters and mainland.

On September 20, 1973, a Concorde prototype, in its first visit to the United States, landed at the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport.

On 04 February 1976 Secretary of Transportation William T. Coleman, Jr., announced his decision to permit the Anglo-French supersonic transport Concorde to land in the U.S. on a temporary, restricted basis. Air France and British Airways had made application in Jan 1975 to conduct limited commercial operations with the SST into New York Kennedy and Washington Dulles airports, proposing a maximum of four flights daily into Kennedy and two daily into Dulles. In an environmental impact statement issued in draft in March 1975 and in final on 04 February 1976, FAA recommended granting the application on the grounds that the limited operations could not significantly harm the environment. Secretary Coleman authorized the proposed service for a trial period not to exceed 16 months.

Working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Office of the Secretary, FAA developed plans for noise, sonic boom, and low altitude pollution monitoring of the Concorde to determine its environmental impact during the trial period.

On 21 January 1976 British Airways and Air France began the world's first scheduled supersonic passenger service with simultaneous takeoffs of Anglo-French Concorde SST aircraft from London and Paris for flights to Bahrain and Rio de Janeiro. The London-Bahrain flight, normally 6 hours 30 minutes by subsonic jet, took 4 hours 10 minutes. The Paris-Rio flight, scheduled to take 7 hours 5 minutes (compared with a subsonic time of 11 hours 10 minutes), arrived 40 minutes late.

On 24 May 1976, the Concorde began flying from London and Paris to Washington DC. The flight took 3-hours 35-minutes from London. Devices to monitor noise and emissions were installed at Washington Dulles and surrounding communities, and most were in operation when Concorde service to Dulles began. Intense opposition from environmental and citizen groups in the New York area and a ban by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey delayed Concorde service at Kennedy.

At the end of the 16-month trial of the Anglo-French Concorde supersonic transport at Dulles International Airport, on 23 September 1977 Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams announced proposed permanent rules for civil supersonic transport (SST) operations in the United States. Most of these related to the new noise restrictions adopted in 1977. Secretary Adams proposed to exempt the 16 Concordes manufactured before Jan 1, 1980, from retrofit requirements for older jet transports, while requiring future SST's to meet all noise standards for newer subsonic aircraft. In view of the exceptional loudness of the Concorde, however, the ban on Concorde operations between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. was retained, as was the absolute prohibition on supersonic flight over land. In addition, the Concorde was granted permission to land at Washington, New York, and 11 other American cities.

On October 17, 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the ban by New York's JFK Airport on the Concorde SST, clearing the way for immediate trial flights. On November 22, 1977, the first Concorde flights landed at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The proposed regulations became final on 31 July 1978, after several more public hearings on the subject. At that time, FAA justified its "grandfather clause" for the first 16 Concordes by noting that they constituted the entire production run of the aircraft.

FAA felt that modifications that would bring these aircraft into compliance with subsonic noise standards were neither technologically practicable nor economically reasonable. On the other hand, some restrictions on the Concorde were justified by thorough analysis of FAA test results on the plane's loudness, which showed that the perceived noise generated by a Concorde on its takeoff path was double that of a Boeing 707, four times that of a Boeing 747, and eight times that of a DC-10.

FAA also reviewed a number of environmental concerns that had been expressed about SSTs, the most important of which was the fear that emission from SST engines might damage the ozone layer of the earth's atmosphere. Citing a number of recent research studies, including one submitted by the National Academy of Sciences, FAA concluded that the possibility of such damage from the Concordes was too small to be an immediate concern.

Ultimately, neither the British-French Concorde or Russian TU-144 designs proved to be economically feasible and acceptable to the public.

Limited range and other technical problems led to Tu-144 service being discontinued in 1978 after only 102 passenger flights. A total of 17 Tu-144s were manufactured, including a prototype, two production test versions and 14 production aircraft. The latter included five "D" models which were fitted with different engines.

On 21 September 1979, after meeting in London, aviation officials of France and the United Kingdom agreed to end the unprofitable Concorde production program. Unsold Concordes were allocated to the flag carriers of the two countries--Air France and British Airways. Only sixteen of the supersonic jet transports had been built. Because of its high fuel costs and limited payload, the Concorde had been purchased only by the state airlines of France and Britain.

In 1998 NASA teamed with American and Russian aerospace industries for an extended period in a joint international research program featuring the Russian-built Tu-144LL supersonic aircraft. The object of the program was to develop technologies for a proposed future second-generation supersonic airliner to be developed in the 21st Century. The aircraft's initial flight phase began in June 1996 and concluded in February 1998 after 19 research flights. A shorter follow-on program involving seven flights began in September 1998 and concluded in April 1999. All flights were conducted in Russia from Tupolev's facility at the Zhukovsky Air Development Center near Moscow. The centerpiece of the research program was the Tu 144LL, a first-generation Russian supersonic jetliner that was modified by its developer/builder, Tupolev ANTK (aviatsionnyy nauchno-tekhnicheskiy kompleks-roughly, aviation technical complex), into a flying laboratory for supersonic research. Using the Tu-144LL to conduct flight research experiments, researchers compared full-scale supersonic aircraft flight data with results from models in wind tunnels, computer-aided techniques, and other flight tests. The experiments provided unique aerodynamic, structures, acoustics, and operating environment data on supersonic passenger aircraft. The program concluded after four more data-collection flights in the spring of 1999.

Concorde's fastest Atlantic crossing occurred on February 7, 1996, when it completed the New York to London flight in 2 hours and 53 minutes. Because of the 5 hour difference in time between the east coast of the US and western Europe (4 hours during daylight savings time), when travelling westwards, the Concorde actually arrives before it has departed - local time at least.

An Air France Concorde crashed in a ball of flames soon after take-off from Charles de Gaulle airport, north of Paris, killing all 109 people aboard and four people at a hotel in an outer suburb of Paris on July 25, 2000. A French public prosecutor said in December 2004 there was "a direct causal link" between the Concorde hitting a titanium alloy strip that had fallen off a Continental Airlines DC-10 a few minutes earlier and the bursting of one of the jet's tyres, fragments of which punctured the Concorde's fuel tanks. The crash led Britain and France to withdraw the remaining planes from service until investigations into the cause of the crash were complete. They returned to service at the beginning of November 2001. British Airways and Air France resumed daily Concorde flights into and out of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

As of 2003 British Airways had 7 Concordes and Air France had 5. At that time British Airways had 5 operational Concordes based out of London's Heathrow Airport, while Air France was flying 4 aircraft out of Paris Charles De Gaulle. Of the other two production aircraft which were owned by Air France, one was withdrawn from service and used for spare parts from 1982 onward, and the other crashed in 2000. The remaining 3 aircraft were not modified after the accident and will now not return to flight status with the imminent retirement of Concorde.

But with the new century it was no longer economically viable, even at $8,000 a ticket. Fuel costs had increased, and the Concorde used at least twice as much fuel per hour as the Boeing 747. The maintenance costs were restrictive as well. It used 1950s and 1960s technology, and was expensive to maintain these parts. With the aircraft approaching 30 years of age a large investment program would have been required to update many of the systems on the aircraft. The airlines decided to write off the current levels of investment in the aircraft, of around 100M, rather than risk having to write off sums that could top 200M in the coming years, if the premium travel market did not improve. The premium first class market had declined post September 11th 2001, and there was little hope of the airlines being able to fund this investment and keep the aircraft in profit.

Airbus decided that it would not support Concorde operations, by any airline, beyond October 2003. Air France finished their Concorde in May 2003. And on 26 November 2003 Concorde took off for the last time, ever, flying from Heathrow via the Bay of Biscay into Filton, Bristol, her birthplace. A total of 2.5 million passengers had flown since 1976.

The Concorde aircraft enjoyed a waiver from noise standards for more than 20 years even though it did not meet Stage 2 noise standards. Ending Concorde flights to and from the United States had positive environmental benefits. According to a preliminary 1999 analysis from the FAA, this reduced the noise footprint around New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport by at least 20 percent.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:27:22 ZULU