Tupolev, one of the jewels of the Russian aviation industry, turns 100

TU-154 – Photo by Alexander Usanov, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia

October 22, 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the office of design created by Andrey Nikolayevich Tupolev, which would become the Tupolev Design Bureau, now Tupolev PJSC (part of the United Aircraft Corporation), one of the jewels of Russian aeronautical engineering.

Over a century of existence, Tupolev engineers developed around 300 aircraft and modifications, of which around 90 were implemented in prototypes and more than 40 were built in series. Since 1923, more than 18,000 aircraft named after the famous designer of aircraft were produced.

The beginning and first days

The history of the Tupolev Design Bureau began with the organization of the Commission for the Construction of Aircraft at the Central Aero Hydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI) in October 1922. Andrey Tupolev, a young aircraft designer, was appointed chairman of the commission, which insisted on widespread use. of light metal alloys in aircraft construction, rightly believing that they were the future of aviation.

The first all-metal ANT-2 domestic aircraft (whose name includes Tupolev’s initials and surname) was built in 1924. In it, the designer not only applied the world’s experience of using corrugated metal in the coating, but also improved the process of its manufacture, increasing rigidity and reducing weight, in addition to developing a technology that accelerated the production of mass-produced machines.

Andrey Tupolev – Photo: Public Domain

In 1929, the first Soviet ANT-9 (PS-9) serial passenger aircraft took off. Each of the nine passengers was entitled to a wicker chair by the window with an opening for ventilation.


In 1936, a team of designers led by Tupolev had developed and built around 50 types of aircraft. Among them are the ANT-4 (TB-1) and ANT-6 (TB-3) heavy bombers, which became the base of the USSR’s bomber aviation. At the same time, the TB-1 became the world’s first all-metal twin-engine bomber.

“Our country needs aviation so strong that no one dares to approach our borders”said the designer at the time.

In the mid-1930s, the Tupolev Design Bureau created the world’s largest aircraft, the ANT-20 “Maxim Gorky”. With a wingspan of 63 m and propelled by eight engines, the plane was used for propaganda purposes with resources collected by the population, it could take more than 70 passengers on board.

The sound of the ANT-20 was heard from 30 km away and to control the air giant, servos, innovative at the time, were foreseen in the project. The plane made demonstration and promotion flights for Tupolev, one of which was attended by French writer Saint-Exupéry,

Another aircraft, the ANT-25, set several world records for non-stop flights, such as the famous flight by Valery Chkalov’s crew from the USSR to the US over the North Pole in 1937 and the flight by Mikhail Gromov’s crew en route. straight to California.

ANT-20 – Photo: Public Domain

Tupolev called the record aircraft “a set of technical innovations”. To improve aerodynamics, it used a large-span wing, 2.5 times the fuselage length, and a retractable landing gear. The aircraft wore all-weather navigation equipment throughout the day. On the ANT-37 (a development of the ANT-25), pilots Grizodubova, Osipenko and Raskova set a world flight distance record for a female crew.

Then the ANT-40 SB high-speed bomber became the most massively produced Tupolev aircraft, with more than 6,800 units built. Its speed of over 500 km/h was unique for the mid-1930s – it surpassed the fighters of those years, which allowed the SB to get away from the enemy quickly. In addition, the bomber was able to lift a ton to a height of 12,246 m, setting a world record.


In the period after the Patriotic War, the Tupolev Design Bureau began creating jet planes. The Tu-16 became the first transonic missile bomber. thanks to a design fine-tuned, the optimization of which Tupolev personally monitored daily, the result was an aircraft that took off in 1952 and was operated by Soviet and Russian air forces until the mid-1990s. Its licensed version, Xian H-6, serves in the Chinese Air Force until the mid-1990s. today.

Another star was the Tupolev Tu-95, the world’s fastest and only serial turboprop missile carrier at the time. The effectiveness of the design is evidenced by the fact that the aircraft designs were developed in just eight months and, after another six months, the machine began flight tests. The modernization potential inherent in the Tu-95 allows it to remain in service today.

TU-95 – Photo: RAF, OGL v1.0OGL v1.0, via Wikimedia

On the basis of the Tu-95, the Tu-114 long-range passenger plane was built, on which, in particular, the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, visited the United States. A funny episode was related to this, showing the degree of innovation of the plane: when the Tu-114 arrived in the United States, the host country could not find a suitable passenger ladder due to the unusually high landing gear of the Soviet ocean liner.

Another famous Tupolev aircraft is the Tu-104, the first domestic jet passenger aircraft. It marked the beginning of a long line of Soviet civilian Tupolevs – Tu-124, Tu-134, Tu-154.

Aeroflot star

The Tupolev Design Bureau began developing a passenger aircraft to replace the first medium-haul jet aircraft, the Tu-104, in the 1960s. The new aircraft, which would become the Tu-154, was supposed to be faster and more economical. and, most importantly, transport more passengers (up to 160 people).

The first experimental machine was made in 1966, two years later test pilot Yuri Sukhov took it to the skies, proving the success of the design. In particular, for the first time in the history of the Soviet aviation industry, a civil aircraft used redundancies of the main systems with two of backup. Thus, the possibility of losing control of the aircraft was minimized.

At first, the Tu-154 was used only for postal transport and only in February 1972 it made its first passenger flight on the Moscow – Mineralnye Vody route. In the same year, the first international flight from the Soviet capital to Prague took place. From 1975 to 1984, the Tu-154 underwent modernization, which made it possible to increase the take-off weight to 104 tons, in addition to receiving new economical engines.

TU-154 – Kirill Naumenko, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia

The Tu-154 became the most used domestic passenger aircraft in the Soviet Union. In total, more than 950 aircraft of this type were produced, of which 150 were exported to 15 countries. It served as the basis for the experimental Tu-155, which in the mid-1980s investigated the applicability of cryogenic fuel in aviation. The technology demonstrator has completed 70 flights on liquefied natural gas and five on liquid hydrogen.

Supersonic “You”

In August 1955, the Tupolev Design Bureau began work on a supersonic long-range bomber to replace the Tu-16. As a result, the Tu-22 appeared, the first supersonic missile carrier, adopted by long-range aviation and the aviation of the USSR Navy. Its deeply modernized version continues to serve in the Russian Aerospace Forces.

The variable aperture wing is used on the Tu-160, the largest supersonic aircraft in the history of Russian military aviation and the heaviest combat aviation equipment in the world. The wingspan of the strategic bomber is 55.7 m and the maximum combat load is 45 tons.


The aircraft made its first flight in 1981 and has 44 official world records. Due to its graceful contours, the fighter plane bears the unofficial name of “White Swan”, illustrating the well-known expression of the company founder who says that “only beautiful planes fly well”.

The Tu-144, in turn, became the world’s first mass-produced supersonic passenger aircraft. Its maiden flight in December 1968 was two months before flight tests of the French-British Concorde supersonic aircraft. According to Tupolev, the program to create the Tu-144, which was capable of flying at nearly twice the speed of sound, became the “largest and most complex” in the history of Soviet aircraft construction.

TU-144 – Image: RIA Novosti, by wikimedia commons

It required a qualitative leap in Soviet industry and the development of a number of new technologies. Research was carried out in the field of aerodynamics, materials science, structural deformations and kinetic heating were studied (the skin of the coating was very hot by friction with the atmosphere), new lubricants were created, machines were created, in particular, for welding titanium.

Is today

Today, Tupolev belongs to the state-owned conglomerate UAC, which is part of Rostec, bringing together the entire Russian aircraft industry. The main area of ​​work is the production and modernization of long-range aircraft: Tu-160, Tu-95MS, Tu-22M3 and the development of new aviation systems.

According to TASS, Tupolev is currently developing advanced long-range aircraft designs for the needs of the Russian Aerospace Forces. There is a project for a new generation strategic bomber, with a “flying wing” design, and produced with technologies and materials that reduce visibility in the radar range.

The aircraft will be capable of carrying current and future strategic cruise missiles, high-precision bombs, hypersonic weapons and will be equipped with the latest communications and electronic warfare equipment.

TU-214 – Image: Oleg Belyakov / CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the context of Western sanctions against Russia, the United Aircraft Corporation is increasing production of the Tu-214 civil aircraft. The prototype of this aircraft, still under the code Tu-204, made its first flight in 1989, but the collapse of the USSR and the subsequent underfunding of the aeronautical industry prevented large-scale production. In August 2022, UAC Director General Yuri Slyusar said in an interview that he had decided to increase series production of Tu-214 aircraft to ten units per year.

Earlier, the Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation Vitaly Savelyev, in an interview with TV channel Rossiya-1, said that the airline Aeroflot considers the Tu-214 aircraft as one of the base aircraft of its fleet.

With adaptations, the above text was reproduced from the state news agency TASS.

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