Tag Archives: Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget

29 December 1935: Wind, Sand and Stars

Saint Exupéry with André Prévot and their Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY, Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget 29 December 1935.(Succession de Saint-Exupéry d’Agay via Le Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)
Antoine de Saint Exupéry with André Prévot and their Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY, Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget 29 December 1935. (Succession de Saint-Exupéry d’Agay via Le Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)

29 December 1935: Early in the morning, Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger comte de Saint Exupéry took off from Aéroport de Paris–Le Bourget  enroute to Saïgon, Cochin-China, as a participant in the long distance Paris-to-Saïgon “raid,” or air race.

The race was sponsored by the Aéro-Club de France, which had offered a prize of ₣1,200,000 (franc français), approximately £16,000 or $70,000, to the winner, providing the finishing time was less than 90 hours. The distance was estimated at 13,800 miles (22,209 kilometers). Any airplane type could be entered in the race as long as it had an official airworthiness certificate and a flight crew of two, or a single pilot with an autopilot.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry was accompanied by André Prévot as the navigator and flight engineer. The airplane was a red and white Caudron C.630 Simoun, c/n 7042.20. It was registered to Saint Exupéry on  9 April 1935 as F-ANRY, a representation of his name (“ANtoine de Saint ExupéRY”). He had flown the Simoun 8,000 miles (12,875 kilometers) in the eight months he had owned it, “. . .and her engine had not skipped a beat; not a bolt in her had loosened.

Saint Exupery's Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY, prepares to take off at Le Bourget. (Succession de Saint-Exupéry d’Agay via Le Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)
Saint Exupery’s Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY, prepares to take off at Le Bourget. (Succession de Saint-Exupéry d’Agay via Le Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace)

The Société des Avions Caudron C.630 Simoun was a four-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was built of wood, with the surface of the wings and fuselage covered in plywood sheet then covered with doped fabric. Carefully curved aluminum sheet metal covered the top and bottom of the fuselage. The C.630 was 8,70 meters (28 feet, 6½ inches) long with a wingspan of 10,40 meters (34 feet, 1½ inches) and height of 2,25 meters (7 feet, 4½ inches). The airplane’s gross weight was 1,230 kilograms (2,712 pounds).

The engine was an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 9.500 liter (579.736 cubic-inch-displacement) Renault Bengali 6 Pdi inverted inline six-cylinder overhead-valve (OHV) engine with a compression ratio of 5.75:1. It was rated at 180 cheval vapeur (177.5 horsepower) at 2,200 r.p.m. The left-hand-tractor, direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed, metal Helices Ratier variable-pitch propeller. The propeller could be set to coarse pitch by a mechanic prior to takeoff, then an air bladder mechanism could change it to fine pitch for cruise flight. The Bengali 6Pdi weighed 205 kilograms (452 pounds).

The C.630 had a maximum speed of 310 kilometers per hour (193 miles per hour). The service ceiling was 7,500 meters (24,606 feet) and normal range was 1,260 kilometers (783 miles). Twenty C.630s were built before production changed to the slightly improved C.631.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry in the cockpit of his Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY, at Le Bourget, Paris, France. (Succession de Antoine Saint-Exupéry)

After taking off at Paris, Saint Exupéry followed the Seine to the valley of the Loire and continued south, crossing the southern coast of France near Marseilles. The fliers had been over the Mediterranean Sea for a short while when they saw fuel leaking from the left wing. Prévot calculated that they had lost 20 gallons (76 liters) of fuel. They turned back and landed at Marignane to repair the leak and refuel before continuing. Saint Exupéry wrote, “I drank a cup of coffee while the time lost hurt like an open wound.

Once again heading across the Mediterranean toward Tunis, they encountered low clouds and heavy rain which forced them down to just 60 feet (18 meters) over the water. They flew along the coast of Sardinia as the weather improved.

F-ANRY crossed the coast of Africa at Bizerte, Tunisia, and about fifteen minutes later landed to refuel. With two hours of daylight remaining, Saint Exupéry and Prévot took off again, now heading toward Benghazi, Libya. They landed there at 11:00 p.m., local time, and in just twenty minutes the airplane had been refueled and once more, they were airborne.

Flying east after moonset, Saint Exupéry and Prévot were in total darkness. After three hours a faint glow of his navigation lights on the airplane’s wingtips told Saint Exupéry that he had flown into clouds, with visibility measured in just feet.

At a time when there were no navigation aids, pilots had to navigate by their compass, airspeed indicator and clock. Though Saint Exupéry had met with meteorologists to plan his flight, there was no way to update the weather information after takeoff. He had no way of knowing whether an expected tailwind had held, or if it had changed; was his speed across the ground faster or slower than planned? Had the wind blown him right or left of course? Had the atmospheric pressure changed, causing his altimeter to read higher or lower than the airplane actually was? Flying across the emptiness of the  Sahara Desert with no landmarks, in total darkness and now just a few feet of visibility, he and Prévot could only guess at their position.

4 hours, 15 minutes after taking off from Benghazi, the C.630 crashed into gently rising terrain at 170 miles per hour (274 kilometers per hour).

The wreck of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY. (Bureau d’Archives des Accidents d’Avions)

The airplane had slid 250 yards across the surface of the plateau and was heavily damaged, but Saint Exupéry and Prévot were unhurt. However, their water was lost. They were left with “. . . a pint of coffee in a battered thermos flask and half a pint of white wine. . . There were some grapes, too, and a single orange.”

Without food or water, Antoine de Saint Exupéry and Andre Prévot wandered across the desert searching for help. They followed mirages, and frequently recrossed their own tracks. They always returned to the wreck of the Simoun. They experienced delusions.

After four days, they were rescued by Bedouin tribesmen.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry stands next to the wreck of his Caudron C.630 Simoun, F-ANRY. (Bureau d’Archives des Accidents d’Avions)

The location of the crash is uncertain, but is believed to be near Wadi el Natrûn in Egypt, west of the Nile Delta.

Saint Exupéry wrote about the experience in Wind, Sand and Stars, published in 1939. It was the basis for his famous novella, The Little Prince.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince Statue by Christiane Guillaumet, Place Bellecour in Lyon
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince
Statue by Christiane Guillaumet, Place Bellecour in Lyon

TDiA’s Highest Recommendation: Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, translated from the French by Lewis Galantière, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York, New York 10016.

SAINT-EXUPERY, Antoine de. Wind, Sand and Stars. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, (1939). Octavo, original half black cloth, pictorial endpapers, original dust jacket. (Bauman Rare Books)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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17–22 November 1946

Avro Lancastrian C.1 VH742 after installation of Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene Mk.I gas turbine engines. The inboard Merlin engines have been shut down and their propellers feathered. (Royal Air Force)

17 November 1946: A modified Avro 691 Lancastrian C.1, VH742, under the command of Rolls-Royce’s chief test pilot, Captain Ronald Thomas Shepherd, O.B.E., flew from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget (LBG) for 17th Salon de Aviation (Paris Air Show) with two Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene Mk.I turbojet engines for propulsion. The airplane’s two Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 piston engines were shut down, except for takeoff and landing, and their three-bladed propellers were feathered to reduce drag. It was the first-jet-powered passenger transport to fly from one country to another.

A contemporary aviation industry news article described the event:

The Nene-Lanc, Flies to Paris

THE flight of the Nene Lancaster from London to Paris last Monday, to play its part in connection with the exhibition, may be said to have marked a historic part in British aircraft development, for it constituted the first time that any jet-powered airliner had flown from one country to another. Moreover, since this particular aircraft has been flying fairly regularly since round about the time of the Radlett exhibition, the flight to Paris was no special performance, but merely one more public demonstration of its inherent reliability.

In the hands of Capt. R. T. Shepherd, chief test pilot for Rolls-Royce, the “Nene-Lanc” landed at Le Bourget at 10.58 a.m., G.M.T., after a 50-minute flight from London Airport, giving an average speed of 247.5 m.p.h. [398.3 kilometers per hour] Two passengers were carried in addition to the crew; they were Mr. Roy Chadwick, the Avro designer, and Mr. R. B. William Thompson, Chief Information Officer of the Ministry of Supply.

Capt. Shepherd said that he was very pleased with the aircraft’s performance and added that, but for having to circle Le Bourget Airport Twice before landing, the flight would have been completed in 43 minutes.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 1978. Vol. L., Thursday, November 21st, 1946 at Page 561, Column 2.

Five days later, VH742 flew back to England:

Return Trip

THE return of the Nene Lancastrian on Nov. 22nd, direct from Le Bourget to Heathrow, was made in only 49 min, including landing, actual flying time from point to point being 41 min—an average speed of 322 mp.h. [518.2 kilometers per hour] This remarkable performance was in spite a beam wind and the dead weight and drag of the two inboard Merlins, which are only used for takeoff and landing.

Passengers of the return trip included Mr. Roy Chadwick, chief designer and a director of A. V. Roe and Co., Air Comdre. Kirk and Air Comdre. Pike.

FLIGHT and AIRCRAFT ENGINEER, No. 1979., Vol. L., Thursday, November 28th, 1946 at Page 588, Column 1.

Avro Lancastrian (nene engine test bed). © IWM (ATP 14764B)
Avro Lancastrian C.1 VH742 with Rolls-Royce Nene engines. © IWM (ATP 14764B)

The Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene engine first been run in October 1944. It  installed in a Lockheed YP-80A Shooting Star, 44-83027, and the engine was first flown 18 July 1945 with Rolls-Royce test pilot Wing Commander John Harvey Heyworth, A.F.C., in the cockpit. The Nene-powered P-80 had made approximately 30 test flights when it was damaged beyond repair at RAF Syerston, 6 December 1945. With test pilot Andy McDowall flying, a fractured fuel pipe caused the engine to flame out from fuel starvation. McDowall tried to glide to a landing but another airplane was on the runway. He touched down on the grass but the landing gears were pushed up through the Shooting Star’s wings.

The jet fighter had been too small to allow for adequate test equipment. A larger aircraft was needed. The R.A.F. assigned VH742 the role of test aircraft.

The new Lancastrian arrived at the Rolls-Royce Flight Test Establishment at Hucknall Aerodrome, Nottinghamshire, 30 October 1945. The modification was engineered and the airplane was modified. The Lanc’s two outboard Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engines were removed and two Nene Mk.I engines were installed in underslung nacelles. The wing flaps were shortened by 3 feet, 4 inches (1.016 meters) and the ailerons by 10 inches (0.254 meters) to provide clearance from the jet engines’ exhaust. Sheet steel was installed on the lower surfaces of the wings as protect against the heat.

Three fuel tanks were installed in each of the Lancastrian’s wings. The center tank contained gasoline for the Merlin engines, while the inner and outer tanks, plus two auxiliary tanks in the fuselage, carried kerosene for the jet engines. Fuel capacity was 760 gallons (2,877 liters) of gasoline and 2,420 gallons (9,161 liters) of kerosene.

In the Lancastrian’s cockpit, additional instruments were installed for the turbojets: tachometers reading from 0–20,000 r.p.m.; oil pressure gauges, 0–80 p.s.i.; exhaust gas temperature, 400˚–750 ˚C., and exhaust gas pressure.

The first flight of the modified VH742 took place 14 August 1946, with Ronnie Shepherd in the cockpit. Running on the jet engines alone, the airplane was extraordinarily quiet and vibration free. Like all early turbojets, the Nenes were slow to accelerate from low r.p.m. Test pilots had to use caution. Jim and Harvey Heyworth also flew VH742 during the last half of August.

RB.41 Nene. (Rolls-Royce)
RB.41 Nene. (Rolls-Royce)

The Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene Mk.I was developed from the earlier RB.40 Derwent.¹ It was considerably larger and produced nearly double the thrust. It was a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor/single-stage axial-flow turbine, rated at 5,000 pounds of thrust (22.24 kilonewtons) at 12,400 r.p.m. for takeoff.

A second Nene-powered Lancastrian was added to the test fleet at Hucknall the following year. Last Nene flight took place in August 1949.

VH742 had been ordered by the Royal Air Force during World War II as an Avro Type 683 Lancaster B. Mk.III, a very long range heavy bomber, and assigned identity markings PD194. With the end of World War II in Europe, orders for hundreds of Lancaster bombers were cancelled. The partially completed PD194 was modified on the assembly line as a Lancastrian C. Mk.I passenger transport and renumbered as VH742.

The Avro Type 691 Lancastrian was a four-engine civil transport based on the World War II very long range heavy bomber, the Avro Lancaster. The airliner was operated by a flight crew of four and carried one flight attendant. It could carry up to thirteen passengers. The Lancastrian was 76 feet, 10 inches (23.419 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet (31.090 meters) and overall height of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.944 meters). The empty weight was 30,220 pounds (13,707.6 kilograms) and gross weight was 65,000 pounds (29,483.5 kilograms).

The Lancastrian Mk.III was powered by four 1,648.9-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04 liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, Rolls-Royce Merlin T24/2 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines producing 1,650 horsepower and turning three bladed propellers.

The airplane a cruise speed of 245 miles per hour (394.3 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 315 miles per hour (506.9 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 25,500 feet (7,772 meters) and the range was 4,150 miles (6,679 kilometers).

Rolls-Royce test pilots (left to right) Wing Commander John Harvey Heyworth, AFC; Squadron Leader Alexander James Heyworth, DFC and Bar, FRAeS; Captain Ronald Thomas Shepherd, OBE; Wing Commander Andrew McDowall, DSO, AFC, DFM; and Herbert Clifford Rogers, OBE, DFC; with Merlin 632/ Avon-powered Avro Lancastrian C.2 VL970, circa 1949. Each one of these men served as Chief Test Pilot for Rolls-Royce. (Rolls-Royce)
Rolls-Royce test pilots (left to right) Wing Commander John Harvey Heyworth, A.F.C.; Squadron Leader Alexander James Heyworth, D.F.C. and Bar, FRAeS; Captain Ronald Thomas Shepherd, O.B.E.; Wing Commander Andrew McDowall, D.S.O., A.F.C., D.F.M.; and Herbert Clifford Rogers, O.B.E., D.F.C.; with Merlin 632/ Avon-powered Avro Lancastrian C.2 VL970, circa 1949. Each one of these men served as Chief Test Pilot for Rolls-Royce. (Rolls-Royce)

91 Avro Lancastrians were built, including modified Lancaster bombers. The transport variant first flew in 1943. In addition to the Royal Air Force, commercial Lancastrians were operated by British European Airways, British Overseas Airways Corporation and British South American Airways. The last one was retired in 1960.

Rolls-Royce built more than 1,100 RB.41 Nene engines. It was licensed for production by Pratt & Whitney as the J42. Forty Nenes were sold to the Soviet Union under the condition that they would not be used for military purposes. These were reverse-engineered and produced as the Klimov RD-45 which powered the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter.

¹ While Rolls-Royce named its piston-driven aircraft engines after birds of prey, the turbojet engines were named for rivers.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 October 1958

Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 707-121, N711PA, Clipper America, at Idlewild Airport, New York, 26 October 1958. (Pan American World Airways)

26 October 1958: Pan American World Airways opened the “Jet Age” with the first commercial flight of an American jet airliner. Pan Am’s Boeing 707-121 Clipper America, N711PA, departed New York Idlewild (IDL) on an 8 hour, 41 minute flight to Paris Le Bourget (LBG), with a fuel stop at Gander, Newfoundland (YQX). (The actual flight time was 7 hours.) The distance was 3,634 miles (5,848 kilometers). Aboard were 111 passengers and 11 crewmembers.

A Pan Am company publication explained the need for the stop at Gander:

The Jet could not be fully loaded with fuel before takeoff because of weight restrictions imposed at Idlewild. Fuel capacity of the jet is 17,398 gallons, allowing a cruising range of 4,400 miles. But with a full pay load of passengers, only 9,731 gallons could be taken aboard in New York.

Pan American Clipper, Vol. XV, No. 11, November 1958, Page 6, Column 5

The Boeing 707 was developed from the earlier Model 367–80, the “Dash Eighty”. It is a four-engine jet transport with swept wings and tail surfaces. The leading edge of the wings are swept at a 35° angle. The airliner had a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer. The 707-121 is 145 feet, 1 inch (44.221 meters) long with a wing span of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.878 meters). The top of the vertical fin stands 42 feet, 5 inches (12.929 meters) high. The 707 pre-dated the ”wide-body” airliners, having a fuselage width of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.759 meters).

The first versions were powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-6 turbojet engines, producing 11,200 pounds of thrust (49,820 kilonewtons), and 13,500 pounds (60.051 kilonewtons) with water injection. This engine was a civil variant of the military J57 series. It was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 2 stage turbine. The JT3C-6 was 11 feet, 6.6 inches (3.520 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.9 inches (0.988 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,235 pounds (1,921 kilograms).

The airliner’s empty weight is 122,533 pounds (55,580 kilograms). Maximum take off weight (MTOW) is 257,000 pounds (116,573 kilograms). At MTOW, the 707 required 11,000 feet (3,352.8 meters) of runway to take off. Its maximum speed is 540 knots (1,000 kilometers per hour). It had a range of 2,800 nautical miles (5,185.6 kilometers).

The Boeing 707 was in production from 1958 to 1979. 1,010 were built. As of 2011, 43 707s were still in service.

Boeing delivered N711PA to Pan American on 17 October 1958. The airliner was named Clipper America,  but was later renamed Clipper Mayflower. It was leased to Avianca (Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia S.A.) from 1960 to 1962. In April 1965 the 707 was upgraded to the –121B standard. This included a change from the turbojet engines to quieter, more powerful and efficient Pratt and Whitney JT3D-1 turbofans, producing 17,000 pounds of thrust. The wings were modified to incorporate changes introduced with the Boeing 720, and a longer tailplane installed. Pan Ayer of Panama purchased Clipper Mayflower 21 February 1975. It was later leased to Türk Hava Yolları, the Turkish national airline, and went on to serve with Air Asia Company Limited (an Air America aircraft service unit) and E-Systems. After 26 years of service, in August 1984 Clipper America was scrapped at Taipei.

Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 707-121, N711PA, Clipper America, arriving at Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget, Paris, France, 27 October 1958. (Photograph © Jon Proctor. Used with permission.)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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1–2 September 1930

Breguet Br.19 TF Super Bidon Point d’Interrogation

1 September 1930: At 10:54 a.m., local time (09:54 G.M.T.), Dieudonné Costes and Maurice Bellonte ¹ took off from the Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget, in a red Breguet Br.19 TF Super Bidon. Their destination was New York, non-stop across the North Atlantic Ocean.  At 6:12:30 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, 2 September (22:12:30 G.M.T.), they landed at Curtiss Field, Valley Stream, Long Island, New York. The two aviators had flown 5,913 kilometers (3,674 statute miles, 3,193 nautical miles) in a total elapsed time of 37 hours, 18 minutes, 30 seconds.

“Solid black line shows the course that Costes and Bellonte took from Paris. The broken line is the famous Lindbergh route.” (The Brooklyn Daily Times, Wednesday, 3 September 1930, Page 3, Columns 4–6)

More than 25,000 people, including Charles A. Lindbergh, were waiting at Valley Stream to welcome the two French aviators to America.

Breguet Br.19 TF Super Bidon Point d’Interrogation

The Breguet Br.19 TF Super Bidon was named Point d’Interrogation (“Question Mark”—?), because one of the flight’s sponsors—the Coty fragrance company—was a mystery. The airplane is a single-engine, two-place sesquiplane: a biplane with the span of the lower wing substantially shorter than the upper. It was a specially-built long-distance racer which had made its first flight two years earlier, on 23 July 1928. Since then it had been modified from the original TR configuration by lengthening the fuselage, increasing the wing span and the vertical gap between the wings, and increasing the fuel capacity.

The Br.19 TF was 10.718 meters (35 feet, 1.2 inches) long, with an upper wingspan of 18.300 meters (60 feet, 0.5 inches) and lower span of 11.496 meters (37 feet, 8.6 inches). The airplane’s height was 4.080 meters (13 feet, 4.6 inches). The total wing area was 61.940 square meters (666.717 square feet). The Super Bidon had an empty weight of 2,190 kilograms (4,828 pounds) and gross weight of 6,375 kilograms (14,054 pounds).

Costes and Bellonte at Boston, 1930 (Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library)

Two main fuel tanks were placed between the engine and the crew’s cockpits. The tanks’ walls made up the fuselage surface in that area. The total fuel capacity was 5,570 liters (1,471 U.S. gallons), with two additional 166 liter (44 gallon) jettisonable tanks located under the lower wing. (These were removed just prior to takeoff.) The engine was provided with 220 liters of lubricating oil.

The Br.19 TF was powered by a liquid-cooled, normally-aspirated, 36.050 liter (2,199.892-cubic-inch-displacement) Société Française Hispano-Suiza 12Nb single-overhead-cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which produced 650 cheval-vapeur (641 horsepower) at 2,100 r.p.m. The direct-drive V-12 turned a two-bladed metal propeller.
The Super Bidon has a maximum speed of 250 kilometers per hour (155 miles per hour), and range of 6,700 kilometers (4,163 statute miles).
Dieudonné Costes
Maurice Bellonte (cropped image) NASM
Breguet Br.19 TF, “?”.

¹    Paris, Sept 1 (U.P.)—Dieudonné Coste and the Air Ministry have disagreed over the proper way to spell the famous flyer’s name.

     Not long ago the flyer said he preferred to spell his name “Coste,” dropping the final”s.” which he used until a year ago. He signed autographs without the final “s” before departing for New York. The Air Ministry insisted, however, that the official spelling is “Costes.”

     Coste’s name is pronounced to rhyme with “lost,” making the final letter silent.

     Bellonte’s name is pronounced “Bell-ont,” to rhyme with “jaunt.”

The Evening Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, Vol. 41, Monday 1 Spetmber 1930, Page 1, Column 3.

 

and Maurice Bellonte

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3 June 1973

Tupolev Tu-144S CCCP-77102 at the Paris Air Show. © Aris Pappas

3 June 1973: While maneuvering at low altitude at the Paris Air Show, the first production Tupolev Tu-144S, CCCP-77102, Aeroflot’s new Mach 2+ supersonic airliner, broke apart in midair and crashed into a residential area. All six crew members and eight people on the ground died. Another 25 were injured.

The Tu-144 was built by Tupolev OKB at the Voronezh Aviation Plant (VASO), Pridacha Airport, Voronezh. It was a large delta-winged aircraft with a “droop” nose for improved low speed cockpit visibility and retractable canards mounted high on the fuselage behind the cockpit. It was flown by a crew of 3 and was designed to carry up to 140 passengers.

77106 is 65.50 meters (215 feet, 6.6 inches) long, with a wingspan of 28.00 meters (91 feet, 10.4 inches). The tip of the vertical fin was 11.45 meters (37 feet, 6.8 inches) high. The 144S has a total wing are of 503 square meters (5,414 square feet). Its empty weight is 91,800 kilograms (202,384 pounds) and the maximum takeoff weight is 195,000 kilograms (429,901 pounds). (A number of Tu-144S airliners had extended wing tips, increasing the span to 28.80 meters (94 feet, 5.9 inches) and the wing area to 507 square meters (5,457 square feet).

An Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-144S supersonic transport, CCCP-77106, loading cargo at Demodovo before its third commercial flight, 1976. (© Valeriy A. Vladimirov)

The Tu-144S was powered by four Kuznetsov NK-144A engines. The NK-144 is a two-spool axial-flow turbofan engine with afterburner. It uses a 2-stage fan section, 14 stage compressor section (11 high- and 3 low-pressure stages), and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It is rated at 147.0 kilonewtons (33,047 pounds of thrust) for supersonic cruise, and 178.0 kilonewtons (40,016 pounds of thrust) with afterburner for takeoff. The NK-144A is 5.200 meters (17 feet, 0.7 inches) long, 1.500 meters (4 feet, 11.1 inches) in diameter and weighs 2,827 kilograms (6,233 pounds).

The 144S has a cruise speed of Mach 2.07 (2,200 kilometers per hour/1,367 miles per hour) with a maximum speed of Mach 2.35 (2,500 kilometers per hour/1,553 miles per hour). The service ceiling is approximately 20,000 meters (65,617 feet). Its practical range is 3,080 kilometers (1,914 miles).

In actual commercial service, the Tu-144 was extremely unreliable. It was withdrawn from service after a total of just 102 commercial flights, including 55 passenger flights.

The cause of the accident is not known, other than the obvious structural failure, but there is speculation that the Tu-144 was trying to avoid another airplane. You Tube has several video clips of the accident. This one, beginning at 1:10, has the best visuals of the inflight break up:

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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