Browsing Tag: Tupolev

A Tu-95MS off the coast of Scotland. Photo - United Kingdom Ministry of Defense.

A Tu-95MS off the coast of Scotland – Photo: United Kingdom Ministry of Defense

If it is possible to have a favorite aircraft, mine would be the Tupolev Tu-95.

The story of the Tu-95 goes back to 1944. During the Great Patriotic War, the Soviets watched with both awe and horror as the Boeing B-29 Superfortress devastated Japan. It was decided that the Air Force needed an aircraft of similar heft and range, lest the Soviets be held hostage by an American bomber gap. At the time, other than the Petlyakov Pe-8, the Soviets had limited bombing capability outside the tactical arena. Sure, they had Li-2s and obtained the occasional B-24 or B-17, but in terms of presenting a threat, there was nothing of the sort.

Three TU-95s fly over Russia in 2012 - Photo: Andrey Belenko | FlickrCC

Three TU-95s fly over Russia in 2012 – Photo: Andrey Belenko | FlickrCC

The Air Force went forth and tasked Andrei Tupolev and Vladimir Myasishchev to design their own heavy bombers. Little was written of Myasishchev’s “objects 202 and 302”, other than that they were similar to B-29s in many ways. Tupolev parried with something commonly referred to as “object 64.” Imagine a fatter B-29 with a twin-tail and 23mm cannon in place of 50 caliber machine guns. Was it a copy of the B-29 – absolutely not. It’s just what engineering doctrine of the time would have you do. “Object 64” would have had a range of about 2,500 miles and a payload of about 10,000 pounds.

The designs of both Myasishchev and Tupolev progressed nicely. However, due to the exigencies of the war, sourcing the materials needed to produce any of the three designs was proving difficult. Stalin saw this. Stalin, after all, saw pretty much everything.

Now, when this decision was made is a bit of a historical question- however, it was decided that the B-29 was already the ideal strategic bomber. So, why not directly copy it?! Luckily, that same year (1944) some U.S. Army Air Corps B-29s had made emergency landings in the Soviet Far East. Due to neutrality in the Pacific Theater, the Russians impounded these aircraft. Copying them could never have been easier.

The Slovak Government Tupolev Tu-154M  Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

The Slovak Government Tupolev Tu-154M – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Not too many opportunities exist in this day and age where one can still take flight on a classic Russian aircraft, let alone in a VIP configuration. Recently, I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in a  flight onboard a Slovak Government Flying Service (SSG) Tupolev TU-154M. For me, this would be my first-ever flight on a Russian aircraft, and to say I was excited would be an understatement.

Time to board my first Russian aircraft Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Time to board my first Russian aircraft – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

The flight would be an empty ferry sector from Prague-Bratislava, a short 40-minute hop, but I knew I would savor every minute. SSG presently has four aircraft in its fleet, but only three are in operational service. The fleet consists of two Tupolev TU-154Ms (reg numbers OM-BYO and OM-BYR), with the latter being used for spare parts.

The remaining two aircraft are Yakovlev YAK-40s (reg numbers OM-BYE and OM-BYL). The Slovak Government not only carries out various head of state and other VIP missions, it also participates in various humanitarian and troop-carrying missions on behalf of the Slovak Government.

LAM Ilyushin Il-62 - Photo: Colin Cooke / Flickr CC

LAM Ilyushin Il-62 – Photo: Colin Cooke / Flickr CC

In the Western world, when it comes to aircraft production, it is pretty much common that the aircraft designer is also the manufacturer of said aircraft. For example, in the United States, Boeing, Lockheed, and McDonnell Douglas were the three big manufacturers of civil aircraft through the 1990’s. All three of these companies employed many thousands of engineers designing every part of each aircraft family, and then would hand the design over to many thousand more factory workers who would build the aircraft at vast company-owned factories. In the former Soviet Union (USSR), things worked a little differently.

When one thinks of Soviet-era aircraft, one normally thinks of the very popular civil designs by Ilyushin and Tupolev. But what most do not realize is that these famous companies were not in the business of aircraft manufacturing. Within the Soviet Union, the aviation industry was governed by three main government organizations: the Ministry of Aviation Industry (Министерство авиационной промышленности, or MAP), the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Министерство гражданской авиации, or MGA), and the Ministry of Defense (Министерство обороны, or MO).

I bet most people thought this was a joke! Photo by Chris Sloan | Airchive

I bet most people thought this was a joke! Photo: Chris Sloan | Airchive.com

The 1970s were a time of economic malaise for the west. Weirdly, the Soviet Union was chugging along at its own egregious and bizarre pace, and Soviet air travel needs had never been more pressing. Millions of Warsaw Pact and Soviet citizens needed to shuttle around the Iron living room. In fact, Aeroflot celebrated its hundred-millionth-passenger year in 1976. This called for larger aircraft. Engine technology issues were holding up Ilyushin’s domestic design, which we now know as the mostly-extinct IL-86.

The program to which the IL-86 stemmed from was formally known as the “aerobus”. The IL-86 was not supposed to be the only aircraft of the family of short, medium, and long-haul indigenous widebody aircraft.

Believe it or not, Tupolev almost built a similar- but widebody aircraft to the Dassault Mercure. Photo by Alain Durand

Believe it or not, Tupolev almost built a similar aircraft (but widebody) to the Dassault Mercure. Photo: Alain Durand

Tupolev had stepped up to offer the Tu-184, an aircraft that was similar to a twin-aisle Dassault Mercure. Thankfully, at the time of its inception Andre Tupolev was still alive. He took one look at it and decided that the company should not waste any resources on what he was sure would be nothing but a reputation-wrecking disaster. Not that Tupolev was immune to civil aviation failures, they are simply beyond the scope of this article. They were also, usually, swept under the rug and blamed on Myashischev (a competing design bureau).

Alrosa Mirny Air Enterprise Tupolev TU-154M (RA-85684) sits in the mud outside a small, closed, regional airport.

Alrosa Mirny Air Enterprise Tupolev TU-154M (RA-85684) sits in the mud outside a small, closed, regional airport.

On September 7, 2010 a Alrosa Mirny Air Enterprise Tupolev TU-154M (registration number RA-85684), took off from Udachny Russia, heading to Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow. While cruising at about 35,000 feet, it experienced an electrical failure, causing the loss of their navigational systems and fuel pumps, leaving the pilots only 30 minutes worth of fuel.

The TU-154M sits about 520 feet past the end of the runway at Izhma Airport.

The TU-154M sits about 520 feet past the end of the runway at Izhma Airport.

To make matters worse, the pilots also lost control their flaps, slats and radio system. Luckily they found that Izhma Airport was close to attempt an emergency landing, but there was a bit of bad news. First of all the runway was closed and no longer in use, plus it was only 4,347 feet long. Typically, the TU-154M needs a runway over 7,200 feet long to stop safely. Since they were short on options, they made the attempt to land anyhow.

The Alrosa TU-154M took quite a beating, running off the end of the runway.

The Alrosa TU-154M took quite a beating, running off the end of the runway.

The pilots made two attempts to land before finally putting the aircraft down on the third try. The odds were against the plane, as it did not have control of flaps to slow down and it ended up running about 520 feet off the end of the runway, through trees, bushes and mud.

Airliners were not made to hit trees and bushes. They did a number of the body of the TU-154M.

Airliners were not made to hit trees and bushes. They did a number of the body of the TU-154M.

Amazingly, after the aircraft came to a complete stop, all 81 passengers and crew were able to safely evacuate the aircraft and no injuries were reported. It was determined that the batteries overheated causing a thermal runaway, affecting the failed components of the aircraft.

The two pilots of Flight 514: Andrei Lamanov and Yevgeny Novoselov.

The two pilots of Flight 514: Andrei Lamanov and Yevgeny Novoselov stand in front of TA-85684

The two pilots of Flight 514: Andrei Lamanov and Yevgeny Novoselov were regarded as heros for their successful landing of the stricken aircraft. They were made Heros of the Russian Federation, which is the highest honorary title that a Russian Federation citizen can received. The other seven crew members were rewarded with Orders of Courage. Passengers were rewarded with their lives and an incredible story to tell for the rest of their lives.

After minimum repairs, Alrosa's TU-154M took off from Izhma Airport.

After minimum repairs, Alrosa’s TU-154M took off from Izhma Airport – Photo: Aleksey Nagaev

So now what? Alrosa had this “Lucky TU-154M” that was damaged at an airport that doesn’t have a runway long enough for it to properly take off. Well, if there is a will, there is a way and the airline decided to make needed repairs to get the aircraft back in the air.

About six and a half months after the Tupelov crash landed, enough repairs were completed to get it airborne again. After reducing its weight as much as possible, on March 23, 2011 the TU-154M successfully took off from Izhma Airport and flew to Ukhta, Komi Republic for additional inspections. Finally it was sent to Samara where final repairs were completed before the aircraft was placed back into service.

The TU-154M was designed to successfully operate in Russian’s tough climate and air infrastructure and it seemed to pay off. I am not quite sure how other aircraft might have fared during the same situation.

More good Alrosa TU-154M Flight 514 stuff:
* More photos of the TU-154M
* Photos of the airplane on Airliners.net
* More on The Moscow Times