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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 – 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.
Aeroflot, Russia’s largest carrier, is planning to rid its fleet of Tupolev TU-154 jets and acquiring additional Boeing and Airbus aircraft. It is planning to sell its remaining Tupolev jets, but the airline will still have six Russian built Illyushin Il-96’s to handle some international flights.
This is a big change from an airline that at one time had no Boeing or Airbus aircraft. Aeroflot is hoping to cater more to business travelers and TU-154’s are not known for their quality or silence.
Aeroflot also is looking to lower the cost of its routes. The airline’s chief executive, Vitaly Savelyev, explained the airline is currently losing money on 40% of its routes and looking to avoid thousands of layoffs over the next few years. Instead they are hoping the improved savings with fuel consumption, less maintenance costs, and increase traffic due to flying newer aircraft will allow the airline to avoid layoffs.
With the current global economy and the fact there are hundreds of other older Boeing and Airbus aircraft sitting in the desert, it will most likely be difficult for Aeroflot to find buyers for its 26 TU-154s. Personally it is a bit sad to not be able to see a TU-154 in Aeroflot livery, however it would be worth it to someday see a Boeing 747 or Airbus A380 in the airline’s livery.