TRANSPORTATION | Mach 0 :: Cold War Concordes :: »Interior of USSR Pavilion and a Tupolev at Expo 67«

Note the Tupolev on the pavilion’s ceiling

Industrial espionage. Stolen plans. Dramatic Crashes. Conspiracy theories. And a paltry 55 scheduled flights before commercial service ended.

The story of the Soviet Union’s ill-fated attempt at producing a Communist version of the Concorde — the so-called »Konkordski« — was a sorry saga of Soviet aspiration and arguably the worst example of the Cold War’s “keeping up with the Jones” rivalry.

Think about it. In order to be economically viable, a SST presupposes an élite class willing to pay a significant premium for a significantly reduced travel time. That equation did not compute in a supposedly egalitarian society.

And where was the Tupolev Tu-144 supposed to fly to on a scheduled basis? Alma-Ata ain’t exactly Rio. Were they planning service to Cuba? Angola?

A still unsolved crash at the Paris Air Show in 1973 was the plane’s first PR disaster. Capitalist espionage is one explanation for the crash — the Konkordski had unique canards that some conspiracists claim were being photographed by the crew of a French Mirage just before the Tu-144 crashed.

That was followed by a crash landing in Alma-Ata in 1978. I imagine the “People’s Air Fleet” found it difficult to find customers after those disasters. Aeroflot put an end to service on 1 June 1978 after the Konkordski’s 55th commercial flight.

So the Tu-144 became a … cargo plane before it all ended (I wonder what cargo the Soviets had that needed transporting at supersonic speed.)

The Tupolev Tu-144 was an aviation disaster of epic proportions. Yet, back in 1967 at Montréal’s expo, inside the Soviets’ swooping pavilion, the model of the plane held the promise and allure of a futuristic future for flight for all.

ABOVE > Tupolev Tu-144, the first supersonic transport aircraft, souvenir sheet of the Soviet Union, 1969, 50 kopecks BELOW > Cockpit