According to the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Moscow-based United Aviation Corporation (UAC) will begin development on a supersonic passenger aircraft by 2022. The aircraft, backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, will be based on the supersonic Tupolev Tu-160 heavy strategic bomber which first flew in 1981.
Denis Manturov, head of the ministry, stated that research studies to improve the Tu-160’s aerodynamic characteristics and load ratio will the first steps toward development. A flight simulator to demonstrate the new aircraft’s capabilities will also be considered.
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“Serious work will have to be completed during the same period to prepare a package of documents aimed at regulating the processes of assessing conformity for ultrasonic passenger jets,” says Manturov.
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The news comes after the early 2018 maiden flight of a newly assembled Tu-160 variant – the Tu-160M2 “Pyotr Deynekin.” Designed by the Tupolev Design Bureau (now Tupolev) in the Soviet Union, the Tu-160 is the largest and heaviest Mach 2+ supersonic aircraft ever built, and second only to the comparable XB-70 Valkyrie in overall length.
Before the Tu-160, Tupolev developed the world's first supersonic passenger plane: the Tu-144. The TU-144 first flew in 1968 – a year before the BAC Concorde’s first flight – and was used for passenger service between 1977 and 1978. Safety and economic issues grounded the Tu-144 and supersonic passenger travel ended until before it was ruled economically unfeasible and potentially unsafe.
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After the Tu-160M2 flight, Putin suggested that Russia’s current economy would support the development and operation of a supersonic passenger aircraft.
“We now need to go back to supersonic passenger travel. We should think about it,” says Putin.
However, many industry experts quoted by Russian state-run news media remained unconvinced that a Tu-160 commercial conversion would be successful, citing that the Tu-160’s airframe would not accommodate the extreme modifications required for civilian transportation.
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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.
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