17 Naberezhnaya Akademika Tupoleva
Although it has designed everything from sleighs to spacecraft, Aviacionny Nauchno-Tehnicheskii Komplex im. A.N. Tupoleva (ANTK Tupolev, or Tupolev) is best known for its large airplanes. If you add "bigger" to "higher, faster, farther," you have a good operating philosophy for the company. Tupolev aircraft also have a reputation for durability. According to aviation writer Bill Gunston, "The name Tupolev... deserves to be the most famous in the whole history of aircraft design."
Birth of Flight
Andrei Nikolayevich Tupolev grew up in a well-educated, liberal family of modest means that worked a small farm in the Tver region of Russia. He discovered a passion for physics at an early age and was introduced to gliders at the illustrious Imperial Moscow Higher Technical Institute, where he began studying under the pioneer Russian aviator N. Zhukovsky. Tupolev built a wind tunnel for the school and assembled a detailed model airplane, earning his place as Zhukovsky's protegé.
In 1911, Tupolev was expelled from the Technical Institute for his part in organizing student strikes. He spent the following year working the family farm in Pustomazovo and diligently educating himself. Upon returning to Moscow, Tupolev busied himself not only with formal studies but with various aviation projects, such as studying hydroplanes (the subject of his academic thesis) for the Duks Factory. In 1916, his mentor invited him to join the country's first design bureau. He would retain Zhukovsky's emphasis on heavy aviation--large bombers and transports--throughout his life.
After the October Revolution in 1917, Tupolev and most of his colleagues threw their lots with the "new forces" of Soviet power. World War I proved the military power of aviation and these scientists encouraged the Soviet government to establish the Central Aero-Hydronamics Institute (TsAGI). A bout with tuberculosis took Tupolev out of commission in 1919.
Tupolev's first design, a sleek monoplane with wings free of World War I-style braces and struts, was constructed mostly of an aluminum alloy reverse-engineered from German airframes. Dubbed the ANT-1 after Tupolev's initials, the "Little Bird" (its motor was only rated at 35 horsepower) first flew in 1922. A second design, the 100-horsepower ANT-2, followed in 1924. Although only five of the latter were built, the small passenger plane confirmed the viability of all-metal construction.
The Air Force then commissioned the ANT-3 (or R-3) reconnaissance plane. Tupolev made it a biplane to give it the required maneuverability. The ANT-4 and ANT-5 monoplane bombers compared favorably with the most modern foreign designs, further cementing Tupolev's reputation. In addition, several of his associates, including Pavel Sukhoi, would eventually become esteemed general designers in their own right.
In the 1930s, Tupolev built the world's largest plane, the monstrous, eight-engined ANT-20 passenger aircraft. Other notable creations included the ANT-25, which set a world distance record, and the ANT-40 "SB" light bomber, which was widely used by the Red Air force at the outbreak of World War II. The TsAGI was reorganized in 1933 and a section designated the A.N. Tupolev Experimental Design Bureau. Tupolev also served as chief engineer of the Aviation Industry Administration, working to build large aircraft factories.
Reign of Terror
In spite of his stature (including winning the Order of Lenin, the U.S.S.R.'s top honor), Tupolev could not escape Stalin's paranoia and in October 1937 he was imprisoned for allegedly supplying Germany with the design for the Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighter-bomber. He was allowed to resume his design work behind bars after about a year, for a period returning to his former offices, now themselves converted to a prison. Among his new comrades: Sergei Korolyev, who would lead the Soviet space program. The incarcerated team completed the Tu-2, a fast, capable, light bomber, which, like the Bf 110, sported twin engines and twin tails. Tupolev was freed in July 1941, but continued to work with the "special prison workshop," which in the fall was transported to Siberia to avoid advancing German forces.
Though he would describe Tupolev as energetic and affable in his memoirs, another, younger aircraft designer, Aleksandr Yakovlev, criticized the poor performance of Tupolev's planes against Messerschmitt fighters in the Spanish Civil War. Yakovlev was Stalin's aviation advisor and also questioned Tupolev's "conscientiousness," according to a samizdat account of the period. Yakovlev's interventions consistently frustrated Tupolev's efforts to build winning designs.
Stalin had long desired a long-range strategic bomber, and the Japanese theater gave the Soviet Union a chance to develop one. Three American B-29 Superfortresses, short of fuel, made emergency landings in Vladivostok in 1944 and Tupolev was ordered to reverse engineer a copy (known as the Tu-4) of the complex, state-of-the-art aircraft.
After World War II, Tupolev's firm constructed a handful of long-range bombers incorporating technology originally gleaned from the Boeing B-29. The highly successful Tu-16, code-named "Badger" by NATO forces, incorporated swept wings and jet engines. The Tu-95 "Bear" used the ingenious configuration of contra-facing propellers mounted on jet turbines to achieve both high speed and intercontinental range. It reportedly stayed in production longer than any other aircraft except for the Piper Cherokee. Its passenger version, the Tu-114, became a mainstay of the Aeroflot fleet. One of them flew Nikolai Khrushchev to the United States in 1956.
Conflicts in Southeast Asia spurred the development of ground attack aircraft and supersonic fighters and bombers. Aeroflot's requirements produced the Tu-124, ubiquitous throughout the 1960s, and its successor, the three-engined Tu-154, introduced in 1968. New versions of the latter were continually developed, and the plane continued to serve with the airlines of various republics well after the breakup of the Soviet Union. It was also exported to 17 foreign countries.
The Tu-144 supersonic transport (SST) was created to compete with the Anglo-French Concorde and the American Boeing SST projects, and it edged out the others to the make the first SST flight on December 31, 1968. It did not reach production until a few years later. The aircraft's fortunes fell due to a lethal accident at the 1973 Paris Air Show and dwindling interest from Aeroflot. This was Andrei Tupolev's last program; he died in December 1972. His son, Alexei, who had been placed in charge of the Tu-144, was appointed to lead the design bureau a few years later.
Department "R" was created in the early 1970s in order to develop cruise missiles. The Tupolev Design Bureau also worked on high speed bombers with variable sweep wings in the 1970s. The pinnacle of this was the Tu-160, the most powerful military aircraft ever and reportedly the most aerodynamically efficient supersonic aircraft. The long-range, high payload bomber was similar in mission and appearance to the American B-1, which was canceled by President Carter in 1977.
The company continued to innovate in the 1980s, researching low-pollution cryogenic fuels such as liquefied natural gas, methane, and hydrogen. This work continued in the 1990s in collaboration with Daimler-Benz Aerospace.
A New World Order
The Tupolev Design Bureau was reorganized as an "Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex" (ANTK) in 1990. Defense orders fell dramatically after the breakup of the Soviet Union, quite a blow for the company, which had previously spent 85 percent of its time working on bombers. Tupolev subsequently focused more attention on the civil marketplace. Development projects ranged from cropdusters to business jets to a Tupolev mainstay, commercial transports.
A more practical design, the Tu-204, was introduced to replace the previous generation of Soviet airliners. It also provided the hope of a salable product in the Western market. Like most other former Soviet airframe makers, Tupolev offered the option of ordering these planes with more efficient Western engines as well as avionics. The Aerostar (then known as Aviastar) plant in Ul'yanovsk and London investment banker Robert Fleming teamed with Tupolev to form the Bravia (British-Russian aviation) marketing alliance.
The Tu-204, like fellow Russian firm Ilyushin's Il-96 program, was plagued with delays. Nevertheless, the project eventually began to attract supporters. Airbus Industrie agreed in August 1997 to help the Tu-204 obtain European Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) certification. A leasing company, Sirocco Aerospace, ordered 30 of the airliners, worth about $38 million each, equipped with Rolls-Royce engines. Kato Group, an Egyptian firm, made an initial order of 13 similarly equipped models. Tupolev also tapped General Electric Aircraft Engines for a new line of smaller, regional airliners and business jets. Financing proved a final, considerable hurdle in delivering these planes.
Aeroflot desperately needed new airliners to update its massive, aging fleet. However, it ordered 10 Boeing 737s in September 1996, a blow to Russian aerospace industry morale. This provided yet another stimulus for workers, who often went months without being paid, to strike. At the time, only one in 20 jets bought by Russian airlines were Russian-made. The prices of the planes rose sharply after 1990. In 1994, a Tu-154 was priced at $3 million; however, Western jets, even used ones, were so much more fuel-efficient that they proved far more profitable to operate over time.
Valentin Klimov became general director in 1992, four years after Andrei Tupolev's son Andrei was named to the post. He was succeeded by Igor Shevchuk.
Although ANTK Tupolev faced grave financial challenges, its proven engineering expertise earned it a unique role in shaping the future of aviation. Several ambitious projects were underway at the end of the century: a huge, 1,000-passenger capacity flying wing powered by six engines with 12 counter-rotating propellers (similar to those on the Tu-95 "Bear" bomber); a giant supersonic airliner; the Tu-2000 research vehicle, designed to fly at the edge of the atmosphere.
One of the Tu-144 supersonic transports was used by NASA in the mid-1990s to study high speed flight. In 1996, Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Rockwell, Pratt and Whitney, and General Electric co-sponsored a series of flights using the Tu-144 to develop technologies for the next generation of supersonic airliners.
In June 1997, production subsidiaries, the joint stock companies Aviakor and Aviastar, proposed merging with Tupolev ANTK to form Tupolev Corporation. Several other design firms, such as Ilyushin and Yakovlev, contemplated forming similar structures.
The company's most advanced plans may seem futuristic, but Tupolev has designed the future of aviation before. Russia's oldest design bureau, the firm celebrated 75 years of design in October 1997.