The Russian aircraft manufacturer tried to build a super-fast business jet named Tu-444 in the early 2000s. Now Tupolev is going back to work.
Tupolev has experience in building supersonic aircraft. The Russian manufacturer developed the Concorde competitor Tu-144 in the 1960s and later the heavy strategic swing-wing bomber Tu-160. In the early 2000s, he also launched a project for a business jet that was to fly faster than sound. But the Tu-444, which was to carry six to ten passengers, was never built.
Now this know-how is in demand again. Tupolev is now part of the state aviation consortium UAC and is again working on a supersonic business jet. Russian Aviation quotes from Tupolev’s annual report that the new jet should reach Mach 2 – twice the speed of sound – and have a range of up to 8000 kilometres.
High-ranking managers and politicians as target group
The new aircraft is primarily intended for «business leaders, high-ranking politicians and anyone for whom time is an absolute priority,» it says. The aircraft is to have a quieter supersonic bang than previous jets.
Earlier, Tass news agency had already reported that the researchers of the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute Tsagi would design a supersonic passenger plane on behalf of the government, which could transport 30 to 50 passengers. Kirill Sypalo, head of the institution, did not mention the size in an interview on the subject of supersonic aircraft, but said that especially in the period after the corona pandemic, fast business trips could be in great demand. In addition, the low oil price is pushing down costs.
Repeated requests for conversion of the Tu-160
In recent years, the development of a new Russian supersonic jet has been a recurring theme. In 2017, Tupolev explained that he received inquiries from Arab sheikhs and international businessmen who wanted a private supersonic aircraft based on the bomber Tu-160. The manufacturer always said no, pointing out that a conversion to a passenger aircraft would probably be more expensive than developing a new jet.
Nevertheless, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared at the beginning of 2018 during a test flight of a revised version of the Tu-160 that he also saw a perspective for a civil version of the aircraft. The state airline Aeroflot immediately expressed interest and declared: «We would like to get a supersonic jet.»
Big business jet or exclusive commercial jet
While the Concorde used to transport up to 100 passengers and the Tu-144 even up to 120, plans are more modest today. The American supersonic startup Boom is working on a plane called Overture, which is supposed to hold up to 55 passengers. Aerion, which is also based in the USA, initially wants to build the supersonic business jet AS2 with up to twelve seats and then later expand to commercial aircraft.
In the case of the Russian supersonic project, the passenger figure of 30 seats indicates that the company wants to keep both options: if the number is reduced by about a third, the number of seats will be roughly equal to that of the large Bombardier and Gulfstream business jets. If, on the other hand, one were to count on around 50 passengers, one could build a commercial aircraft like Boom that appeals to an exclusive and affluent clientele.