Concordski's Paris graveyard

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The Independent Online

Some 27 years on, could a crash in Paris be the beginning of the end of a second supersonic airliner project? Sunday 3 June 1973 was the closing day of the Le Bourget airshow and the star attraction was the TU-144.

Some 27 years on, could a crash in Paris be the beginning of the end of a second supersonic airliner project? Sunday 3 June 1973 was the closing day of the Le Bourget airshow and the star attraction was the TU-144.

It was dubbed "Concordski", and with good reason. The plane looked exactly like Concorde, which had made its own maiden flight in 1969, and its development was assumed to have been speeded by some unauthorised acquisitions of Anglo-French aeronautic secrets. Now it was making its debut appearance in the West.

The test pilot at the TU-144's controls carried out a spectacular "on-off" landing, touching the tarmac for a second before taking the thundering aircraft back into the sky.

Suddenly the plane's angle of ascent grew ever steeper, until it seemed to be just hanging in the air. Then to gasps of disbelieving horror, pieces of the plane's body broke off, torn away by the huge pressure.

The TU-144 toppled out of the sky, disintegrating as it fell. The bulk of the carcass smashed into the ground at the nearby town of Goussainville. In addition to the TU-144's six crew members, nine people on the ground were killed, and 28 more were injured.

Any hope the Soviet Union had of breaking into the lucrative Western civil aviation market had vanished. The question now must be, will the disaster to the Air France aircraft seal Concorde's fate, just as a Paris afternoon once doomed its Soviet equivalent?

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