How the Soviets One Upped The West: The TU-114 Story

How the Soviets One Upped The West: The TU-114 Story
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    In the fall of 1959, an enormous Soviet aircraft races across the Atlantic.
    This plane is unlike anything in the west.
    It's the largest airliner the world has ever seen.
    And it's driven by four of the most powerful turboprop engines ever built.They can push
    the plane to nearly 900 km/h, which is faster than some jets.
    This Soviet airliner is about to make a big impression, because it's headed straight
    for United States.
    In the mid-1950's, the Soviet Union got a new leader, Nikita Khrushchev, and he's
    unlike his predecessors.
    For one, he's more open to engaging with the West.
    [Khrushchev] You're a lawyer of Capitalism, I'm a lawyer for Communism. Let's kiss.
    [Nixon] All that I can say, from the way you talk, and the way you dominate the conversation
    you would have made a good lawyer yourself.
    Nearly everyone agrees, Khrushchev is a showman, ready to jump at any opportunity to prove
    Soviet superiority.
    And in 1955, the new leader gets a chance to make an impression.
    Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland for a Cold War summit are the most powerful western nations,
    and the Soviet Union.
    As world leaders descend onto Geneva Airport, crowds are watching and cameras are rolling.
    U.S. President Eisenhower lands in a four engined Super Constellation.
    A large, state-of-the-art American airliner.
    And Khrushchev lands in this.
    A plane half the size of Eisenhower's.
    And he's mortified by the optics because the Soviet Union and America are supposed
    to stand toe-to-toe.
    But small short-range airliners like the IL-14 are really the only type the Soviet Union
    produces in the early 1950's.
    And that means that flying across the country's vast territory can take over 24 hours, with
    multiple stops for refueling, making for a grueling journey.
    But, there is a Soviet plane available that can already fly these distances direct and
    in half the time.
    It's just not an airliner.
    It's a plane meant to be loaded with bombs, not luggage.
    But converting this intercontinental bomber into a civil transport will be fastest way
    get the Soviet Union a new long range airliner.
    Because the country desperately needs one, and Khrushchev's plans for world visits are
    expanding by the day
    Just weeks after the Geneva Summit, the Tupolev Design Bureau is given a directive to convert
    the TU-95 bomber into a VIP transport.
    Engineers will remove bombing and protective equipment and shoehorn two small passenger
    compartments into its narrow fuselage.
    Khrushchev would access his VIP compartment via a ramp at rear.
    Lucky, this frankliner wasn't the only plane in the works.
    Because a second parallel project aimed to turn the bomber into a proper airliner.
    And to do it, engineers would keep the plane's powerful engines and swept wings,
    but they'd mount them lower to accommodate a wider fully pressurized fuselage.
    The airliner would also receive new stabilizers, larger flaps and an entirely new nose gear.
    And the first prototype was ready in just a little over 2 years.
    Turns out, starting with a TU-95 strategic bomber, made for a pretty remarkable airliner.
    The TU-114 holds the distinction of being the fastest propeller driven airliner ever.
    It could reach an incredible 870 km/h.These jet-like speeds puzzled western observers.
    The 114's turboprop engines are the most powerful ever to enter service, and they drove
    the plane's enormous contra-rotating propellers so fast, their tips could reach supersonic.
    Also jet-like was the airliner's 35 degree wing sweep and a service ceiling
    of nearly 40,000 feet.
    And in 1958, this was also the largest airliner, with seating for up to 224 passengers.
    Not until the Boeing 747 would larger plane take to the skies.
    But while the 114 was still undergoing testing, Khrushchev got an invitation to visit to the
    United States.
    And it would be the first ever by a Soviet Head of State.
    The Tu-116 converted bomber was ready to make the trip.
    But touching down in the United States In what was quite obviously still
    a bomber was one thing.
    Khrushchev would also have to crawl out the rear-end on a ramp.
    So he demanded taking the 114.
    But the airliner wasn't ready.
    Not only was the 144 still undergoing testing, there were serious flaws like hairline cracks
    which had formed around the engines.
    Still, Khrushchev was dead-set on making a grand entrance.
    On September 15, 1959, Khrushchev's 114 took off from Moscow to begin it's nearly
    8,000 km journey to the United States.
    Most of the trip would take the airliner over the frigid North Atlantic.
    So precarious was the situation, engineers even tested a mockup of the airliner in a
    swimming pool just to see how it might float in the Atlantic.
    Along the way, nearly every available Soviet Navy vessel was put on high alert for any
    sign of distress.
    And onboard, a team of engineers holed up inside the 114's lower deck used special
    monitoring equipment to spot any sign of trouble
    But despite having to battle 160 km/h head winds over the Atlantic, the 114 performed
    admirably.
    [Reporter] An interesting and historic arrival and Andrews Airfield near Washington.
    The huge TU-114 airliner bringing Mr. Khrushchev on his first visit to the United States.
    President Eisenhower was there to meet the Soviet Premier.
    The last time they met was in Geneva, four years ago.
    Khrushchev got his grand entrance, and the enormous airliner grabbed headlines around
    the world.
    By 1961 the 114's development was complete and the plane entered service with Aeroflot.
    Early versions were equipped with some pretty opulent and rather un-Soviet features.
    Divided into three-classes ranging from economy, to deluxe, there were large tables, private
    sleeping cabins and a dining lounge.
    Early 144's even had a full size kitchen in the lower deck with a dedicated chief.
    The 114's impressive range opened up Moscow to far flung destinations like Havana, Montreal
    and Tokyo.
    But while the plane's maximum speed was comparable to modern jet airliners, the 144's
    cruising speed was usually more modest to save fuel and increase range.
    And then there was the noise.
    This was one of loudest planes ever produced.
    Its four enormous turboprops would have made jet engines sound like a symphony.
    And the vibration could cause dinnerware to migrate right off the end of tables.
    But the 114 stood out for it's reliability and relative efficiency.
    And it would go on to carry over six million passengers without a single design-related
    accident, making it quite possibly the safest Soviet airliner ever built.
    But by the mid-1960's, airports in the west were filled with long range jets, not props.
    And the Soviet Union's only long range airliner looked dated in comparison.
    In 1967, a new long range jet-powered soviet airliner entered service.
    And that meant that the 114 was quickly removed from most international routes and was kept
    flying mainly within Soviet borders.
    In total, 32 of these speedy turboprops were built, and they'd serve with Aeroflot for
    16 years, until they were finally retired from civilian service in 1977.
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