Russian and U.S. officials unveiled near Moscow March 17 a prototype Tu-144 airliner that both sides hope can be developed into a rival of the Franco-British Concorde. The Tu-144 made its maiden flight in December 1968, days before the Franco-British plane. Seventeen were built, but the planes were eventually phased out of service after Moscow decided that their inefficient fuel consumption made them uneconomical to operate. A Tu-144 crashed at the Paris air show in 1973, leaving 13 people dead. Only four of the aircraft are said to be currently in operating condition.
The Tu-144 prototype, which has been fitted with the more powerful engine of Russia’s Tu-160 strategic bomber, is the result of a joint venture between Russia’s Tupolev firm