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The Tu-134: A Monument and Airplane
“Despite all of the measures adopted, the civil aviation market in the Russian Federation has largely been lost by our industrialists, by our manufacturers,” Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said at a recent government meeting on civil and military aviation manufacturing in Russia.
Nearly 80% of all airplanes for domestic flights are foreign made. The introduction of the main hope of the Russian aviation industry, the medium-range Sukhoi Superjet 100, in light of recent failures is not poised to change this situation for the better.
It is sad to read about the degradation of airplane manufacturing in Russia, particularly today, which is the 50th anniversary of the maiden flight of the Tu-134 – one of the most successful airplanes of its time not only in the USSR but worldwide. The renowned airplane, developed in the early 1960s under the direct supervision of Andrei Tupolev, was so good that it went on to become the most mass-produced and popular Soviet airplane. Another sign of its popularity is its nickname “The Whistle”, which came from its long slender shape and the high-pitched sound of its engines.
The long service life of the Tu-134 demonstrated the aircraft’s reliability and economy, corresponding to all the demands of the time. Not all airplanes earn a popular nickname. It is a sort of honor. The Tu-134’s niche in the short- and medium-range class in civil aviation is what the Sukhoi Superjet strives to claim, but will this new aircraft inspire its own informal name.
It is sufficient to glance at the jet-powered Tu-134 and at its predecessor, the prop-powered Ilyushin Il-14, developed in the 1940s, to understand that we see different steps in the evolution of aviation.
The Tu-134 was the first successful international project for Soviet civil aviation manufacturing. It was the first Soviet-made aircraft to receive international certification and be exported. At the same time, the proliferation of the Tu-134 should not be overestimated. It was developed and flew largely during the time of the Iron Curtain, when the world was sharply divided between conflicting blocs, each with their own airplanes: “they” had Boeings and Airbuses while “we” had the Tu and Il.
The Tu-134, as a good airplane should, enjoyed a rather long operating life: the first mass-produced planes began flying in 1967 (the first commercial flight from Moscow to Adler) and the last plane rolled out of the assembly plant in 1989.
A sign of respect for the renowned airliner is the fact these airplanes have often been set up as monuments in various cities within Russia and beyond. And the Tu-134 continues to operate today. Of course, the geography of the airplane’s reach has narrowed, but the plane continues to service routes airports in Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Angola, Syria and even Germany.