In 1961, before start testing of the XB-70
and SR-71 in USA, the Ministry of Aviation of USSR ordered the development and construction of
supersonic strategic bomber-missile carrier. Three Design Bureaus including
Tupolev, Sukhoi, and
Yakovlev participated in the government contest. The
projects of these design bureaus were studied and discussed during the period
from July till September 1962. The most important aspects were speed and range
of the aircraft. There were two major variants: Tu-135 with an
approximate speed of 2000-2300 km/h (slider to be made of aluminum alloys), or
the T-4, Tu-125 and Yak-33 (35) with an approximate speed of 3000-3200km/h (slider to be
made of titanium and steel alloys). Soon, the project of the Yakovlev Design
Bureau was rejected (weight=90 t, speed=3000 km/h, range=7200 km). The Second was
approved due to much better aerodynamics and more combat effectiveness.
To build the T-4, the Lavochkin aviation plant was offered along with the Sukhoi main industrial complex where the side cells of the fuselage were already completed. Unfortunately, after a short period of time, the Lavochkin aviation plant was re-equipped for rocket science purposes. The Tushin Machinery plant (TMZ) was offered instead along with MKB «Burevestnik» as an additional building for Sukhoi engineers.
Approximate weight - 102 tons gave to the aircraft the second nickname T-4 «Sotka» (Sotka translated as hundredth). The process of production and development took about 9 years, while the USA created such an aircraft in 5-7 years. The reason was that the degree of risk was extremely high – about 100% because, the USSR had never used such technologies before. During average projects the degree of risk is about 50% and half of the details, electronics and methods are already proven and checked plenty of times. While, for the T-4 absolutely new alloys, non-metal materials, special rubber and plastics were developed. Till that time, none of the national planes contained so many gimmicks. There were up to 20 variants of wings, fuselage and other parts of the aircraft tested at the flying laboratory Su-9, marked as «100L-1». In the period from 1967 till 1969 eight configurations of wings were tested. In December 1965, finally, the USSR Ministry of Defense approved the 33rd variant of the «Sotka». Deadline for completion was also set. Sukhoi had only 5 years to complete the project.
Testing program. In 1967 Ministry of Defense ordered the production of seven T-4s for testing and statistical purposes. The first experimental plane «101» was used to determine the aerodynamics, stability and controllability of the aircraft at maximum speeds. Plane «102» was to be used to check and upgrade navigational complex and «103» to test real missile launches. «104» was to be used for necessary upgrades of all equipment aboard and to test the range of an aircraft. «105» was to be used to check all radio electrical equipment and «106» to test the whole attack-reconnaissance complex in general. «100S» was to be made for statistics.
On August 22, 1972, chief pilot and hero of the USSR V.S. Ilyushin along with A. Alferov took off from Zhukovsky flight center. The flight lasted 40 minutes. During the ninth flight (6 August, 1973) the T-4 reached Mach=1.28 at a height of 12100 m above sea level. On January 22, 1974 the second stage of testing had started. During this flight T-4 reached Mach=1.36 at a height of 12000 m.
At the second stage it was supposed to finish speed of an airplane up to 3000 km/h (Mach = 2,8) with a maximum take-off weight 128 t and to start tests «102» plane with the full complete set of avionics. But by March, 1974 all has stopped. Total flying time was made 10 h 20 min.
Conclusion. At first, the T-4 was «priority N`1 for the USSR, which would help us to accomplish our strategically important missions». In the period 1970-1975 250 planes were planed to be built at Kazan aviation plant.
The T-4 would be able to hit sea or ground targets at a distance of up to 3000km but the destiny of the T-4 was tragic.
Once Ilyushin was asked, why production had finished, at least 7 testing laboratories could have been tested. Ilyushin answered: «Nobody, nowhere explained anything about this machine. The second prototype was already completed and ready for flight just like the first one. The third was to be done soon. And then, without saying anything, the second and third prototypes were scrapped. How many mistakes were destroyed: and yours, and constructional, and my, that should have been found and corrected. This is a crime. Once at the Monino A.P. Ryabov, while checking all industrial complexes of the USSR, espied old poor «Sotka» and asked: «And why is it stopped?» Well, if the USSR secretary doesn’t know anything, then how could we, know something. Our «Sotka» is standing now in Monino museum».
Probably, the project was suspended after A.N. Tupolev speech in USSR parliament about deep modernization of Tu-22 that is being built at Kazan aviation plant. Simpler and cheaper, the Tu-22M could accomplish missions similar to those T-4 could. Tupolev promised that serial production would start in 2 years, while the T-4 still had to be deeply tested and upgraded which would take about 10 years. As the Tu-22M was approved – the T-4 was totally and absolutely rejected. The Kazan aviation plant was re-equipped for Tu-22M, which was launched into serial production after 7 years and was upgraded in next 5 years before becoming a REAL warfare. But this was later.
At the same time, the USSR placed a large order for Mig-23 fighters. Then TMZ was also stolen from T-4 production. After the Tu-160 was approved, our T-4 was moved to Monino museum near Moscow. Officially it happened on January 27, 1976.
Other two aircrafts «102» and «103» were scrapped.
In 1963-1964 the passenger version of the T-4 with a capacity of 64 passengers was developed.
In 1967-69 a reconnaissance-bomber version was developed with a sweep wing structure. The aircraft was called the 100I (T-4M) and had intercontinental range. And in 1970 the T-4MS «200» was approved but still suspended because it could cancel Su-27 production. The T-4MS was transferred to the Tupolev Design Bureau but was rejected by the chief-manager as too complicated and an expensive project.
But money spent in the development of T-4 (1 billion, 300 millions of rubles) had not disappeared. Advanced titanium alloy tech was used to create «Buran» space shuttle and other supersonic machines. Many advanced technological ideas were realized in Su-24, Su-27 etc. The remote control taken from the T-4 was installed on the Su-27.
World practice proves that sometimes high-cost projects have been cancelled. But the main idea of those projects is to take the maximum out of brand new machines where huge amounts of intellect and money were invested. Destruction, without gaining any extra knowledge is a strategic mistake, but to return to the same idea later, we would have to pay 3 times more the original price.
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