Tupe mysteries partly explained.
Komissarov, Dmitriy, Tupolev Tu-154: the USSR’s Medium-Range Airliner, Aerofax Series, Ian Allan Publishing, Hinckley, Lericester, UK, ISBN 978-1857802411/2, paperback, 176 pages, colour and monochrome plates throughout.
Soviet secrecy mania decreed that right up until 1991, papers risking to publish a photo of an ancient MiG-15 could state neither model number, nor make, nor even an Izdeliye code, ironically intended to maintain secrecy (the MiG-15 was known as Isdeliye or Product 10). All they could state was, “jet fighter aeroplane.” Airliners were almost as secret. The public was grudgingly allowed to know their designations and very approximate cruise speed and height, range and passenger capacity figures.
Even though unlicensed information about the Tu-154 did trickle into the West – and regardless of my five-year stint at Flight International – as late as 1989 my Tu-154 file was anaemic. Questions far outnumbered answers: did Tu-154 require ballast?; did it have poor elevator control?; had the Egyptians condemned it as unsafe?; why did the Tu-154A have a ferry tank? Even after the USSR collapsed, I attempted to write a book on the Tu-154 but the Tupolev company refused to answer my questions. I managed to ‘doorstep’ the grandson of Andrey Tupolev in April 1998, but my civil plea for information fell on deaf ears.
So it was with great interest that I opened the pages of Dmitriy Komissarov’s book. I was not disappointed; not unduly so...
The book gives a wonderfully detailed rundown of the Tu-154’s emergence, design and development. Komissarov clearly enjoyed privileged access to Tupolev records and made good use of it. A large number of facsimiles give detailed illustrations of previously unknown aspects of the type’s history and fascinating might-have-beens. When Bill Gunston suggested over 30 years ago that the type had been conceived with a “bomber nose,” this was conjecture; now we know it to have been true.
The author then details the Tu-154’s ongoing development and explains in detail its various versions. This is a highly vexed area for anyone interested in the Tupe, and the definitive explanations offered put many assumptions to rest. Modellers will find the detailed photographic explanations of the differences between the versions most helpful.
The Tu-154’s service with individual airlines is covered comprehensively in an alphabetically ordered rundown of each carrier with airframe and registration lists, most with colour photos. A full production record follows.
Modellers will be delighted with the brief review of available scale models of the ‘154, though no photographs are shown. Another important aid is a set of detailed drawings of most versions of the Tu-154. There is also a large section covering the appearance of the aircraft from all possible angles alongside an expanded technical description.
For all this detail, the ballast mystery remains! I can reveal that the early Tu-154’s flight manual did indeed call for ballast when the aircraft was flown in a range of out-of-trim conditions. Manufacturer-supplied ballast comprised shaped calibrated concrete blocks which could be assembled together with steel studs and nuts. This was carried in the forward technical compartment and, because bits often went astray, sand or cement bags were frequently substituted. By the mid-late 1970s ground crews were fed up and pilots found that the type flew well enough without ballast. Nevertheless, the Tu-154A did have a ground-transferrable ferry tank, partly for ballast purposes. Komissarov barely touches this intriguing aspect.
An aspect of the book which will irritate most readers is the rather strange transliteration method adopted for rendering Russian words into English. While it is commendable to have original terms supplied, their rendering often makes them unduly hard and often comical. Like the late president Yeltsin, Brezhnev-era civil aviation minister Boris Bugaev may have liked to boogie, but styling him “Boogaev” is positively Dickensian!
An aspect which will not cause any concern to the vast majority of readers is the book’s derivative nature. Inevitable to an extent, this becomes obtrusive when entire passages complete with conclusions and assumptions are lifted from other sources. Thus, about half of my airlinercafe.com article on the Tu-154 has been copied verbatim in snippets throughout the book.
An acknowledgement would have been nice, but is missing in Komissarov’s list which would make anyone think he only accessed prime sources of information.
Finally, a word of caution to fellow modellers. The drawings of the Tu-154M published in the book are mere adaptations of Dmitry Kolesnik’s drawings of the Tu-154B-2. While duly indicating all differences and special features, they are not really intended for modelling, nor are they fit for the purpose.
Altogether, despite my misgivings, I highly recommend the book to Tupe lovers. It answers many questions dating back over 30 years, systematises all available information on the Tu-154 in a logical way and should interest aviation historians, spotters and even modellers.