This year, this wonderful aircraft has several anniversaries at once. Legend has it that it was designed thanks to Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, after he flew Sud Aviation Caravellein, a French short/medium-range jet airliner, in the spring of 1960.
Khrushchev, with a penchant for aviation, envied the French. After coming back to Moscow, he met with Andrei Tupolev, a Soviet aircraft designer who became known for his pioneering turboprop and jet designs. Khrushchev offered him to make a similar plane. Their plans eventually came true. Five years later, in 1965, the aircraft named Tupolev Tu-134 was designed. A total of nine pre-production jets were manufactured to pass flight trials. They were mass-produced at the Kharkov aircraft factory over a period of 18 years.
Tu-134 is considered one of the most successful aircraft of the day not only in the USSR, but also in the whole world. The fact that it has become one of the most widespread and popular planes in the USSR proves how good it was. For its long and narrow fuselage and high sound of its engine it was called “whistle” among the people. NATO dubbed it Crysty. Interestingly, this peculiarity of the fuselage was made with a purely technological purpose in mind. A work place for the navigator was equipped at this part of the aircraft. In May last year, a Tu-134 made the last passenger flight from Irkutsk to Mirny. There were 70 passengers on board. Further, it flew to Novosibirsk for eternal parking in the Museum of Aviation and Cosmonautics. Meanwhile, a version of Tu-134 modified for defense purposes remains in active use.
Once in Tbilisi sky
“The aircraft is above all praise,” Vladimir Gasoyan, a former navigator of the Tbilisi air group and the Hero of the Soviet Union, said as he shared his impressions about the aircraft. “As it should be due to obsolescence, it is not used anymore. Unfortunately, no worthy “successors” were invented in Russia. Today, Tu-134, a short- and medium-haul aircraft, is being replaced by jets made in Canada and Brazil. A Tupolev-334 was bound to take over this role. However, it is very difficult to explain why this does not happen. Alas, our Sukhoi Superjet 100, the civilian brainchild of Sukhoi Company, a major Soviet and now Russian aircraft manufacturer, cannot be considered as a worthy alternative.
Vladimir Gasoyan started flying Tu-134 after graduating from a pilot academy in 1981. Figuratively speaking, the plane became a “living” being, kind and alluring, for him.
“Each time I approached it, I said hello as to an old friend and stroked the fuselage, the part where the pilot cabin is located. I used to say “Well, let’s fly, my friend.” The aircraft was astonishingly beautiful, and I’ve carried the memories of it through my whole life. Those pilots, who had ever flown it, were amazed by the aesthetics and speed of flight. The plane was designed to replace the Tu-124. But, unlike its predecessor, it got engines moved to the rear – a solution that increased the passengers’ comfort. The first samples were produced by the Kharkov aviation factory without the reverse system, so parachutes were used during landing.
We, the navigators, were also pleasantly surprised that the designers provided working areas for us in its fuselage. Modern navigation equipment and the glazed part of the cabin ensured not only good performance of our work, but also an excellent overview of what is happening during the flight and especially during landing. Thanks to this, you felt involved in the successful completion of each flight. After climbing, the commander delegated control over the regular operation of the auto flight system to the navigator.
In total, Gasoyan has been flying this plane for about eight years. “These years,” he says, “have become fundamental in my life. They have given me not only professional happiness, but also granted me the gift of life.”
However, not only they “granted the gift of life” to him. On 18 November 1983, it was his brave actions that saved lives of passengers in a very difficult situation. A gang of hijackers attacked the Tu-134 crew in the sky over Tbilisi. The plane with 57 passengers safely landed in the capital of Georgia. For this act of bravery navigator Gasoyan was awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union.
And Then Silence Falls
Today, it is generally accepted to disparagingly speak about the achievements of the Soviet aircraft industry. But notably, the same Tu-134 became our first successful international project.
There are some comments of pilots from online air forum below. They say that their memories about the plane are very warm. “It's loud, but reliable though. And also quite economical compared to new foreign models.”
“...Tu-134 can do almost everything that all these A320s, Boeings, etc. do, and it can do some operations even better. However, it requires a bit more efforts of the crew. You have to do a little bit more movements and turn on a little bit more tumblers. However, in terms of minimum speed, in side wind and in terms of its behavior on the runway, the aerodynamics is excellent even with a weak ground grip. The strength of the aircraft is excellent. In 1980s and 1990s, they should have modernized it rather than have fooled away the time. And it would be worth its weight in gold.”
“...I don't enjoy flying the A320. I simply can’t do it, no matter what. It is a plane purely for commercial aviation. When navigating my dear Tu-134, I'm on cloud nine. I can feel how smoothly it flies, how tightly it cuts the air, and how perfectly it reacts to the steering wheel. And finally, it's simply a very beautiful machine and not just a flying barrel like a B737-500.”
“...Tu-134 is a “student’s desk.” With a side wind of up to 20 m/s, it has the best performance among our Soviet planes. Yes, it’s true. Just talk to those who flew the Tu-134. They would say nothing but “it is a beautiful plane” or “this machine is exceptional”. The other day, I talked to the commander, who made his first flight navigating the Tu-134 from St. Petersburg in 1968 (!) I asked him what he thought about the Tu-134, and he answered: “It's a magnificent plane! I am honoured to have flown it.”
It should be noted that this was the first Soviet jet to receive international certification. Thanks to it, exports of the plane began to dozens of countries began. Over many years of operation, the Tu-134 has proved to be practically trouble-free in terms of reliability factor. The restrictions on the strength of head-on (30 m/sec) and lateral (20 m/sec) wind components during take-off and landing that are unsurpassed up to the present, are the outstanding features of the aircraft. A total of 852 airliners in this family have been produced at Kharkov aviation factory. In 1984, the serial production of the aircraft was stopped, though in the following years several more jets were made. The last plane was commissioned on June 30, 1989. Until the early 1990s, the Tu-134 fleet alone carried about 500 mln passengers in the USSR. And in 2011, then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev instructed the Transport Ministry to gradually decommission the Tu-134s from scheduled flights.
There are some curious stories about Tu-134.
As Leonid Selyakov, the chief designer of Tu-134 and the winner of the Lenin Prize, recalled, he was almost dismissed from his post when he allowed himself in the early 1980s to give an interview to the media about the design work on the new plane Tupolev-204, the successor to Tu-134. He received a reprimand from the Minister of Aviation Industry for “criminal” disclosure of top-secret information, and was warned that he would be fired next time.
In 1973, the Tu-134, operated by test pilots, safely landed on water with the extended gears at Iksha reservoir in the Moscow region. This fact gave a reason for further testing of the machine during forced landings.
Movie-Like Fate of Aircraft
...It was on this plane that international tourists from the Soviet-Italian comic film ‘Unbelievable Adventures of Italians in Russia’ flew to Moscow. The Tu-134 made an emergency landing on the highway. Certainly, in reality, the plane did not land on any highway. The landing scene of the Tu-134 was shot at the airdrome of the pilots' school for commercial in Ulyanovsk in the Middle Volga area. The runway was “made up” to imitate the highway. In total, the plane made six landings, and each one was perfect. The film scenes where the Tu-134 was moving along the highway with the cars underneath, were made on the backup runway. By the way, and at the request of the school’s officials, the cars were driven by professional pilots -- it was easier for them to drive in a complex airfield environment.
...It is on the Tu-134 that drunken Evgeny Lukashin flies from Moscow to Leningrad in the landmark Soviet comedy ‘The Irony of Fate’ directed by Eldar Ryazanov. However, as noticed by meticulous aviation experts, Evgeny was put aboard an Ilyushin-62 long-haul airliner in Moscow, while a Tu-134 is shown during the flight, and upon arrival in Leningrad he steps off a Tupolev-154.
Notably, in the Soviet years, Tu-134 could be bought at any stall. In honor of this Soviet plane, Bulgarian tobacco producers gave the brand name to highly popular cigarettes.
And last but not least. According to some reports, the plane which was to become an exhibit of the museum at the Tolmachevo airport in Novosibirsk, was a personal plane of Alla Pugacheva, аn important Soviet and Russian pop star. She flew all over the country aboard this aircraft. At present, it is easier to see the legendary aircraft as a museum exhibit. Some Tu-134s are installed as monuments. Until recently, they could be seen at airports in Voronezh, Chisinau, Minsk, Mogilev, Murom, Ulyanovsk, Poltava, Riga, etc. Thus, in Moscow, a Tu-124A, the first prototype of Tu-134 with the tail number USSR-45075, was installed first at the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements, and then on the territory of technical vocational school No.164 at the aviation technological complex n.a. A. Tupolev in eastern Moscow. In early April 2013, however, that airliner monument was demolished and sawn down.