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Michael Braukus

Headquarters, Washington, DC October 13, 1998

(Phone: 202/358-1979)

Fred A. Brown
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA
(Phone: 805/258-2663)

Michael Finneran
Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA
(Phone: 757/864-6121)

Susan J. Davis
Boeing Commercial Airplane Group, Seattle, WA
(Phone: 425/234-9987)

RELEASE: 98-186


Two NASA research pilots became the first Americans to fly

Russia's version of a supersonic transport during several
evaluation flights of a modified Tu-144 jetliner last month.

The three evaluation flights took place over a two-week

period in mid-to-late September from the Zhukovsky Air Development
Center outside Moscow, Russia. These flights are part of a
jointly funded activity by NASA's High Speed Research (HSR)
program and the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group to obtain
operational experience and experimental flight data on the Tu-144.

The two research pilots are Robert Rivers of NASA's Langley

Research Center, Hampton, VA, and Gordon Fullerton of NASA's
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA. Fullerton was a NASA
astronaut for 17 years before joining the Dryden staff as a
research pilot in 1986. Rivers has been a research pilot at
Langley since 1990. Before coming to Langley, Rivers worked at
NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston training astronaut pilots
to land the Space Shuttle. Both men have extensive experience in
a variety of aircraft.

In a previous NASA/Boeing program, the Tu-144 was modified by

the Tupolev Aircraft Design Bureau in 1995-96 into the Tu-144LL
Flying Laboratory to perform flight experiments as part of NASA's
HSR Program. Knowledge gained from the flights will benefit
NASA's efforts to develop the technology that will enable design
of an efficient, environmentally friendly second-generation
supersonic transport in this country.

Rivers and Fullerton were primarily concerned with the Tu-

144LL's handling qualities at a variety of airspeeds and flight
altitudes during their evaluations.

Although the Tu-144 reflects the operational and design

technology of the 1960's, Fullerton said during a post-flight
plane-side interview that it does what it was designed to do very
"This was my first look at the supersonic handling qualities,
and the airplane is really in its element. Once getting through
the speed of sound, it settles down, just sort of hums along.
While the pitch is very sensitive because you're going so fast,
the bank and roll is perfect -- very stable. It's clearly an
airplane built to go fast."

After an initial subsonic evaluation flight, Rivers and

Fullerton had the opportunity to individually evaluate the Tu-
144LL's flying and handling qualities on the two remaining
flights, which included acceleration runs to Mach 2 (twice the
speed of sound), maneuvering and several approaches to the
Zhukovsky runways.

Fullerton stressed that, despite procedural differences in

how flight research is conducted in the two countries, teamwork
exhibited by the Russians and their American counterparts led to a
successful outcome of the evaluation flights.

"As a test pilot I relish the opportunity to fly a unique

aircraft and the TU-144LL certainly falls into that category.
Actual flight experience in this large supersonic aircraft will
help us do a better job evaluating proposed designs of a future
High Speed Civil Transport," Fullerton said. "It was a red-letter
day on my calendar."

Rivers echoed Fullerton's assessment. "The handling

qualities experiment in which Gordon Fullerton and I participated
will have a positive impact on the ongoing High-Speed Research
Program," he said. "It was a good opportunity for U.S. pilots to
come here, subjectively evaluate the airplane, compare those
evaluations to the objective data we've retrieved already from the
aircraft, and determine if they match. In fact, the data that we
have obtained closely matches how the aircraft flies," Rivers

The previous Tu-144LL flight program involved eight

experiments -- six aboard the aircraft and two ground test engine
experiments. Between November 1996 and February 1998 the Tu-144LL
flew 19 research flights. The follow-on Tu-144LL program
encompasses about eight flights, focusing on extensions of five
experiments from the first project and two new experiments to
measure fuel system temperatures and to define in-flight wing
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