Apr 12, 2010

A few words about Russian jets

The crash of a Polish government Tupolev TU-154 at Smolensk on Saturday, which killed the country's president Lech Kaczynski and all of the other 95 people on board has brought out

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

A Wikipedia image of a TU-154
A Wikipedia image of a TU-154

The crash of a Polish government Tupolev TU-154 at Smolensk on Saturday, which killed the country’s president Lech Kaczynski and all of the other 95 people on board has brought out the usual cliches about Russian airliners.

That is, they are inherently unsafe and badly designed.

These claims are not entirely correct. The problem with Russian jets is much more about how badly they are flown than design limitations, and there has never been an airliner built that doesn’t come with a set of handling issues that are addressed by how they are flown by properly trained pilots.

The Soviet and post Soviet era Russian airliner industry never delivered a mass produced subsonic jet as lethal as the Sud Aviation Caravelle although some of them could be compared to the MD-11, the DC-10 successor which one retired FAA official later admitted should never have been granted certification in its original form.

The Caravelle had two characteristics. It was delightful to fly in, and it was deadly. It was a difficult jet for piston era pilots to get used to, as was for a while, the early Boeing 727-100s, a jet the Tupolev design bureau unsuccessfully sought to emulate and surpass with the TU-154. It would be tempting to compare the TU-154 to the British Trident series of tri-jets rather than the ultimately very successful 727 series, as the Tridents also suffered from poor customer airlines and quirky operational features.

Russian airliners have never gained traction among western airlines. They were generally heavier for a given task than an American or modern European airliner, but they were supremely well built to cope with the bitter cold of Siberian operations. The Russian industry, to this day, has never shown any sign of comprehending customer support, the supply of spare parts, or the need for detailed monitoring of issues related to aged airframes, or so western aviation authorities have so advised the technical aviation media for decades past.

No-one yet knows what caused the crash. It is not inconceivable that something mechanically vital failed at the wrong moment, and that the early reports pointing to pilot error are despite being plausible completely wrong.

What is reported however is that the flight made three orbits about the fog bound airport and then crashed in almost zero visibility some distance from the end of the runway on its attempt at landing.

Any reading of the archives on accidents in Russian to Russian airliners since 1956, when Russian TU-104 jets began the post Comet jet age with scheduled deportation flights to Siberian prison camps will suggest that the flying culture has remained stuck in the same state that it was right up to the early 70s in western carriers.

Accounts of Russian jet crashes these days, whether in Boeings, Airbuses or older Tupolevs and Ilyushins often read like accounts of disasters involving British European Airlines or DAN-Air in the 60s and 70s. That is, the pilots pressed on regardless, uncertain as to where they were, or because they believed too much in their personal capabilities. Modern airline practice is not about pilots pressing on, but about rules that set strict minima on such issues as visibility and fuel reserves. If the conditions set out in the operating procedures are not met the jet flies away to a pre-planned alternative airport. No going down below minimums to have a look, or any other heroics.

This was a crash by a Polish VIP flight in an old Russian jet. Whether the flight was destroyed by poor judgement or something else remains to be established.

Russian media image of the crash scene showing the rear end of the fuselage
Russian media image of the crash scene showing the rear end of the fuselage
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60 thoughts on “A few words about Russian jets

  1. Bill Parker

    The first time I ever visited Australia I flew from London in 1. A Tupolev 154 and 2. An Ilyushin 62M. ( and then 747 ex Singapore) Both Russian planes were owned by Czech Airlines as was in the 70s. On both flights I was able to see up close what shape they were in externally when alighting. Both were filthy and the Ilyushin had a visible oil leak under one wing.

    I wondered if we would make it from Prague to Singapore in that Ilyushin! The fact that it had a big red “OK” on the tail must have meant something.

  2. chrisbob


    What do you think of this aviation sites claim about the TU-154 safety?


    “Statistically, the Tu-154 has one of the poorest safety records.”

    Are the TU’s well designed and well constructed machines?

  3. A few words about Russian jets

    […] Users have the option of removing this and all other advertisements.  More A few words about Russian jets – Plane Talking The crash of a Polish government Tupolev TU-154 at Smolensk on Saturday, which killed the […]

  4. Ben Sandilands


    Interesting site. It makes much the same point as Russian aviation analysts and which I agree with, in that:

    QUOTE.Statistically, the Tu-154 has one of the poorest safety records. However, Tupolev 154’s chequered safety record owes more to errors than technical problems.UNQUOTE.

    And it is built like the proverbial brick outhouse in terms of field performance.

    I flew on a LOT Polish Airlines TU-154 from Warsaw to Frankfurt in 1992. I thought the cabin was fairly comfortable apart from the fact that part of the insulation under the window was missing, and my trouser leg began to stick to the cold metal in consequence before I carefully peeled it away.

    Could the flight have been the same jet ex-LOT? Maybe.

  5. green-orange

    I don’t no of any airplane that’s able to fly through trees !

  6. Bob A

    Ben, thanks for the Ignorant stereotypes.

    Statistically, Tu-154 is safer than most Western aircraft.

    E.g, Tu-154 had only 28 crashes – less than Boeing 737 – and few were due to technical failure.

    Here’s from Wiki:


  7. chrisbob

    I had an old mercedes once that leaked oil and was in the worst of shape, though that would be an operator issue.

    It appears that the TU-154 is an excellent machine for its time, a brick outhouse as you say, typical of Russian thinking when it comes to essentials. Their consumer goods usually suck but just look at Lada Nivas which were required for the military.

    My uncle once flew to somewhere in the USSR and the plane was standing room only. Years ago a Russian passenger plane crashed because the pilot turned the autopilot off and handed controls to his son. Operators.

    Is it just me or did Putin appear ready to crack some tears??

  8. Bob A

    “…My uncle once flew to somewhere in the USSR and the plane was standing room only…”

    – Very funny, Rodney Dangerfield! There were NO such planes – ever. Your uncle had few too many vodkas.

    “…Years ago a Russian passenger plane crashed because the pilot turned the autopilot off and handed controls to his son. Operators…”

    – Wasn’t like this at all. It was an iundocumented feature of the Airbus computer, which lead to worldwide changes to pilot training. The Russian pilots were unlucky.

  9. Bob A

    And no – Lada Nivas were NOT “required for the military”! Ladas are 100% civilian, they’re NOT used by the Russian military.

  10. pct73


    As Ben indicates, it is hard to work out what contributes to accidents. Is it the aircraft, maintenance, crew training or the environment in which it flies? None of these factors can be easily isolated.

    Also accidents are typically a series of failures and poor decisions rather than just one. Break the series and the accident wouldn’t happen. Most accidents have an element of the crew being involved but that doesn’t make it their fault as such. There are also a number of incidents where a well trained crew have saved an aircraft or at least the people in them.

    No doubt the TU-154 is harder to fly than a glass flight deck of a modern western aircraft. So the crew’s airmanship is probably even more important than in a western aircraft. I suspect the evidence points the other way.

    Of course crew training is not a consideration for most people when they purchase their ticket!

  11. Ben Sandilands

    My view of crash statistics is to look at the airline and the circumstances. It is a whole story in itself, if not a small book, but on any reasonable analysis, and after removing criminal atrocities from consideration, air crashes are caused in the overwhelmingly large number of cases by poor standards or deficient safety cultures in the airline concerned, rather than an issue with type A or type B jets and so forth.

    It is true there were crashes in 737s caused by a design flaw in the rudder, just as there have crashes caused by shoddy maintenance, two of the worst of them affecting 747s, but predominantly crashes involving airliners are the result of failings within the airlines, and by extension, the safety authorities supposed to regulate the carriers.

  12. pct73

    “Tu-154 had only 28 crashes – less than Boeing 737 – and few were due to technical failure.”

    Hmm. There were 6 times more Boing 737s made so numbers need to be weighted. We adjusting statistics to Tu-154 stats, The Tu-154 has 28 “crashes” (hull losses?) (my sources says 37 hull losses but some are due to terrorist or military action or mistakes by airport or air traffic control.) The 737 has 24 (adjusted to Tu-154 numbers) hull losses. On incidents, the Tu-154 has 66. The 737 adjusted has 49. I don’t have precise fatalities figures for the Tu-154. The 737 adjusted figure is 641. However just 4 Tu-154 crashes exceed this figure.

    So the statistics don’t quite match the claim that it is “safer” – well not the 737. However it did do pretty well safety wise in its early years with most crashes occurring after 1995. That wasn’t a bad record. The 737’s record is probably the other way around – safer as the years go by – at least for the moment.

  13. pct73

    I agree with Ben. The major factor in safety comes down to safety cultures. Firstly on the flight deck, secondly in the airline in general (maintenance, rostering etc), the culture of the authority under which the airline is registered – eg CASA, and lastly the authority that controls the airport or airspace in which the airline flies.

    Now if you look at the surveys, what does the average punter consider? Seat pitch, entertainment systems, food,……

  14. Bob A

    pct73 – sounds like the Tu-154 and Boeing 737 have a comparable safety record. My point is: no-one is making jokes about 737, why is the bias against everything Russian?

    Re most crashes occurring after 1995. I agree, mots of them occurred in post-Soviet “Stan” republics due to poor maintanance etc.

    By the way, Aeroflot withdrew all Tu-154 last year due to high fuel consumption.

  15. Ben Sandilands

    Bob A,

    I don’t have an anti-Russian bias about aviation at all, but I am interested in trying to deal with the popular cliches, as indicated, which are not entirely true.

    One point I have also felt is unrecognised is that the ‘true’ post Comet and Avro C102 jet age was not introduced by western designs but by the Soviet era TU-104 which began prison flights to Siberia from Vnukovo airport outside Moscow in 1956. By the time the 707 and DC8 and Comet IV age had arrived the TU-104 network of scheduled regional Soviet flights was quite extensive, as was the need for very long runways to accommodate them in the hot months.

    The history of airliner design in Russia is a rich and fascinating one, but not operationally or globally a particularly distinguished one despite its innovations and achievements.

  16. spacedog

    pct73 is correct about the stats. You just can’t compare aircraft crashes with raw data without adjusting for a multitude of variables. It would be interesting though to compare the ‘safety’ of a B727 to the TU-154 since the later was such an obvious copy that appeared just a few years after the former. I flew in a TU-154 from Japan to the Soviet Far East in the still communist mid-80s and still recall the poor condition of the cabin with unbolted seats, broken seat belts, and huge amounts of carry on luggage scattered around the floor. I also recall the autobiog of late Boeing 707 chief test pilot Tex Johnson travelling in the jump seat of a touring TU-104 (I think), and his hilarious description of its design and performance which rather angered the struggling Russian pilots. Their aircraft have come a long way since then of course but I’m not sure about some of their pilots.

  17. Bob A

    If Tu-154 is a “copy” of B727, then B727 is a copy of the Hawker Siddeley Trident, which flew earlier than B727.

    Tu-154 is significantly longer than B727 (48m vs 40m), with more take-off weight (98 tons vs 76 tons). It’s also faster etc.

    I don’t think it’s not a copy, just a similar concept. Engineers and architects are like parrots, repeating whatever is fashionable at the time. Is the new Hyundai a copy of Honda or BMW? Or is it just the prevailing ‘fashion’

  18. Bob A

    Ben – I think you don’t even realise the extent of your Russophobia. Example: you wrote: “…the Soviet era TU-104 which began prison flights to Siberia from Vnukovo airport outside Moscow in 1956…”

    What “prison filghts”??? In 1956 Stalkin was dead. Khruschov was in power, he rejected Stalins’ excesses, USSR enjoyed political relative freedoms, etc. Secondly, do you seriously think they developed the WORLD’S FIRST jetliner to transport prisoners?

    I grew up in Russia and as a kid I recall flying Tu-104 to the Black Sea with my parents. It was a regular commercial flight. The plane was for passengers, not prisoners!

    How brainwashed are you?

  19. Ben Sandilands

    Hang on Bob A. I didn’t say it was developed for the prison flights. The now accessible history of the TU-104 refers to its use for prison flights. Which continued to depart from Moscow’s administrative airport during its early years. Nor do I think labelling me a Russophobe is called for. I’m fascinated by the history of science and technology and Russia, with its major engineering projects, its space program and its solutions to air transport needs is a significant part of that. However I’m not starry eyed about it either. The story is one that is not particularly well told in the popular media, but if you explore the Centennial of Flight and Smithsonian archives on line I believe you will be rewarded with very good documentation of the Russian story in both English and Russian. But if you are here to urge us to sign up to some fairy tale about the Russian aviation story that goes beyond the facts and the realities, then you are in the wrong place.

  20. Bob A

    I give up. Whatever makes you feel better about you and your Western democratic roots. Without democracy everyone’s a prisoner, amirite? So yeah, all Sovoet planes transported nothing but priosoners – happy now?

    PS: Any Western/democratic plane ever used for “prison flights”?

  21. NiallOC

    Bob A: read the article again. Ben clearly describes Russian “cliches”.
    Ben: saying “the Soviet era TU-104 which began prison flights to Siberia” is equivalent to saying “the Bush-era Gulfstream V which began illegal rendition flights in 2001” .There’s no mention on Wikipedia of prison flights either, so why bring it up?
    Now shake hands and make up you two.
    On the relative safety of the 737 and the TU-154: I wonder what the accident stats would have looked like had the Eastern bloc had flown 737’s and the west the TU-154?

  22. spacedog

    BobA – both the Trident and B727 were developed concurrently so I don’t see how one could be the copy of the other. Besides, the Trident didn’t exactly achieve global success unlike the Boeing which actually entered service just before the Trident. On the other hand, Tupolev had the chance to see the design, performance and popularity of both before launching their own version many years later. The soviets have always been innovative with outstanding high performance military jets, but their expertise/success with large civilian jets is questionable.

  23. pct73

    From BobA “pct73 – sounds like the Tu-154 and Boeing 737 have a comparable safety record. My point is: no-one is making jokes about 737, why is the bias against everything Russian?”

    I think you might be a little sensitive here and your Russian heritage is biasing the way you interpret what has been written. When the Boeing 737 had its rudder issues, people were seriously avoiding flying on them. It was a serious issue and even after the technical issues were addressed, it took years for the image to be repaired. I don’t know the TU-154’s history but I haven’t seen anything that suggests similar issues.

    However the TU-154 would be harder to fly than the 737s currently used in the west. This means it costs more to fly them safely – larger crew which needs more training. Unfortunately it is countries and airlines with little money that tend to use them. The obvious consequence is more accidents and hull losses. The same happens with older Boeing airframes ending up in Africa where they are basically flown until they crash. I suspect money is a far more important factor and probably effects the TU-154’s record.

    The bottom line for the TU-154 is that is probably could be flown fairly safely, BUT it costs far more to do so than a western plane and the airlines that do fly it don’t have money.

  24. David Klein

    In view of the comments made so far on Russia’s air transport development I feel the attached website by Air Transport Net London is helpful in giving a concise history including future development, titled “Civil Aviation in Russia”:


  25. Michael James

    Gentlemen, when it comes to citing sources for your claims, do us all a favour and cite real sources.

    Wikipedia is NOT a citable source, as ity can be edited by anyone with a barrow to push.

    I have known Ben for over a decade, first when I was in the military and then in civil aviation, he has no anti-Russian or pro-US or pro-EU bias.

    He has a pro-safety bias, one which crosses all boudaries. Anyone here trying to tar him with that brush because he does not sign up to their particular prejudices is bound to lose.

    Ben has the disconcerting habit of being able to recite facts, not opinion, and can provide the sources to back them up.

  26. Rainer Gromansperg

    Let’s get back to what happened.
    1) To pack nearly the whole political and military leadership into one plane is just criminal. The Premier, Mr. Tusk, was already in Russia on his own because of the political rift between him and the president.
    2) The Smolensk airfield has got no ILS installation, which the polish plane was equipped with, only the Russian system, which is not compatible.
    3) It could also be a case of the pilot’s ‘anticipatory obedience’. There has been a case before where the president tried to force a pilot to land at a certain airport, but he refused and got into some trouble for it, nearly being dismissed.
    4) The airplane had been at the factory for a check up only a little more than 100 hours before the crash and was guaranteed for 5 years or 1000 hours.
    5) This crash has a big effect on the polish people because of the crash wiping out nearly the complete leadership of the country which were on the way to Katyn, where Stalin had wiped out the majority of the polish military leadership.

  27. Grizzly

    Ben – I agree with you that the Soviet / Russian space program is fascinating. It’s also an interesting contrast with the US one. Although the Soviets had technical issues with its manned flights early on, and never made it to the moon, at least they never launched anyone on a fundamentally unsafe platform like the Space Shuttle (mainly because they ran out of the funds they needed to continue the Buran program).

    Anyway, I’ve flown on MD-11s several times, and am intrigued by your comment about them. They certainly climb more steeply than other manufacturers’ airliners, and one of them crashed due to a faulty entertainment system installation, but was there anything else unusually dangerous about them when they replaced the DC-10?

  28. chrisbob

    “@BOB A”, you’re way too sensitive.

    Trust me, you’re making Russians and Russia look silly.

    You’re obviously intelligent and have good English skills (how many English speakers speak a second language?) but your tone is hindering your cause.

    Russia definitely needs to get back being a dagger in the US’ throat but you’re not helping with your defensiveness.

    I have family in Belarus and Leningrad and I don’t ever recall being called a russophobe, on the contrary.

    The Lada Niva did indeed serve as a military vehicle and my uncle did indeed fly in a standing-room-only plane in the 90’s and in the mid 90’s a plane in Russia did crash because the stupid pilot turned off auto-pilot and turned the controls over to his 10 year old son, at least that’s what was in the papers back then.

  29. Ben Sandilands


    I’ve been out of range much of today, and don’t have any relevant material on the MD-11 on my laptop, however I did a quick read of the following links which I’d say qualify as a ‘gripping’ read particularly David Learmont’s analysis of the Fedex crash at Narita last year.

    His story is at:


    Two other detailed looks at the earlier history of stability problems with the type are also listed below:





  30. Bob A

    Crisbob –

    Name the type/model of the plane your uncle allegedly travelled “standing-room-only”.

    Again – the Niva is NOT and has never been a “military” vehicle. Prove to me otherwise.

  31. chrisbob

    A person that calls another stupid or a liar because the other made a mistake about a car ( which I didn’t) is perhaps missing the point.

  32. Ben Sandilands

    Good friends. I have edited a few non-aviation phrases from our discussion. It’s a good discussion. And it is a pleasure to realise that those of us in the room are knowledgeable in different degrees about the merits and interesting features of Russian airlines, while it would be fair to say less than happy with standards of operation in some circumstances.

    And let me add for those that don’t know me, how less than impressed I have personally been with some of the design and operational standards in other parts of the world, including Australia, and for quite some time. I’m no fan of spin, and this industry, unfortunately, seems to rely on image massaging to an increasing measure, and refer less and less to operational standards and safety oversight. These are problems that cross all borders.

  33. SokolMax

    Sorry for barging in on your conversation like that, but I can see why Bob A was getting frustrated. Some of the claims here are naive cliché’s, bordering on ridiculous.

    Niva as a military vehicle? Come on! The workhorses of Soviet military were GAZ-69/UAZ-69 four wheel drives. Much sturdier than Nivas btw. And, unlike Niva, capable of carrying a bit more than some fishing rods and a couple of cases of vodka! A bit more useful for the military than tiny Nivas, don’t you think?

    In the Aeroflot’s 1994 Airbus crash near Mezhdurechensk the pilot did not “disconnect autopilot and give controls to his son”. They were flying on autopilot and he (very stupidly) let his son in his seat and showed him how to control the plane using autopilot. During those manipulations the autopilot became disengaged without giving obvious warning (design flaw) and they noticed that too late. Very reckless, but not quite as “vodka-drunken crazy Russian” reckless as presented here.

    154 being “such an obvious copy” of 727 because it flew a few years later? Pray, could I get an insight into this brilliant operation of (presumably) KGB? How did they “copy” a jet plane? Did they disassemble it under the cover of a night and make photos of every bit? Did they hijack one? Have they stolen a trainload of drawings and process maps? Any reference throwing light on this would be greatly appreciated (reliable, please, not some wikipedia junk).

    “Scheduled flights flights” – come on, who in the USSR would have thought of spending money on deporting people by plane or flying prisoners en-masse? They were transported by trains or boats. Cheaper, easier to control – and if a few died on the way who cared? Indeed, the first Tu-104 flight was to Siberia – to a major city of Irkutsk. Siberia is something like 4/5th of Russian territory, lots of non-prisoner people living there did require fast and reliable means of transport to the “mainland”. Some high profile prisoners being flown occasionally – yes. “Scheduled deportation flights to Siberian prison camps”? Give me a break!

    “Standing room only” passenger planes have never existed in Russia. Never-ever. A chartered cargo plane flight carrying a few passengers was not unusual in the 90-s (flew one of them myself). But those planes have benches along the sides in the cargo compartment. Not quite business class, but not a standing arrangement either. Afraid, this “I’ve been to Russia and survived” war story is a bit akin to bears in the Red Square.

  34. SokolMax

    And one last thing about deportation flights in 1956 – last mass deportation in the USSR happened in 1944. Last deportation on a smaller scale was movement of about 100,000 Azeris from Armenia to Azerbaijan. This one ended in 1953. There have been absolutely no deportations to Siberia after Stalin’s death, and in fact return of the deported started in 1957.

    Sorry for being pedantic, just hate to see off-hand and sloppy statements in otherwise credible pieces of work.

    That’s it, won’t bother you again, gents.

  35. EngineeringReality


    Your blogs are consistantly the most interesting in Crikey – and although I also like the politics and business/economics analysis in Crikey enough to have subscribed it is always your aviation news that I first read when logging on.

    I note that it is also the aviation comments that attract the most energetic debate (after the liberal – labor or right wing – left wing comment battles) which makes it all the more entertaining.

    I’ve always been interested in aviation and have followed the Soviet/Russian aviation industry with interest for the last 20 years. Of course whenever you need the biggest / most powerful cargo aircraft you call for a Russian/Ukranian helicopter or plane.

    I haven’t yet had a flight in any soviet/russian aircraft as my transport during my one trip to Russia in 2006 was all ground based. However I don’t subscribe to the “Russian technology is inferior” that a lot of people seem to believe. I would much rather Australia be looking at a Su-34 as a replacement for the F-111 rather than the insanity of the JSF which is as good a replacement for the F-111 as the Prius is for the Landcruiser.

    In this case it is obviously most likely result of the political master overriding the technical/operational heads in the cockpit.

  36. EngineeringReality

    “this “I’ve been to Russia and survived” war story is a bit akin to bears in the Red Square”

    I have a photo of a bear in Red Square when I was there in 2006!

  37. spacedog

    SokolMax – do Russian’s have the same saying about sarcasm as the English?

    Ben – a great read about the history of the Soviet space program is “Red Star in Orbit” by former NASA scientist, James Oberg. Includes incredible behind the scenes stories and photos of participants including those “airbrushed” out of the Russian history books.

  38. Bob A

    Crisbob – I’m sorry but you sound like a 15 year old who came Australia when he was 12… Why are you so scared of the Russians? I’m sure if we met in person you wouldn’t say such nasty things, you’d be nice and extra friendly, while trying to cover the chip on your shoulder… What did we do to you? Transported to Siberia on one of Ben’s Tu-104s in the 50s?

    Re Nivas. Sorry, you wrote, I quote: “…just look at Lada Nivas which were required for the military…” Sounds like you saw one of them in Australia, amirite? Pretty hard to confuse “UAZ”, which no-one saw in this country with a “Lada Niva”, hey?

    BTW, it’s not “GAZ/UAR-69”, it’s UAZ-469 which is used in the army – which superceded the Gaz-69 in the 60s or 70s.

    Re “standing room only” – there were no such flights/planes in the USSR or Russia. Never-ever. I’ll pay YOU, Crisbob, A$1000 (which is a lot of money for you) if you prove me wrong. Game on! Enough infintile Russophobic attacks – put your money where your mouth is.

  39. SokolMax

    spacedog – you intrigued me. What saying would that be?

  40. SokolMax

    Bob A – “it’s UAZ-469 which is used in the army “. Of course. My mistake.

  41. SokolMax

    chrisbob – “the pilot handed the passenger jet’s controls to his 10 year old son”

    Sorry, I have to take an exception with this particular wording. The pilot did not “hand controls” to anybody. The plane was flying on autopilot. As far as the captain knew, the plane was been controlled by the autopilot when he allowed first his daughter and then his son to sit in his seat. This was, perhaps, not a wise thing to do – but not the first time when a guest was allowed to a cockpit at a cruising altitude. His fatal mistake was to let his son to slightly turn the wheel for a couple of seconds. Unbeknownst, he has thus stumbled upon a less known feature of A310’s autopilot system – this slight movement of the wheel was sufficient to disengage one of the autopilot’s functions (ailerons) – which was not announced by audible alarm – while leaving the rest on. So – no, it was not an example of typical Russian recklessness, it was an example of overconfidence combined with insufficient knowledge of aircraft systems.

    I’m going here by the Oxford’s definition of recklessness (“without thought or care for the consequences of an action”) – does it mean something different Down Under?

  42. Bob A

    Crisbob’s uncle will be happy:

    Ryanair to make passengers stand: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/5753477/Ryanair-to-make-passengers-stand.html

    Still, no such planes existed in the USSR.

  43. Bob A

    KokolMax – I guess it’s “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”. Don’t think there’s a Russian equivalent. I think it takes a lot of skill and intelligence to be ironic – e.g Jerry Seinfeld built a career on it and he’s one of the smartest comedians ever.

  44. chrisbob

    >Crisbob’s uncle will be happy:
    >Ryanair to make passengers stand: >http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/5753477/Ryanair
    >Still, no such planes existed in the USSR.

    The plane is not to blame, it’s the baby Aeroflots that sprang up after the USSR fell apart.

  45. chrisbob


    >Sorry, I have to take an exception with this
    >particular wording. The pilot did not “hand
    >controls” to anybody. The plane was flying
    >on autopilot. As far as the captain knew,
    >the plane was been controlled by the autopilot
    >when he allowed first his daughter and then
    >his son to sit in his seat. This was, perhaps,
    >not a wise thing to do –

    You think?

    >but not the first time when a guest was
    >allowed to a cockpit at a cruising altitude.

    Been there, done that.

    >His fatal mistake was to let his son to slightly turn
    >the wheel for a couple of seconds.

    Uhm yeah, RECKLESSNESS!!

    >Unbeknownst, he has
    >thus stumbled upon a less known feature of A310’s
    >autopilot system – this slight movement of the wheel
    >was sufficient to disengage one of the autopilot’s
    >functions (ailerons)

    And the pilot didn’t know this? Again, Russian lackadaisical recklessness. A properly trained pilot on a new machine would have known something this important.

    >no, it was not an example of typical Russian
    >recklessness, it was an example of
    >overconfidence combined with
    >insufficient knowledge of aircraft systems.

    Uh no, it was an EXTREME example of typical Russian recklessness, it was ATYPICAL.

    To let a non-Pilot (a CHILD at that) SIT AT THE CONTROLS AND TO ***MANIPULATE*** the controls is utter recklessness and stupidity.

    >I’m going here by the Oxford’s definition of
    >recklessness (”without thought or care for
    >the consequences of an action”) – does it mean
    >something different Down Under?

    I would say that sitting a kid behind an airliner’s controls and LETTING HIM MANIPULATE a key control is an epitome of an action “without thought or care for the consequences of an action”

  46. Bob A

    Australian pilots hailed as heroes after airliner engine failure

    “…Airbus A330…both its engines malfunctioned…” “…right engine also began to “cut out inexplicably, leaving the [pilots] to cope with dips and surges in power…”

    Yet another example of the actor-observer bias.

    If this happened with a Russian/Soviet plane, there would be mandatory mentions of the following:

    “French-built” Airbus A330.

    “Ageing” plane with a “history of accidents” (the plane could be up to 20 years old, A330’s first flight was in 1992) -> list all A330 accidents HERE.

    “Accident-prone” “cash-strapped” airline -> list all Cathay Pacific accidents HERE.

    “Political turmoil” -> list Hong-Kong’s civil rights concerns including handover to communist China HERE.

    etc – None of this information is ever present in an article concering a Western aircraft or airline.

  47. Ben Sandilands


    Some of the messages recently posted have been deleted or had sections deleted. On the weekend I’m going to review the resource I consulted concerning the early TU-104 flights. I think the criticism of my reference to prison flights is correct, so what I will be looking for is not justification for those references, but finding out how or why I got it wrong.

    I’d do it sooner but life is crowded with unexpected events and challenges at present.

    The critical fact that I do think is ignored or airbrushed out of airline history in the west is that the TU-104 was the first successful scheduled jet airliner, in that after 1956 when it went into service, the jet age continued, rather than the premature start and stop of the early Comets and the almost completely forgotten Canadian jet airliner of the same era.

    This puts the TU-104 in a unique place in airline history. I wonder if any of them are kept in flying condition today. They would be a sight to behold, and hear.

  48. spacedog

    Ben you should read ‘Tex’ Johnson’s discussion of the TU-104 jet in his autobiography. He spent some time on the flight deck when the TU-104 was being showcased around the world. (Johnson did the same with the Dash 80 prototype of the B707). It’s been a few years since I read the book but if memory serves, it trailed the Dash 80 miserably in many areas including performance, braking, handling, and cabin air-conditioning (virtually non-existent). He described how both pilots had to physically manhandle the controls in unison just keep the plane flying and under control and when they later ground to a halt with all sorts of noises emanating from the over-stressed undercarriage, his laughter and head-shaking got the Russian pilots quite angry. As you state, it was an early jet trendsetter though. The Russians were very quick off the mark after the war finished when they got their hands on British and German jet engines and German swept wing aircraft. American Intelligence services frequently under-estimated Soviet development and got caught out with the performance of the MIG15s and 17s. A Boeing B-47 (arguably the grandfather of all modern jet airliners today) was buzzed and shot at by MIGs during a recon flight from Finland over the USSR after being assured by Air Force Intelligence that the Russians had nothing that could touch them at high altitude and speed.

  49. Bob A

    Spacedog – I think Ben wanted to ‘celebrate’ Tu-104 as the first commercial jet airliner. I guess in the same way humankind can celebrate the Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin. No politics, just human achievement.

    Who is ‘Tex’ Johnson and what are his credentials to make fun of the world’s first commercial jet liner? Was he collecting intelligence to build the US version years later?

    Like I said, I flew on Tu-104 as a kid and I recall its noisy engines, however I don’t recall “noises emanating from the over-stressed undercarriage” nor did we suffocate due to “non-existing air conditioning”.

    Face it if you can – the US trailed Russia/USSR in space (first man and woman in space, first vehicle on the Moon etc), Tu-104 (first jetliner), Su-27 (two words – Pugachov Cobra… the Su-27 was way better than any Western fighter at the time – and its modifications still are), etc. The Soviets and now Russians also make best ice cream – beats Haagen Daas at a fraction of the cost – try one next time in Moscow.

  50. spacedog

    Bob A – Jeez you are overly sensitive aren’t you? I know what Ben said and I did acknowledge that the Soviets were early leaders in aerospace achievements and can still match it with the yanks with fighters. My point was that the TU-104 was not a great aircraft compared with say the B707 that Alvin ‘Tex’ Johnson as Chief Boeing Test pilot helped develop (he was also involved in the B-47 and B-52 programs and much later in work for NASA. Do a search on the Internet for his achievements. The rolling of the Dash 80 over Washington Lake to the horror/joy on onlookers is legendary and available on YouTube (“Boeing 707 roll by Test Pilot Tex Johnson”). From memory, B707 production had already commenced when he flew in the TU-104 cockpit. Given the poor sales of that aircraft I guess the Soviets were later trying to drum up business in other parts of world including North America. Also wasn’t the Comet the first ‘commercial jetliner’? I’ve eaten Russian ice-cream at minus 30 Celsius in Siberia (Irkutsk) and I agree, it is delicious tovarisch!

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