How we got the Tupolev Tu-144

We had always dreamt about having a Concorde. However, getting hold of a Concorde seemed to be completely impossible in the 80s. For years, we had been contacting Air France every once in a while regarding the Concorde, always based on the motto “as long as the Concorde can still fly, let it fly, but once it cannot be used any more, we would like to submit our application.” The prospect of success was at around 2%. That is why we also looked for possible exhibits that were similar to the Concorde, e.g. a British Vulcan bomber. At least, the Vulcan bomber was the original model on the basis of which the Concorde was probably developed. It also has delta wings. Unfortunately, we were too late for this bomber. They had all been scrapped already. Thankfully, there is still one bomber that a British club is maintaining. I have seen the Vulcan in Goodwood. It is unbelievable how loud the bomber is.

Another option was the Tupolev plant in Moscow. We contacted them. Back then, there were still letter heads with a very thin yellow and red carbon copy. We contacted them in a very friendly manner and applied for a Tupolev Tu-144 but we never got an answer.

We then acquired the Antonov AN-22 in Kiev, the largest transport plane with a propeller engine. This took place during the wild period after the border opening. In Kiev, we strictly stuck to our commitments. The plane arrived at our premises. We closed off a corner of the runway in Speyer – at the time 1,000 metres long – so that nothing and no one would get harmed in case the plane could not stop. Thankfully, everything worked out as planned.

Later that year, after we had received the Antonov AN-22 in Speyer, a delegation of Russian citizens contacted our museum. This took place during the worldwide renowned Hannover Messe. The delegation was led by Mr. Pukhov. At the time, Pukhov was the head of design engineering at Tupolev. Pukhov was holding the thin yellow carbon copy of our letter that was at the time already 10 years old and asked us point-blank if we were still interested in the Tupolev. He told us that Tupolev could make one machine available for us that was still standing at the plant. We were all thunderstruck. It was unbelievable. However, the last transport had just been completed and this investment seemed a little too big for us. Hastily and determined, I started promoting the purchase of the Tupolev in all of our association committees. The purchase was approved and I made them an offer. Of course, I was extremely conservative regarding the offer. It included the transport from Moscow to Mannheim. Then, the crash of the French Concorde took place. This unsettled the Russian delegation which made them accept our offer right away.

The Russian partner transported the Tupolev 144 to Moscow via the Moskva river. Here are some nice photos of the Kremlin. It was then transported to Saint Petersburg where the Tupolev was transhipped onto a coaster. The coaster sailed along the coast to Rotterdam and then up the Rhine to Mannheim. Back then, we had not known that a transport could be a huge event. We wanted to keep the costs as low as possible which is why you could only take pictures of the beautiful Tupolev from bridges and elevated viewpoints, otherwise it was not visible. If you are interested, you should have a look at the transport DVD of Tupolev, Jumbo Jet and Concorde. You will be able to see a noticeable learning effect regarding our transports.

The Russian delegation led by Mr. Pukhov delivered the Tupolev to us in a very festive manner in Mannheim where we transhipped it from the coaster onto a Neckar ship. It was then brought to Heilbronn and from the heavy-load quay at the Heilbronn port we proudly transported our Tupolev via country roads and highways to the museum. It was my dream to place the Tupolev in starting position on the roof of the museum. I already had quite a bit of experience with planes on supports and this one was meant to be the highlight. (I copied the idea from model planes. The idea was to copy it 1:1.) Copying a model plane 1:1 may sound logical, however, the implementation of the plan was actually very complicated. Now, the Tupolev is placed on a foundation weighing 1,600 tons that serves as a counterweight to the plane. The highway authorities obliged us to place the Tupolev in the front area of the hall. Back then, I said in complete megalomania: “Well, then we even have space left for the Concorde.” How we got the Corcorde, however, is a completely different story.

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