Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tupolev Tu-144 Charger SST For Sale

It was a standard Tuesday night. Out of boredom, I was scouring eBay for bizarre aviation memorabilia. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before I entered "crop duster" as a search term.

After sifting through the hits and finding nothing particularly noteworthy, my eyes drifted down to the "You might also be interested in" section, and there it was. A Tupolev Tu-144 Charger SST jet. It could be mine for only 7.5 million bucks. Provided I'm the only bidder, that is.

Other than the presence of a wing and categorization as an aircraft, it's anyone's guess how this aircraft is related to crop dusters. But I was glad to have happened upon it. Only sixteen Tu-144s were built, all between 1963 and 1983. It was essentially a very poor copy of the famous Concorde, with a vastly inferior wing and more primitive systems.

Considering the dismal state of today's used market for supersonic passenger jets...and let me tell you, it's truly dismal...beggars can't be choosers. And this particular aircraft is the only real option at the moment, even for the most discerning shoppers.

СССР-77107, as it is known, made its first flight on August 20, 1975. Not surprisingly, it flew for Aeroflot, primarily serving as a test aircraft. It's final flight occurred in 1985, when it was delivered to its present location - Kazan, Russia.

Despite it's dirty and poorly-maintained outward appearance, some creative Googling revealed more photos that began to make me feel better about the condition of the Tupolev. As you can see, snow is periodically shoveled off of the immense delta wing by local caretakers:

Additionally, the aircraft actually has relatively little use. Over the course of ten years, it logged 180 flights and 357 flight hours. Of those flight hours, only 135 were spent in the supersonic flight regime. With numbers like this, it would almost be irresponsible not to purchase it. 

That said, Russia being Russia, I can only hope it wasn't operated into and out of fields of snow and mud with livestock, sacks of potatoes, and bales of straw crammed into the passenger cabin.

But still, you want to investigate a $7.5M purchase as thoroughly as possible. A closer look at the eBay listing reveals very little information and I noticed multiple red flags. And I'm not talking about the ones painted on the tail. The eBay shopper is provided with no engine times, no cockpit photos, no cabin photos, no maintenance logs, etc. If ever there was a textbook case of Caveat Emptor, this would be it.

In fact, the rest of the eBay listing raises more questions than answers:

The seller claims to be a successful broker of Russian space stations and satellites, which I suppose makes him more qualified than most to deal in obsolete, derelict Russian supersonic transport airliners. But other aspects of the ad raise even more red flags. The aircraft is not eligible for the eBay vehicle purchase protection programs, and despite having a bit of equity in my home and just a small amount of outstanding student loan debt, I was not able to secure "low monthly payments", as the listing promises. For me, this would have to be a cash-only transaction, likely involving several suitcases and multiple armed guards.

On the other hand, the listing states that the price "will include all costs for delivery, including a Russian team to come to America for complete assembly." I've never attempted to assemble or ship an obsolete Russian SST, but having some experience with Ikea and several plastic model aircraft, I'm sure that service is worth a half million or so all by itself.

Indeed, I was fully prepared to arrange a meeting with the esteemed Russian spacecraft broker. That is, until then I saw his eBay seller profile:

You're reading that correctly. OasisRob1945 has virtually no feedback whatsoever. The man wants to be a broker of supersonic airliners, and yet, he's only ever sold a single item on 8' inboard hydroplane. 

And so, with that discovery, any and all credibly on the part of OasisRob1945 vanished into thin air more quickly than this beautiful supersonic steed did at max cruise speed back in it's day. And with it, any prospects I once had to become the world's newest SST owner and operator.

1 comment:

  1. The ad has returned with more information, including cockpit photo.

    Not convinced that it makes the sale more realistic though; I was tempted to report the first ad to ebay as I found it shady and seemed like a scam.