This is the Tupolev Tu-144, the world's first commercial supersonic transport aircraft (SST). Does it look familiar?
Yeah, it draws frequent comparison to the Concorde, which first flew in March 2, 1969. The Tu-144 first flew two months earlier, on the last day of 1968. Here are the two together. Could this be a case of industrial espionage?
As it happens, Sergei Pavlov, a KGB officer named who doubled as Aeroflot's representative in Paris, was arrested in 1965 while in possession of detailed plans of the Concorde's braking system, landing gear and the airframe. Earlier, another Soviet agent, Sergei Fabiew, was believed to have stolen the Concorde prototype plans. The Soviets countered that they would do no such thing, that the Tu-144 was yet another instance of advanced Soviet aviation technology, and that the affair smacked of a Western counterintelligence op.
At the 1973 Paris Air Show, the second production Tu-144, known as the Concordski, crashed, resulting in the deaths of the entire crew and eight French spectators. After just 53 flights and several additional failures, the entire passenger fleet was grounded, lending credence to the Soviets's claims that they had been the victims of a counterintelligence op: The Concorde team, aware of the KGB's intention of stealing the plans, printed dummy blueprints with deliberate design flaws.
Related link: Once a Spy