As the promise of supersonic air travel pushed aircraft designers forward in the 1950s and ’60s, the Soviet Union produced the Tu-144, a delta-winged airliner capable of carrying 80–120 people at Mach 2. After a first flight on December 31, 1968, development was delayed by a crash at the 1973 Paris Air Show. The Charger, as NATO called the airliner, entered Aeroflot service in November 1977, flying passengers between Moscow and Alma-Ata until the May 1978 crash of a Tu-144D test flight grounded the fleet, ending passenger service. Cargo flights continued through 1983.
ICM’s Tu-144 kit represents the first six production aircraft (sometimes referred to as Tu-144S) with four Kuznetsov NK-144 engines. Molded in slightly soft, medium-gray plastic, the parts show fine, recessed panel lines. The long, thin fuselage is molded in halves. The upper wings include the full leading and trailing edges, so they are scale thin. They even have tiny static-discharge wicks! The engines house full intake ducting with fans. Two clear parts of the cockpit window incorporate the roof; there is a separate clear part for the visor on the nose. Clear inserts are provided for the cabin windows.
There is also a clear stand to display the model in flight, and separate, closed gear doors. Other options include the nose in landing or flight configuration, and the distinctive canards can be extended.
Decals provide markings for two Aeroflot aircraft: one for the Moscow-Alma-Ata run, the other as seen at the 1977 Paris Air Show.
Construction is straightforward with good fits. But the airliner’s unusual structure creates challenges. I left the cabin windows out for ease of painting — I filled them with Microscale Kristal Klear at the end of the build — and glued the fuselage together. The nose and tail fits are nearly perfect. But the large wing opening causes the halves to bow in the middle, creating a difficult gap. I tacked it together with super glue and accelerator, then flowed liquid cement along the seam. To prevent splitting, I reinforced the inside of the seam with a bead of 5-minute epoxy.
After painting the inside of the engines white and metallic gray, I glued the two nacelles together. Pay attention to the part numbers in the instructions; the parts are not interchangeable.
My advice for assembling the wings: Be careful, take your time, and dry-fit often. There are ejector-pin marks inside the wings that need to be removed for proper fit, but don’t remove the small raised circles molded outside the engine opening on the lower wing (Part D5) — you can see them on the instructions — because they help align the parts. I needed to sand the tab that locates the wing and engines to get everything flush.
I left the landing gear, exhaust nozzles, and nose separate for painting.
After several coats of Tamiya spray-can white primer and masking, I painted the lower surface with Testors Model Master Fulcrum gray (No. 2133), then painted the wingtips with Model Master insignia red. Pledge Future floor polish followed.
The decals are very thin and fragile; a couple fractured during application. A coat of Microscale Liquid Decal Film corrected the problem. I was impressed by how well the windows in the decals matched the molded openings (they don’t always). Pay attention to the decal numbers: Several markings, such as the cheat lines, are common to both aircraft, but the Aeroflot titles and wings are slightly different.
Final assembly went well. But be careful with the landing gear. Follow the addendum in the kit and you shouldn’t have any problems. I modeled mine with the nose drooped and the canards deployed.
ICM has done a beautiful job with its first 1/144 scale airliner — great moldings and smart engineering. I spent about 18 hours on mine, most of it painting white. The complexity of the full-size airplane is reflected in the complexity of the parts breakdown and construction, so this isn’t a kit for beginners. However, if you’ve built a few models, you’ll be rewarded with an impressive airliner.
A version of this review appeared in the July 2012 FineScale Modeler.