During the latter half of the Cold War (1947 - 1991) years, the Soviet Union's naval branch positioned itself to field an all-new nuclear-powered fleet of "supercarriers" (led by the Ulyanovsk) to match the sea-based firepower of American and Western foes. Up to this point, the Soviet Navy was only capable of fielding Yakovlev Yak-38 Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) strike fighters from its limited Kiev-class fleet. To help stock the incoming supercarrier line, Yakovlev was charged with design and development of a capable, carrier-based Airborne Early Warning (AEW) platform during the late 1970s and this led to the Yak-44 proposal. However, the Soviet supercarrier initiative fell to naught with the fall of the Soviet Empire and the Yak-44 only ever existed in a ful-sized mock-up. The program was cancelled along with the supercarriers and no prototypes existed.
The Ulyanovsk and its kind were set to support some 68 total aircraft, a mix of Sukhoi and Mikoyan fighters, Yak-44 AEW platforms, sub-hunting and Search and Rescue (SAR) Kamov helicopters. The flight deck would have been designed in a rather Western way with four catapult launch positions - two over the bow and two along portside - with an angled receiving deck running from stern to portside. The island superstructure would be offset to the starboard side with three hangar elevators servicing the flight deck.
These qualities fleshed out the requirements to Yakovlev for their new AEW platform. The resulting design held a stark similarity to the competing American Grumman E-2 "Hawkeye" series with little left to the imagination. The design included a length of 66.9 feet, a wingspan of 84 feet and a height of 23 feet. Wings were foldable for improved carrier storage below decks. A large, retractable radome (the NPO "Vega" pulse Doppler) was fitted over the fuselage as in the E-2. The typical operation crew was expected to number five including two pilots and mission specialists. Loaded weight was reported at 88,200lbs. Power was to be served through 2 x Zaporozhye D-227 series "propfans" developing 14,000 horsepower each - combining a gas turbine with an unshielded, twisted-blade propeller assembly. Wings were shoulder mounted to provide the proper clearance for the propeller blades and the undercarriage was of a tricycle arrangement, fully retractable. As in the E-2, the Yak-44 would have sported a twin-tail arrangement. As expected with any naval aircraft, the Yak-44 was to be properly coated and sealed to prevent corrosion on the seas. Additionally, its structure and undercarriage members were reinforced for carrier deck landings.
Performance specifications from the two engines was expected to include a maximum speed of 460 miles per hour, a range of 2,500 miles and a service ceiling of 42,700 feet. All were estimates, however, as no prototype was ever completed.
Work continued throughout the 1980s to which the Soviets were engaged in a costly and bloody war across Afghanistan. This, and other internal matters, eventually led to the fall of the Soviet Empire and many programs fell to extreme budget cuts. Yakovlev managed the aforementioned full-sized mockup but little else before the project was done in. The Yak-44 was given up for good sometime in 1993 as the Russian Navy entered into a period of depression and limited funding.