The Tupolev concern of Russia holds an aviation history dating as far back as 1926, having since established a name in large military and commercial aircraft designs. To supply the latter with a new medium-ranged hauler (replacing several outgoing turboprop models), Tupolev assumed a three-turbofan-engined, low monoplane wing design comparable to Western offerings of the time. The three engines were held in the aft-section of the fuselage, a configuration popular during the 1960s and 1970s, and design work on the type preceded its first flight, this recorded on October 4th, 1968. After passing trials and gaining the required certifications, the new design emerged as the Tu-154 with production beginning in 1968 and spanning until 2011. Deliveries from Tupolev to awaiting carriers began in 1970 to which formal introduction was in 1972, this with Aeroflot. 1,025 examples were ultimately produced and this breed stocked some 21 airlines during her operational tenure. Today, roughly 100 are still flying, impressive considering the type's inception over 40 years ago. Upon recognition from the West, NATO observers christened the aircraft the "Careless".
Unlike Western airliner types, the Tu-154 was specifically designed for very rigorous conditions and for navigating the broad and unforgiving airspaces common to the then-Soviet frontier. The undercarriage was reinforced for operations from rough airfields while the body was developed to content with freezing conditions of the north. Since maintenance facilities in more rural areas of the country would offer little to no service for the aircraft, the Tu-154 was designed to operate for long periods of time before requiring a scheduled overhaul. Such stresses undoubtedly caused several of the 39 published accidents involving the Tu-154 series during its service life. Other factors usually centered around pilot/crew errors and accidents.
Design of the Tu-154 was conventional with a slim, tubular fuselage, forward-set cockpit, low-mounted swept main wing assemblies and a high-mounted Tee-style tailplane atop a vertical fin. All three engines were concentrated to the rear of the design with two straddling the vertical fin and the third buried at its frontal base (running from the fuselage spine). The sides of the fuselage were appropriately dotted with rectangular windows for passenger viewing. There were four rectangular access doors to either fuselage side for quick embarking/disembarking of passengers. Cargo was stored in the deck beneath the passenger seating area. The flight crew sat well-forward in the design with good views over the nose through a framed window set. The vehicle traveled along the ground view a tricycle undercarriage that consisted of two main landing gear legs and a nose leg. The main legs were of note for their multi-wheeled design, wheels numbering six in all. The nose leg was conventional with a two wheel set. Internally. the Tu-154 was arranged to carry approximately 164 passengers. Outwardly, the Tu-154 was highly comparable to the American Boeing 727 series and the British Hawker Siddeley Trident models - both appearing prior to the Tupolev design.
Over the course of its life, the Tu-154 family of aircraft has seen an appropriate helping of variants. The initial production model was known simply as the "Tu-154" with seating for 164 with 42 examples being built in all. An upgraded form then appeared to become the Tu-154A which added additional internal fuel stores, exit doors and multiple interior configurations to suit carrier requirements. The engines were uprated Kuznetsovs. The Tu-154B brought about use of new, stronger wings due to fractures that began emerging in the preceding production models then in service. Additional fuel storage, exit doors and passenger seated was also introduced. The Tu-154B became the new Tu-154 standard to which the preceding marks were upgraded to when possible. A slightly differing Tu-154B form followed, this as the Tu-154B-1 with improved avionics, comforts and undercarriage with seating for 160 passengers. 64 of this subvariant were delivered. The Tu-154B-2 was similar and increased seating to 180 passengers with the loss of the onboard kitchen facility. 311 of this type were produced in all. The Tu-154S was a cargo-hauler conversion model with revised internals. Nine were converted from existing Tu-154 and Tu-154B models. The Tu-154M was a modernized variant appearing in 1982 with Soloviev D-30KU-154 series turbofans. Performance and operational ranges were both improved. The Tu-154M-LK-1 was a VIP model converted for astronaut (cosmonaut) training. The Tu-154M-ON was a one-off observation platform utilized by East Germany, lost to accident in 1997. The Tu-154M-100 was the last offered modernized mark first appearing in 1998. These three examples were differentiated by their Western-type avionics and seating for 157 and delivered to Slovakia for a time.
Early Tu-154 marks were powered by the Kuznetsov NK-8 series turbofan engines while later, more modern marks, appeared with the Soloviev D-30 series turbofan. Maximum take-off weight (MTOW) and range were improved between the two designs while maximum speeds and service ceilings reamined comparable.
Use of the Tu-154 inevitably went beyond civilian carrier hands with operations conducted at the government level for some. The type also gained a foothold in the lucrative military market where it served the air forces of Armenia, Bulgaria, China, Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic, Cuba, East Germany/Germany (reunified), North Korea, Poland, Mongolia, Russia/Soviet Union, Turkmenistan , Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
The a recent high profile crash involving a Tu-154 occurred on October 4th, 2010 when aircraft 101 - carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his cabinet - crashed on final approach, killing all on board. One of the deadliest crashed was CCCP-85311 on October 7th, 1985, which stalled and crashed due to pilot error and an overloaded plane - 200 souls were lost. The most recent published incident was on January 1st, 2011 when RA-85588 caught fire during taxiing, resulting in an explosion and death of three of the 124 persons on board.