The foremost aircraft designer of the Soviet Union.
Born in 1888 to a middle-class provincial family, Andrei Nikolayevich Tupolev entered the Imperial Moscow Higher Technical School in 1908, where he studied under famed Russian aerodynamist Nikolai Zhukovsky. While a student there, Tupolev and a group of friends formed a small syndicate and built a series of gliders. In the 1917 Russian Revolution, Tupolev sided with the Bolsheviks, who seemed to embrace modernity and technological progress more than other political groups. In 1918, Tupolev graduated and, with his mentor Zhukovsky, set up the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (abbreviated TsAGI). From 1918 to 1935, Tupolev served as the assistant director of TsAGI and as its chief designer. His ANT-2, produced in 1924, was the first Soviet all-metal aircraft. In the 1920’s, Tupolev was the main Soviet proponent of heavy long-range aircraft and, during the 1930’s, Tupolev’s design bureau developed the long-range ANT-25, a plane that was used to set several long-distance aviation records. In 1936, Tupolev traveled to both Germany and the United States in order to study their aircraft industries.
On October 21, 1936, Tupolev was arrested as part of Stalin’s purges. He was charged with selling blueprints to Germany for the Messerschmitt Bf-110 and, from 1939 to 1941, Tupolev worked in a special prison aviation workshop. The prison team developed several airplanes that eventually played a great role during World War II, such as the Pe-2 and the Tu-2 attack bomber. He was freed when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and in 1943 his Tu-2 airplane was awarded a Stalin Prize.
After World War II, Tupolev was charged with developing a copy of the American B-29 Superfortress. The resulting Tu-4 was the first Soviet strategic bomber. In the 1950’s, Tupolev designed a series of jet bombers as well as large civilian passenger aircraft for the Soviet airline, Aeroflot. He was also responsible for the Tu-144, the world’s first supersonic transport.
Tupolev died on December 23, 1972, and in 1988 he was inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame.
Duffy, Paul, and Andrei Kandalov. Tupolev: The Man and His Aircraft. Shrewsbury, England: Airlife, 1996. A memoir of Tupolev and his role in Soviet aviation history. Includes many photos, especially of lesser-known Soviet aircraft. Gunston, Bill. Tupolev Aircraft Since 1922. London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1995. A survey of Tupelov’s designs. Kerber, L. L. Stalin’s Aviation Gulag: A Memoir of Andrei Tupolev and the Purge Era. Edited by Von Hardesty. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996. A memoir by Tupolev’s deputy and close friend. Provides excellent information about all aspects of Tupolev’s life and career, but with particular emphasis on the time he spent working in a special prison workshop. Whiting, Kenneth. Soviet Air Power. Rev. ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1986. A comprehensive history of Soviet military aviation that provides a good background to Tupolev’s milieu and shows aviation’s role in overall Soviet military organization.
World War II
Andrei Tupolev designed both the first supersonic airliner and the Soviet space shuttle.