A Tu-154 aircraft first visited Budapest 50 years ago

Hungarian version of the article: Ötven éve járt először Tu-154-es repülőgép Budapesten

Written by: Csaba Domonkos

November 29, 2020 at 10:00 AM

The introduction of a new type of aircraft has always been a great sensation in Budapest. It was no different when the most modern passenger aircraft of the time, a product the Soviet aviation industry, the Tu-154, arrived in the city 50 years ago.

Hungarian flight was dominated by Soviet aircraft following the Second World War. There were political reasons for this, as Hungary belonged to the Soviet sphere of interest and was under Soviet occupation. There was no chance of operating planes built in the West. However, the Soviet aviation industry tried to follow Western trends. The Tupolev company introduced the Tu-104 jet in 1956, which was followed by several Soviet jets.

In Hungary, MALÉV's first jet aircraft were Tu-134s. However, these were smaller than the dominant jet aircraft of the era, as they were short- and medium-range aircraft. This led to a great deal of anticipation when the latest Soviet machine, the Tu-154, was showcased at a press conference in Budapest. 

A Tu-154 at Ferihegy (Photo: Ország-Világ, 9 December 1972)

The first Tu-154 prototype took-off in 1968. When it visited Budapest in November 1970, it was a completely new type of aircraft. Moreover, it was the first Tupolev aircraft specifically designed for civilian use. 

The new plane was introduced in Hungary on 24 November 1970. The 23 November 1970 issue of Esti Hírlap wrote: 

“After Bucharest and Sofia, the TU—154 aircraft was also showcased at Ferihegy Airport this morning. Experts from the Soviet foreign trade company, Aviaexport, said that the TU—154 is one of the most advanced passenger aircraft in the world in its category. It flies a 850–950 km / h at an altitude of eleven thousand meters. The machine is highly automised, and is operated by only two pilots and one marine engineer.”

The aircraft was presented primarily for business purposes and was inspected by György Csanádi, Minister of Transport and Post, and several other leading figures. At that time, articles claiming that the Hungarian airline, MALÉV, would refresh its fleet with the new type, had been published by the press for months. As early as 6  May 1970, the newspaper Figyelő wrote: 

"Although the Tu—154 is not suitable for long-distance flights, it could connect new cities in Africa and Asia to Budapest."

At the time, only prototypes of the aircraft were ready, as mass production did not start until in the Soviet Union until 1971. It became a defining aeroplane, as it was the first three-engine aircraft created by the Soviet aviation industry. The aircraft was designed for Soviet needs, it was rugged and could operate on short runways.

A Tu-154 with a Hungarian paint job in 1977 (Photo: Wikipedia, RuthAS)

In Hungary, the first Tu-154, the HA-LCA, entered in MALÉV's fleet relatively early, in 1973, and is now on display in the Aeropark. Incidentally, the Tu-154 was modernised due to Hungarian requests. Thus, the machines delivered to Hungary were actually designated as Tu-154B-2, referring to the modernisation. One of the changes was that the original cockpit was designed for five people, but at the request of the Hungarian government, it was converted to house only three people. In these, only a single flight engineer worked alongside the captain and first officer. 

MALÉV used the type from September 1973 to 2001. A total of 1,000 TU–154 were made in total until production was stopped in 2013. Tu-154s continue to fly around the world to the present day.  

Cover photo: The Tu-154 in Budapest (Photo: Ország Világ, 9 December 1972)


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