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A quote from this article: "The Concorde had better range, braking and engine control but the Tupolev had vastly superior aerodynamics."

What is the basis, if any, for this statement on the aerodynamics of the two aircraft?

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  • $\begingroup$ Frankly, that entire article should probably just be discarded. It appears to be written by someone who's briefly scanned the Wikipedia summary box and introduction for the articles of each aircraft... $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Aug 17 '15 at 14:36
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Let's see if we can find numbers to support this claim:

Tu-144D:
Ogival delta wings without conical camber, cranked delta. A distinctly low set & a much simpler wing, a poor performer at low speed, hence the later addition of canards, with no doubt a big weight penalty.

155 seats
122622 l of fuel for 5330 km
209,440 lbs = 95 Mg
which works out to 17.8 kg/km or 0.118 kg/passenger.km
Thrust/weight ratio: 0.44

Concorde production version:

Double delta (ogee/Ogival) shaped wings with conical camber, more curved. Advanced, highly refined wing design. 120 seats
Maximum fuel load: 210,940 lb (95,680 kg)
Range: 3,900 nmi (4,488.04 mi, 7,222.8 km)
Fuel consumption: 46.85 lb/mi (13.2 kg/km) operating for maximum range
or 0.11 kg/passenger.km
lift-to-drag: Low speed– 3.94, Approach– 4.35, 250 kn, 10,000 ft– 9.27, Mach 0.94– 11.47, Mach 2.04– 7.14 Thrust/weight ratio: 0.373

So the specific fuel consumption is very close, with the Tu-144 at 7% higher. And I've used figures for the Tu-144D version which was a big improvement over earlier versions: those could not supercruise at Mach 2, unlike Concorde, which drastically reduced their range.

From Wikipedia:

It is unclear why Tu-144D's maximum achievable altitude would be lower than Concorde's even regular flight altitude, given that Tupolev's data claim better lift-to-drag ratio for the Tu-144 (over 8.0 for Tu-144D vs Concorde's 7.3–7.7 at Mach 2.x) and the thrust of the Tu-144D's RD-36-51 engines is higher than Concorde's Olympus 593 engine.

The lower landing speed compared to Tu-144 is due to Concorde's more refined design of the wing profile that provides higher lift at low speeds without degrading supersonic cruise performance – a feature often mentioned in Western publications on Concorde and acknowledged by Tupolev designers as well.

summary from Tony Buttler, 'Building Concorde':

Early on in the Concorde project, wind tunnel tests found that a wing of the right shape would generate overwing vortices at low speeds and high angles of attack. This meant a big increase in lift, which lowered takeoff and touchdown speeds. Small strakes on the front fuselage were found to give superior results to canards (the canards interacted with the fin in undesirable ways). A fuel transfer system was used to trim the aircraft instead of relying on aerodynamic trim controls.

The Tu-144 relied on retractable canards for low speeds, while BAC had found a superior solution.

Conclusion: My impression is that the basic aerodynamics of the Concorde were better. Tupolev tried to compensate by optimizing the surface smoothness at the cost of maintainability (to borrow from the other answer, "high aerodynamic cleanness of TU-144 which was achieved by making the design more complicated and by lowering maintainability of the aircraft"). This meant closing off access hatches, using large complicated skin panels to reduce the number of seams, etc.

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Unfortunately, there is no hard data available (at least in open literature) to back up these claims.

One for the claim may be due to the fact that the Tu-144 was designed to fly higher than Concorde as its primary flight path was over land rather than water. Because of this, the L/D ratio of the Tu-144 was higher than that of Concorde (7 vs 8 in Tu-144D). Also, the Tu-144 was bigger and was meant to carry more passengers.

3-view comparison of Concorde and Tu-144

Photo Courtesy: globalsecurity.org

The Tupolev site offers an interesting explanation for this claim. Basically, they say that despite the engines and other subsystems being inefficient, the Tu-144 performed similar to the Concorde due to superior aerodynamics of the aircraft. The performance of the Tu-144's RD-36 engines was later brought up to that of Concorde's Olympus 593, at least in fuel consumption.

To quote,

It should be added that the engines were less perfect (by specific parameters the engines of TU-144 a/c were brought close to “Olympus” only in their last modification). All these negative initial data were compensated in the course of development of the project by high aerodynamic cleanness of TU-144 which was achieved by making the design more complicated and by lowering maintainability of the aircraft.

But without any hard data, it is not possible to compare the two aircraft directly.

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