The Tupolev Tu-104 (NATO reporting name: Camel) was a twin-engined medium-range turbojet-powered Soviet airliner. After the British de Havilland Comet, Canadian Avro Jetliner, and the French Sud Caravelle, the Tu-104 was the fourth jet airliner to fly, and the second to enter regular service. It was also the sole jetliner in service in the world from 1954 to 1958.
Design and development
At the beginning of the 1950s, the Soviet Union's Aeroflot airline desperately needed a modern airliner with better capacity and performance than any other Soviet plane then in operation. The design request was filled by the Tupolev OKB, which based their new airliner on its Tu-16 'Badger' strategic bomber, the first version was more similar to the Tu-16 and it got square windows like the early De Havilland Comet, but this was later changed before the airplane made its maiden flight. The airplane was pressure tested in a watertank. The wings, engines, and tail surfaces of the Tu-16 were retained in the airliner, but the new design adopted a wider, pressurised fuselage to accommodate 50 passengers. The prototype (CCCP-L5400) first flew on June 17, 1955 with Yu.L. Alasheyev at the controls at Kharkiv plant in Ukraine. It was fitted with a drogue parachute which could shorten the landing run by up to 400 metres (1,300 ft).
Its arrival in London during a 1956 state visit by Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev shocked Western observers who, by the time, thought the Soviets lacked the advanced technology needed to build a commercial airliner with such performance.
The Tu-104 was powered by two Mikulin AM-3 turbojets placed at the wing/fuselage junction (similar to the de Havilland Comet). The crew needed to fly her consisted of 5 people: 2 pilots, 1 navigator (placed in the glazed "bomber" nose), 1 flight engineer and 1 radio operator. This airplane raised great curiosity by its lavish "Victorian" interior - called so by some Western-hemisphere observers - due to the materials used: mahogany, copper and lace.
On September 15, 1956, it began revenue service in Aeroflot's Moscow-Omsk-Irkutsk route, replacing the old Ilyushin Il-14. The flight time was reduced from 13 hours and 50 minutes to 7 hours and 40 minutes.
The small capacity (50 passengers) and the excessive strength and therefore weight inherited from the Tupolev Tu-16 were some of the reasons for its low profitability.
By the time production ceased in 1960, about 200 had been built. Aeroflot did not retire the Tu-104 from civil service until 1979, and the aircraft continued to serve in the Soviet Air Force until 1981, when a crash showed it to be unsafe. The last flight of the type was a ferry flight to a museum in 1986. CSA Czechoslovak Airlines, the Czechoslovak national airline, bought six (four new and two used) of Tu-104As configured for 81 passengers.
Published - July 2009
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