Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Tupolev Tu-104

The Tupolev Tu-104 (NATO reporting name: 'Camel') was a twin-engined medium-range turbojet-powered Soviet airliner and the world's first successful jet airliner. Although it was the fourth jet airliner to be launched (following, in order, the British de Havilland Comet, Canadian Avro Jetliner, and French Sud Caravelle), the Tu-104 was the second to enter regular service (with Aeroflot) and the first to provide a sustained and successful service (the Comet had been withdrawn following a series of crashes due to structural failure). The Tu-104 was the sole jetliner operating in the world between 1956 and 1958. [1]

In 1957, Czech Airlines ČSA became the first airline in the world to fly routes exclusively with jet airliners, using the TU-104A variant. In civil service, the Tu-104 carried over 90 million passengers with Aeroflot (then the world's largest airline), and a lesser number with ČSA, while it also saw operations with the Soviet Air Force. Its successors include the Tu-124 (the first turbofan-powered airliner), the Tu-134 and the Tu-154.

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 received 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 (SSSR-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). [1]

Its arrival in London during a 1956 state visit by Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev totally surprised Western observers who, at the time, thought the Soviets lacked the advanced technology required to build a commercial airliner with such performance. [1]

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. [1]

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. [1]

In 1957, CSA became the first non-Russian airline to operate the Tu-104 in the routes with Moscow, Paris and Brussels as destinations. [1] CSA Czechoslovak Airlines, the Czechoslovak national airline, bought six (four new and two used) of Tu-104As configured for 81 passengers. [1]

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. [1]

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.

Following its removal from civil service, several aircraft were transferred to the Soviet military, which used them as staff transports and to train cosmonauts in zero gravity.

Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-104B at Arlanda Airport
Tupolev OKB
First flight

17 June 1955


15 September 1956 with Aeroflot

Primary users

Number built
Developed from
Tupolev Tu-16
General characteristics
  • Crew: 7
  • Capacity: 50-100 passengers
  • Length: 40.05 m (131 ft 5 in)
  • Wingspan: 34.54 m (113 ft 4 in)
  • Height: 11.90 m (39 ft 0 in)
  • Wing area: 184 m² (1,975 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 41,600 kg (91,710 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 76,000 kg (167,550 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2× Mikulin AM-3M-500 turbojets, 95.1 kN (21,400 lbf) each
  • Maximum speed: 950 km/h (512 knots, 590 mph (950 km/h))
  • Range: 2,650 km (1,430 nm, 1,650 mi)
  • Service ceiling: 11,500 m (37,730 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 10 m/s (2,000 ft/min)

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