Tu-104 Camel - Service
In 1955 Tu-104's serial production was launched in Kharkov and Omsk. During test flights new aircraft visited Great Britain, Switzerland, India and some other countries.
The Tu-104 took Soviet civil aviation into the jet age, becoming the world's first operational jetliner. In May 1956 Tu-104 entered service, becoming the first soviet and world's second passenger jetliner put in operation. Tu-104 together with newest An-10 and Il-18 airplanes did a great contribution to the Soviet civil aviation in general. Operation of liners of that class required total reconstruction and improvement of all aviation infrastructures. Undoubtfully, in the mid-1950's a new era of Soviet aviation has began. In 1955 the pre-entry-into-service phase for the TU-104, the first Soviet jetliner began at Vnukovo covering the whole range of flight operation, technical maintenance- and revenue service-related aspects and problems associated with the new aircraft type. On September 15, 1956 a brand-new TU-104 piloted by Captain E.P. Barabash and his crew took off from Vnukovo bound for Irkutsk on its first revenue flight. A new era in flight operations and civil aviation technology and equipment had begun - the jet age.
As 1956 approached, the sixth five-year plan for 1956-1960 was announced, setting its targets at doubling the passenger traffic. The formula was a jet airliner and in September 1956, the first Tupolev Tu-104 was launched on the Moscow-Omsk-Irkutsk route. The Tu-104 flew the entire route in seven hours compared with the IL-14's gruelling 18 hours; in fact, with a two-hour turn-around, the Tu-104 could be back in Moscow before the 11-14 arrived in Irkutsk. Initial results in performance and reliability proved so successful that production of the Tu-104 was accelerated to ensure that all long-haul routes were operated by the Tu-104 by the end of 1959.
On 15 September 1956 the new aircraft flew over Siberia, from Moscow to Irkutsk, via Omsk. This was a huge step in the development of Russian civil aviation. Air travel became almost three times faster, civil pilots learned to fly at new altitudes, and passengers enjoyed the comfort of the spacious cabins and the non-stop flights.
The arrival of the jet age marked a turning point in development of long-haul services in this country when TU-104, a silver-colored steel bird, took to the sky off Vnukovo airfield near Moscow for the first time on September 15, 1956. The novelty seemed like a real wonder to passengers. Its speed, which was 3 times greater than that of IL-14 or LI-2, a 1.5 thousand-kilometer larger flight range, an airtight cockpit and a comfortable 50-seat cabin won popular success soon. A flight to Far East onboard TU-104 took 10 to 12 hours with 2 stops en route.
In 1957, larger quantities of the stretched TU-104A were delivered to Aeroflot. The stretched "A" carried 70 passengers. Quantities of these aircraft were also offered to other Communist-block airlines, but CSA Czechoslovakian airlines was the only customer who purchased them. In 1958 increasing quantities of TU-104's were seen and the TU-114 turboprop entered airline service.
The first Tu-104 aircraft divisions outside Moscow were set up in Irkutsk and Novosibirsk, where Tolmachevo, the largest airport in Russia east of the Urals, was opened in 1957. Also at Tolmachevo, a Flight Training Center (FTC) was set up, where pilots from throughout the USSR learned to fly the Tu-104, as Moscow could not cope with the number of learners. Both Novosibirsk and Irkutsk had up to 30 Tu-104 aircraft in their own fleets.
At the beginning of 1957 Primorsky Krai authorities began considering seriously the possibility of receiving TU-104 in Vladivostok. They selected the military airfield of Knevichi that had a 2,500 meter-long concrete runway with radio equipment and lighting. On January 13, 1958, a jet airliner bound for Vladivostok took off Vnukovo airfield. Due to snowstorms the flight was delayed in Omsk, Irkutsk and Khabarovsk. Still, despite the bad weather TU-104 landed on Knevichi airfield for the first time on January 19, 1958. People living in Primorye took a liking to advantages of the first jet aircraft, and the 50-seat cabin was never short of passengers. During the whole of 1958 the airline was training extra staff for the ground service in order to increase the number of jet airplanes received at the airport.
By 1958 Aeroflot had about 50 TU-104's, flying them regularly to East Berlin, Prague, Sofia, and distant cities within the USSR, cutting the 8-day Moscow-to-Peiping rail trip to just 9 hours. By 1958 Aeroflot expected to convert completely to jets and turboprops by 1960, phase out the 800 to 1,000 two-engined Ilyushins (opposite number to the DC-3) that were its bread- and- lard planes. Thus, in less than 3 years, Aeroflot hoped to leap from the primitive, twin-engined piston stage into the four-jet age, without carefully rolling up experience on larger piston planes as Western lines had done.
On May 20, 1959, TU-104 departed from Pulkovo airport in Leningrad to land in Vladivostok 20 hours later, thus opening a regular airline service on the route. Additional daily services to Moscow were introduced in 1960 and 1961, and on July 11, 1961, the jet aircraft began to carry out regular flights on Odessa - Vladivostok route. Using jet aircrafts for long-haul flights enabled cost efficiency and a dramatic increase in passenger operations. While a total of 4,640 passengers were flown from Vladivostok to Moscow in 1954, 51,108 passengers were flown by TU-104 only in 1964.
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