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Tu-104 Camel

The Tupolev Tu-104 is on of the pioneer jet transports. Aeroflot began the world's first sustained jet airline service using Tupolev Tu-104 'Camel' jets on an extensive internal route network from the summer of 1955. This aircraft was first flown on June 17, 1955, and went into scheduled airline operations in 1956 on the Moscow-Omsk-Irkutsk route. In 1957, an improved version of the aircraft, the Tu-104A, captured a number of records for speed, altitude, distance, and load-carrying capability. Regular passenger service with TU-104s started between the two most important seaports in the USSR. With respect to length, this air route is the greatest in the Soviet Union. On the morning of 23 May 1959 the first group of passengers took off on a TU-104 from Vladivostok to Leningrad. They arrived at their destination the same day. The Tu-104 saw service until the mid-1970s.

In 1950s-1970s, the country's top aviation construction bureaus of Sergei Ilyushin, Oleg Antonov and Andrei Tupolev competed in the design of passenger planes - but it was Tupolev who took the lead with his Tu-104 commercial jet. The appearance of the Tupolev Tu-104 at Heathrow in 1956 was a complete surprise for the aviation world. The Tu-104 was a major propaganda coup for the Russians at a time when the Cold War was at its height.

The Soviets plugged Aeroflot as "the only line in the world with mass and regular exploitation of jets." To fly into the jet age ahead of the West, Aeroflot adapted designer Andrei Tupolev's twin-jet Badger medium-range bombers to regular commercial service. The Tu-104 quickly established a number of international speed and load-to-altitude records for an airliner in 1957, at a time when the de Havilland Comet had experienced severe setbacks in the form of a number of fatal crashes, and the Boeing 707 had yet to be cleared for airline use.

By the mid-1950s, it became clear that passenger airplanes with piston engines could not cope with modern tasks. To the question of creating new techniques, Tupolev and Ilyushin came from different positions. Ilyushin was convinced that it was necessary to create a fundamentally new aircraft, and proceeded to develop a passenger liner with a turboprop engine - the future IL-18. Andrei Tupolev saw the decision to create passenger aircraft based on existing and well-proven military designs.

The successful introduction of airplanes with turbojet engines in the Air Force allowed switching to the problem of creating a jet passenger aircraft for civil aviation. The prototype of the world's first production jet passenger airplane, named "Comet", was produced in the UK in 1949. After several years of testing and development, the airplane started operations in the civil air fleet. However, a series of crashes in the first half of the 50s forced airlines to remove the aircraft from service. It took four years of additional research and design improvements before almost new "Comet" was back in service.

The obvious success of the Tupolev Design Bureau and the whole military aviation was appearance in the 1950s of TU-16 and TU-95 heavy jet bombers and missile carriers family which mostly defined USSR-USA parity during "cold war" period. The first native passenger aircraft TU-104 was built on the basis of the TU-16 bomber, and opened the era of regular passenger flights by jet-powered aircraft. The OKB established itself as one of the top Soviet "airliner makers".

Nikita Sergeyevich really wanted to fly to the Tu-104 in London and hit the British with a novelty of Soviet aircraft engineering. However, the heads of the security service, as hard as it was, managed to dissuade him from this. An advanced group led by the chairman of the KGB under the Council of Ministers of the USSR, General IA. Serov, who was entrusted with the task of preparing a security visit, flew to London for the Tu-104, while showing the courage and courage inherent in the Chekists. Tupolev Tu-104 appeared in the West for the first time on 22 March 1956 when the first prototype landed at Heathrow in London. Its appearance was a complete surprise for the western countries. Until then the Soviet Union air services had relied on old propliners. In 1956 Aeroflot started crew check-outs in the TU-16 Badger bombers. The crew check-outs were intensified during the late summer and in early fall of 1956, Aeroflot received the first of the TU-104 transports. By the end of 1956, Aeroflot had something over six of these aircraft in service. The original version was a "quick and dirty" conversion from the Badger and carried only 50 passengers. Even by Soviet standards, this was a terribly uneconomic aircraft.

The TU-104 looked like a Victorian pullman car with ornate chandeliers, oyerstuffed seats, brass serving trays, and oldtime chain-flush toilets. But overnight it changed Aeroflot from a lowly regarded, primarily domestic line into a major international presence.

By United States commercial standards, the TU-104 had many shortcomings. Underpowered for a big jet, it had a range of less than 2,000 miles. It landed fast - up to 150 miles per hour - on weak brakes, often overshot runways. In flight, meals were heavy and ordinary, included Georgian wines, vodka, and cognac. Many of the TU-104 jets were pressurized to a cabin altitude of only 9,000 feet (versus 5,000 feet for United States planes), and carried oxygen masks next to each seat for passengers who cannot stand the thin air. It gulped so much jet fuel that it would probably break a private line. But the Reds wanted prestige rather than profit, and were willing to let the state-owned line fly in the red for years to come.

During the period of serial construction, which lasted until 1960, the 135th, 156th and 166th factories produced 21 Tu-104s. The 135th and 166th plants built 82 Tu-104A, the 22nd plant delivered 96 Tu-104B, two Tu-104E and three Tu-110s to the customer.

Following the batch production at the plant # 135, production was started at the plant # 166 in Omsk. In 1957, both plants switched to Tu-104A modification for 70 passengers. In 1958, the batch production of Tu-104 was started at the plant # 22 in Kazan, which had mastered Tu-104B modification for 100 passengers. Just before termination of batch production in 1960, three plants had built 201 aircraft. 6 Tu-104A airplanes were delivered to Czechoslovakia. During the period of serial construction, which lasted until 1960, the 135th, 156th and 166th factories produced 21 Tu-104s. The 135th and 166th plants built 82 Tu-104A, the 22nd plant delivered 96 Tu-104B, two Tu-104E and three Tu-110s to the customer.

Following the batch production at the plant # 135, production was started at the plant # 166 in Omsk. In 1957, both plants switched to Tu-104A modification for 70 passengers. In 1958, the batch production of Tu-104 was started at the plant # 22 in Kazan, which had mastered Tu-104B modification for 100 passengers. Just before termination of batch production in 1960, three plants had built 201 aircraft. 6 Tu-104A airplanes were delivered to Czechoslovakia.

Back in 1960 in the design environment it was clear that the Tu-104 was crude and a transitional version from piston aviation to jet aviation. It was for this reason that the Tu-104 was released in a very limited series - only 205 aircraft. And by the mid-sixties the issue of replacing this aircraft with a more suitable aircraft for passenger operation was acute. But despite frequent accidents, it was exploited until 1968.

With its leisurely cruising speed of 495 mph and passenger capacity of half the later four-engined jetliners, the hefty 160,000-pound Tu-104 was judged by historians as a vital step in the development of the jet airliner, rather than a groundbreaking revolutionary design that set the bar later jet fleets. However, those same historians would also have to note that the Tupolev Tu-104 was, in reality, the worlds first jet airliner to conduct sustained-revenue passenger operations, after the loss of the de Havilland Comet Is in 1954.




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