Design and development
At the beginning of the 1950s, the Soviet Union's Aeroflot airline needed a modern airliner with better capacity and performance than the piston-engined aircraft 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 wings, engines, and tail surfaces of the Tu-16 were retained with the airliner, but the new design adopted a wider, pressurised fuselage designed to accommodate 50 passengers. The prototype build in MMZ 'Opit' first flew on June 17, 1955 with Yu.L. Alasheyev at the control. It was fitted with a
drag parachute to shorten the landing distance by up to 400 metres (1,300 ft), since at the time not many airports had sufficiently long runways.
Although a popular story says Westerners were surprised by the arrival of the Tu-104 in
London during a 1956 state visit by
Nikolai Bulganin and
Nikita Khrushchev, the airplane had already been revealed at the July 1955 Tushino airshow.
The Tu-104 was powered by two Mikulin AM-3 turbojets placed at the wing roots (remotely resembling the solution used on the
de Havilland Comet). The crew consisted of five people: two pilots, a navigator (placed in the glazed "bomber" nose), a flight engineer and a radio operator (the radio operator was later eliminated). The airplane raised great curiosity by its lavish "Victorian" interior – called so by some Western-hemisphere observers – due to the materials used:
Tu-104 pilots were trained on the
Il-28 bomber, followed by mail flights on an unarmed Tu-16 bomber painted in Aeroflot colors, between Moscow and Sverdlovsk. Pilots with previous Tu-16 experience transitioned into the Tu-104 with relative ease. The Tu-104 was considered difficult to fly, as it was heavy on controls and quite fast on final approach, and at low speeds it would display a tendency to stall, a feature common with highly-swept wings. Experience with the Tu-104 led the Tupolev Design Bureau to develop the world's first turbofan series-built airliner, the
Tupolev Tu-124, designed for local markets, and subsequently the more commercially successful