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.
 In either case, Western observers at the time thought the Soviets lacked the advanced technology required to build an airliner suitable for commercial performance.
 By the time production ceased in
1960, about 200 had been built.
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