An Aeroflot Tupolev (Туполев) Tu-104 passenger jet in flight over a foggy, forested, winter landscape. The Tupolev design bureau logo appears at lower left.

Туполев Ту=104

Tupolev Tu-104 Camel

The Tu-104 (NATO assigned the reporting word CAMEL to this aircraft) was the second jet airliner to enter service, the British de Havilland Comet having been the first. It was the sole jetliner in service from 1956-58, when the Comet was grounded after a number of crashes. The Tu-104 carried over 90 million passengers during its service life with Aeroflot (then the world’s largest airline). The aircraft was retired in 1986.

A number of Tu-104s of various types were used for special applications, including weather research, and as a “vomit comet” reduced-gravity aircraft to parabolic flights allowing cosmonauts to experience short periods of zero gee.

Aeroflot’s need for a modern aircraft with greater capacity and performance than the piston-engine aircraft it then operated by modifying the Tu-16 Badger bomber. The wings, engines, and tail surfaces of the Tu-16 were retained with the airliner, but the new design adopted a wider, pressurized fuselage designed to accommodate 50 passengers. The glazed, bombardier nose of the Tu-16 was also retained, giving the Tu-104 a distinctly military look.

The interiors of Tu-104s built early on were said to resemble Victorian Pullman cars with ornate chandeliers, overstuffed seats, brass serving trays, and chain-flush toilets. But the aircraft, overnight transformed Aeroflot from a lowly-regarded, primarily domestic line, into a major international presence. Those Tu-104s I flew on had a much more utilitarian interior.

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