The world first jet airliner was de Havilland DH.106 Comet. It’s first regular flight was on May 2nd 1952. However after a number of crashes flights of this airliner were prohibited by Churchill until all the circumstances are clarified. So the USSR got a chance to become the only one country with its own airliner, which development started in that 1954.
The first serial TU-104 took off on November 5th 1955. The airliner was developed within record period. It had some troubles – sometimes during the flight it was being thrown up following which it got out of control. Pilots called this effect “the Grab”. They were trying to find out the reason of “the Grab” but haven’t done it soon. So it was decided to go on with airliner operation and resume testing.
Khrushchev liked TU-104 so much, that he decided to make a visit to The Great Britain in 1956 by exactly this airliner. But because of the problems mentioned above it was very hard to dissuade him from doing this. Soviet delegation went to Great Britain by cruiser. But to prove Soviet technological advantage (British Comet didn’t fly still), Khrushchev ordered to bring TU-104 to London.
According to British press reviews, Soviet airliner’s arrival made such an effect, as if UFO landed in GB. Next day another one example of TU-104 (but with different number) arrived in London. In British newspapers appeared articles saying that it was the same airliner, but “Russian priests” “repainted the numbers on the experimental model”. “Russian priests” – are Russian pilots dressed in black clothes. Chief constructor A.N. Tupolev was offended and at first he ordered to give pilots money so they could buy something more fashioned, but not black and second – he ordered to send next day (March 25th 1956) three examples of TU-104 simultaneously. That was done so!
It was triumph, because not a single country had operating jet airliners for that moment.
But “the Grab” problem wasn’t solved. TU-104 got out of control and crashed near Chita on August 15th 1958. 64 people died. Tupolev was denying the presence of construction defects. He supposed that pilots were aviating wrong. On 17th October 1958 TU-104 aviated by Garold Kuznetsov went off the echelon upside, ascended additional 2 km, lost the speed, fell on wing and got into a spin.
The fall lasted for 2 minutes and during all that time Garold Kuznetsov keeping self-control was broadcasting flight information. The Airliner crashed in Chuvashiya, 73 people died. Thanks to information given by Kuznetsov (black boxes didn’t exist at that time) the reason of “the Grab”, which couldn’t be found for three years, was found.
Tupolev was wrong. The reasons of the crash were identified as construction defects, which were eliminated. Crashes of TU-104 used to happen later, but due to other reasons.