With Her Own Hands: Russian Academic Restoring Histories First Jet Airliner

Maria Karmanova in cockpit

Maria Karmanova hands on. (Image Credit: cnn.com)

By Paul K. DiCostanzo Managing Editor

Maria Karmanova is a Russian aviation enthusiast, with incredible gumption and appreciation for Soviet aviation history. Karmanova has personally flown a full array of Soviet made aircraft, some of which are now decades old. Now Karmanova is resurrecting a piece of aviation history abandoned in the wastes of Siberia. Karmanova is refitting the worlds first jet engine airliner, the Tupolev Tu-104A. It is an iconic aircraft that is a relic of Cold War and aviation history.

The Tupolev Tu-104A holds the distinction as the first jet engine airliner in human history. The aircraft was first flown in June 1955, and within the context of Cold War history, it was a major point of Soviet pride beating the Western powers to that accomplishment. It served a 30 year career, and it was retired in 1986. During the Tu-104A’s time in operation, it traveled to destinations around the globe. Though with the fall of the USSR in 1991, the Tu-104A fell into disrepair in an abandoned Soviet aerodrome in Siberia. Maria Karmanova is determined to change that.

Tu 104A restoration image

The Tu-104A. (Image Credit: gandul.info)

To understand this project is to understand Maria Karmanova. The 31 year old academic holds a doctorate in Mathematics, and works at the Sobolev Institute of Mathematics in Akademgorodok, Russia. Given her history of flying old Soviet produced aircraft, the Tu-104A is Karmanova’s Holy Grail. There are no other Tu-104A’s available to reach her goal.
Missing Aircraft Parts

A sample of the missing parts inventory. (Image Credit: gandul.info)

The project Karmanova has embarked upon is immense, as there is an exceptional amount of repair necessary before the Tu-104A is in operational condition. Since the Tu-104A’s retirement nearly 30 years ago, the aircraft has fallen victim to theft and local abuse. Karmanova is currently joined by four other aviation enthusiasts, including a former Tu-104A pilot. Together, piece by piece, Karmanova’s small team is restoring the former Soviet aircraft at their own expense. Her teams greatest challenge is identifying missing parts, and slowly recovering the necessary mechanical pieces.

Tu104A in restoration

The beginning of its longest journey. (Image Credit: gandul.info)

It is fair to say that humans are naturally sentimental, specifically when it comes to matters of the preservation of history. Karmanova and her team have an incredible path ahead of them with countless unknown obstacles. Though one cannot help but tip their cap to Karmanova’s passion and immense fortitude to see the Tu-104A reach the sky again.

Sources: CNN.com, gandul.info, siberiantimes.com, wikipedia.com.

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