60 Years Ago: First Flight of the Comet

By | July 27, 2009
D.H. Comet, the world's first jet airliner.
Image via Wikipedia

On July 27th, 1949, the first flight of the prototype De Havilland Comet ushered in a new era of commercial aviation. The Comet entered service with BOAC on May 2nd, 1952, when it launched the first commercial jet service with scheduled flights to South Africa.

The Comet was about 50% faster than other aircraft and in many cases cut flight times by as much as fifty percent. On May 2nd, 1953,  a BOAC Comet 1 crashed six minutes after take-off in a severe tropical storm in India. This was followed by a second accident off the Italian island of Elba on January 10, 1954. And finally on April 8th, 1954, a Comet, on a flight from Rome to Cairo, crashed near Naples in Italy.

The resulting investigation determined stress around the windows was to blame, causing a loss of pressure in what was one of the first pressurized commercial aircraft. The Comet did not reenter service until 1958, when the new redesigned Comet 4 was introduced. It operated the first scheduled transatlantic passenger jet service in history, flying from London to New York with a stop-over at Gander on October 4th, 1958. The Pan Am inaugural service didn’t occur till three weeks later.

While it had a long career, it never recovered from the accident and its four-year absence. By then, the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8, both faster and less costly to operate, were being delivered.

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