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http://surf.to/comet: De Havilland Comet history

B.O.A.C. When boarding today a commercial aircraft we are used to the nowaday's speed and comfort standards. Only forty years back those standards were not at all common, commercial transport was performed with aircraft which used piston engines and most planes were direct or indirect descendants from WW2 aircraft. Flying was made difficult by the bad weather of low cruisinglevels, the cruisingspeed was reduced making long trips a tough and exhausting matter.

The development of jet-engines in WW2 allowed to achieve important milestones in the commercial air transport. One of them was the De Havilland DH 106 Comet, on which we focus on these pages.

Prototype De Havilland had the innovative spirit to build the first commercial jet aircraft. Even if the DH Comet was not so epoch-making as initially foreseen, it was nevertheless a huge step in an previously unknown territory. Never before a commercial aircraft had been designed for such a high cruise speed at such high ceilings. The engineers and designers -- who, at the time, had no computers and calculators -- were facing totally new problems in relation with concepts, materials and production methods. Nearly all components of the new aircraft were designed in the De Havilland offices. Those were the engines, the landing gear, the seats and many other smaller components.

So if the DH Comet included many innovative techniques, it speeded up the development of new radars and modern radio technology, which became necessary to guarantee the safe flights on board of Comets.

With the Comet, De Havilland entered a totally new domain. The same can be said for the UK airindustry, the B.O.A.C. company which operated these aircraft, and people who flew or maintained these birds.

G-ALYP The fantastic success of the Comet got stopped after two crashes which were caused by layout-faults. The reason of these problem was not a lack of qualification of the engineers who designed the Comet, it was the price which had to be paid for entering areas of the aviation which had so far not been realized. Those were mainly long distance flights in 33Kft at 800 km/h, a challenge when we remember that computers, calculators and other items which are nowadays natural didn't exist at the time the Comet was designed.

The price De Havilland had to pay for its innovating spirit were high, but the positive and negative experiences which were made with the Comet helped to design the next generation of commercial airliners. Even nowadays the Comet is the basis for commercial airliners.

From a commercial point of view the Comet was a disaster for De Havilland. It lasted three years until a jet aircraft from another company took off, but the confidence of airlines and passengers in the Comet had gone. In this intermediate period the airlines used again props.

VP-KPJ Comet 4 After having finished the investigations of the two major Comet crashes, the detailed design of the Comet 4 could be started. But the two year long investigation had allowed to the two US giants Douglas and Boeing to design respectively the DC-8 and B707, which had a significant technological lead. That's why the fate of the Comet is identical to most other innovating developments, even if technically the Comet was a success it was a total financial disaster.

More than forty years ago the Comet impressed with a clean and elegant design, making it even nowadays a nice plane to observe. A military derivative of the Comet, the Nimrod, can still be observed flying in the 90's.

Nowadays the economical and ecological aspects are guiding the technological progress and development. This explains why the Comet will appear to most of us like a dinosaur.

Let's bear in mind that it's only with the ambition and innovating spirit of the designers and engineers of the constructor and the managers from airlines of that time that the development, design, construction and commercial usage of this milestone for commercial aircraft has been made possible. As a direct consequence we can use today's aircraft with the known reliability, comfort and speed. That's why I decided to launch this tribute to the DH 106 Comet.

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Marc Schaeffer
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