De Havilland DH-106 Comet
The Comet was the world’s first jet airliner, developed in secrecy by De Havilland in response to the Brabazon Committee Type IV requirement for a 100-seat transatlantic airliner. Its first public appearance was at Farnborough in September 1949. An extensive series of proving flights followed, before a production line was established at Hatfield to service an order for 10 aircraft from British Overseas Airways Corporation, with whom the Comet entered service on 2 May 1952. Unexplained accidents to Comets on 26 October 1952, 3 March 1953, 2 May 1953 and 10 January 1954 led to the type being grounded while the cause was investigated. Famously, this was subsequently found to be fatigue, induced by repeated pressurisation and de-pressurisation of the metal surrounding the Comet’s rectangular windows. By the time commercial flights were restarted in 1958, the 707 and DC-8 had become established and despite the availability of the more powerful Comet 4, De Havilland had lost its market lead. The following year, Hawker Siddeley bought De Havilland and subsequently developed the Comet into the Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft. (Although the Nimrod is not considered in depth here, a list of survivors is provided in the Comet attachment.)
As the first jet-powered airliner to enter commercial service, the Comet remains an icon of aviation history. Sadly, survivor numbers have now dipped into single figures for the first time.
First flight: 27 Jul 49 (c/n 06001, G-ALVG)
Production: 112, all in the UK, comprising 84 at Hatfield and 33 at Hawarden, UK. A further 3 aircraft were completed and used for structural tests, 6 incomplete airframes were cocooned and subsequently dismantled while 34 were abandoned during construction.
First delivery: 8 Apr 52, to BOAC (c/n 06003, G-ALYP)
Last delivery: 26 Feb 64, to United Arab Airlines (c/n 6475, SU-ANI)
Variants: Comet 1 - prototype and initial production version, powered by 4 De Havilland Ghost 50 Mk.1 turbojets and with accommodation for up to 44 passengers (11 built);
Comet 1A - higher weight version of Comet 1, powered by Ghost 50 Mk.2s (10 built);
Comet 2 - Comet 1 with slightly redesigned wing, increased fuel capacity and Rolls-Royce Avon 118 turbojets (16 built);
Comet 3 - stretched Comet 2, with accommodation for up to 78 passengers (1 built, effectively becoming the ‘prototype’ Comet 4);
Comet 4 - Comet 3 with increased fuel capacity and accommodation for up to 81 passengers, powered by Avon 524s (27 built);
Comet 4B - short-haul version of Comet 4 with clipped wings and a stretched fuselage with accommodation for up to 99 passsengers (18 built);
Comet 4C - final production version, combining the fuselage of the Comet 4B with the longer wing of the Comet 4, powered by Avon 525Bs (29 built, including 5 as Comet C.4 for the RAF, powered by Avon 350s).