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de Havilland DH106 Comet 4

 

Record-breaking herald of the jet age

The de Havilland Comet 4 was developed from the world’s first successful jet airliner, the de Havilland DH 106 Comet 1. The Comet 1 went into service with BOAC on 2 May 1952 and showed every sign of being a major success. By 1953, Britain seemed poised to dominate commercial aviation for the next 40 years. As the editor of American Aviation Magazine said, “Whether we like it or not, the British are giving the U.S. a drubbing in jet transport.” Then, in 1954, two Comets broke up in mid-air and crashed into the Mediterranean with the loss of all on board. All Comets were grounded, and the biggest air crash investigation ever conducted at the time began at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. The investigation showed that the crashes had been caused by metal fatigue due to the repeated pressurisation and depressurisation of the aircraft, leading to structural failure.

De Havilland embarked on a major redesign of the Comet using the lessons learnt from the crash investigation. The square windows of the Comet 1 were replaced by oval versions (all modern pressurised aircraft have oval windows!) and the structure was strengthened. More powerful Rolls-Royce Avon engines were fitted. The Comet 4, the ultimate development of the Comet, first flew in 1958.(27.7.49) KB British nationalised airline BOAC ordered nineteen aircraft and launched the first transatlantic passenger jet service, but by then American manufacturer Boeing had developed its 707 airliner, using the design lessons learnt from the Comet. Britain’s six-year lead in jet passenger transport had evaporated and the Comet never repeated its early success. 76 Comet 4s were sold against over 1,000 Boeing 707s. The last documented Comet flight was on 14 March 1997, but major parts of the design lived on until 2011 in the RAF’s Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft.

The British Airliner Collection’s Comet 4 G-APDB was built at Hatfield and made its maiden flight on 27 July 1958 and was officially handed over to BOAC with its sister aircraft G-APDC on 30 September. After making a positioning flight to New York it made aviation history on 4 October when it operated the first scheduled service by a jet powered airliner from New York to London, in the then record time of 6 hours 11 minutes. At the same time DC flew in the opposite direction, from London to New York, the two Comets passing each other in mid-Atlantic when congratulatory radio messages were exchanged. The westbound flight against the prevailing wind took DC a total of 10 hours and 13 minutes, including a refuelling stop at Gander. Just 22 days later Pan American put its new Boeing 707-120s into service on the New York to Paris route and the Comet’s leadership was lost. In 1958 DB was used by the Duke of Edinburgh as his personal aircraft for his tour of Canada.

Although not designed specifically to operate on the north Atlantic route, having insufficient range for nonstop flights in both directions with a full payload, BOAC’s Comets continued to serve on that route until mid-1960, when the Corporation’s new long-range Boeing 707-436s took over. The Comet 4s then flew on services to Africa, India, Australia, South America and the West Indies. BOAC finally retired its Comets in 1965. DB was sold to Malaysian Singapore Airlines in September 1965 and was used on both regional and intercontinental routes, including those to Europe, for four years until in September 1969, it was bought by the British independent airline Dan-Air Services. A total of 48 Comets of all marks were owned by the airline, making it the largest single operator of Comets. Based at Gatwick, it was used mainly on inclusive tour holiday flights. Its last commercial flight was on 12 November 1973, from Alicante to Teesside Airport, and it was then retired to Dan-Air’s engineering base at Lasham. In view of its interesting history the directors of Dan-Air decided that it should not be scrapped and it was generously donated to the then East Anglian Aviation Society at Duxford for preservation. It made its last flight on 12 February 1974, making a low pass at Hatfield from where it had made its maiden flight some 15 years earlier. When it arrived at Duxford it had flown a total of 36,269 hours, more than any other Comet. When Duxford Aviation Society was formed in 1975, it was the first aircraft in what became the British Airliner Collection.

Datafile: de Havilland DH106 Comet 4

First flight:27 July 1949
Passenger capacity:81
Powerplant:4 x Rolls-Royce Avon Mk524 turbojets of 47,000N (10,500lbf) thrust
DIMENSIONS 
Wingspan:35.1 metres (115 ft 0in)
Length:34.3 metres (112 ft 6in)
Height:9.3 metres (30 ft 6in)
Empty weight:34,201 Kg (75,400 lb)
PERFORMANCE 
Maximum speed:847 km/h (526 mph, 457 knots, Mach 0.69)
Range:5,190 km (3,225 miles, 2,802 nmi)
Service ceiling:12,802 metres (42,000 feet)
 
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