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Dan, Dan the Comet man !


The story of one airlines love affair with one aircraft

Added by Keith Bradshaw on 18 March 2022

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The second Comet to arrive with Dan-Air was Comet 4 G-APDO from BOAC, it arrived just days after the first PDK on 26 May 1966. It is seen here at Teesside in 1971. It was scrapped in June 1974 a year after it last flight. Photo: Stanley Howe CCA-2

Mention the de Havilland Comet to people and many will immediately think of Dan-Air, mention Dan-Air to people and many will immediately think of the de Havilland Comet ! The two were inextricably linked for fourteen years over which time Dan-Air owned 49 examples of the 114 built, at one time the entire world supply of airworthy civil Comets was owned by Dan-Air. So please enjoy this mainly pictorial perambulation through Dan’s Comets.

Built for BOAC as G-APDC this Comet 4 was the first jet airliner to operate on a scheduled service from London to New York in October 1958. It was later sold to Malaysian and Singapore Airlines as 9V-BAT before returning to Dan Air as PDC in 1969 flying on until 1973 before scrapping two years later. Photo: RuthAs CCA-3

1966 saw the start of Dan-Air’s love affair with the world’s first jet airliner when their very first, a Comet 4 G-APDK arrived from BOAC on 19 May. The acquisition of this aeroplane made Dan-Air only the second British Independent airline to operate jets in its fleet following British United and their BAC 1-11s. Dan-Air would operate a mixed fleet of Comet 4, 4B and 4C variants. The    Comet 4 was the first jet airliner to operate scheduled flights over the Atlantic and services by BOAC first commenced in October 1958 with two Comets PDB and PDC each flying in different directions between London and New York. Dan-Air would go on to own both of these aircraft with PDB being saved from the scrap man and eventually donated to the Duxford Aviation Society who now proudly display her as part of the British Airliner Collection. The first of 19 Comet 4s arrived in May 1966 with the last Dan-Air flight by a Comet 4 being in November 1973. 

PDB at Duxford following its donation to the British Airliner Collection. It was later repainted into period BOAC livery to commemorate the time it flew the first west to east crossing of the Atlantic by a jet airliner on a scheduled service. Photo: FSLL2 CC-By-NC 2.0/Flickr

The Comet 4B had a longer fuselage but shorter range due to a smaller wing without the pinion fuel tanks of the 4 and 4C, making it very suitable for European operations by BEA and Olympic Airlines, who were the only two companies to order the jet from new. Dan-Air’s first Comet 4B of a fleet of 15 would arrive in February 1972 with the type making its last flight with Dan-Air in October 1979.

Seen at Heathrow in 1966, Comet 4 G-APDN was leased by BOAC to Kuwait Airways for a time before it was delivered to Dan-Air in October 1967. In July 1970 it left Manchester with a full load of passengers bound for Barcelona. Whilst attempting to land in darkness over a mountain range the aircraft crew made a navigational error about their position in relation to a radio beacon. The ATC controller was not aware of their positional error as he had confused them with another aircraft and cleared them to descend, PDN hit the mountain side killing all on board. Photo: Ken Fielding CCA-3

The final version operated by Dan-Air was the Comet 4C which combined the larger wing and fuel capacity of the Comet 4 with the longer fuselage of the 4B. The airline acquired its first Comet 4C in March 1971 from Kuwait Airways and the fleet of 15 aeroplanes served the airline until the last flight in November 1980

BEA had ordered the longer fuselage/shorter range Comet 4B for its European services. After BEA mainline retired the jets some went to BEA Airtours the BEA charter arm based at Gatwick. When these were replaced by ex BOAC Boeing 707s Dan-Air purchased many including PMC in this photograph. She arrived at Dan-Air in November 1973 but was never placed in service being used for spares before scrapping in 1974. Photo: Piergiuliano Chesi CCA-3
Another Comet 4B from BEA, PMG, arrived in January 1973 and flew with Dan Air until 1977 before being stripped for spares and scrapped in 1978. Photo: Rob Hodgkins CC-BY-SA 2.0/Flickr

The final version operated by Dan-Air was the Comet 4C which combined the larger wing and fuel capacity of the Comet 4 with the longer fuselage of the 4B. The airline acquired its first Comet 4C in March 1971 from Kuwait Airways and the fleet of 15 aeroplanes served the airline until the last flight in November 1980.


Seen at Manchester, Comet 4C, ROV was delivered new to Aerolineas Argentinas in April 1962. Coming to Dan-Air in October 1971 and being retired six years later, she was later scrapped at Lasham in 1978. Photo: Ken Fielding CCA-3

After the first of the Comets, PDK, arrived at the Dan-Air engineering base at Lasham it was quickly followed a few days later by PDO also from BOAC. Both aircraft saw their galleys redesigned and  floors strengthened to allow Dan-Air to fit an extra column of seats making the cabin now five abreast, this raised the passenger capacity to 99. Ironically the first Comet to arrive PDK would be one of the last to be scrapped staying with Dan Air until 1980 although its last flight would be in 1973.

A picture taken thousands of times by happy holiday makers, Comet 4 PDJ basks in the sun awaiting a return load. PDJ was an ex BOAC machine and was the third to arrive with Dan-Air appearing in April 1967. Photo: Foundin-a-attic

So how did Dan-Air come to build such a large fleet of Comets? The airline had been operating a fleet of piston engine Yorks, Ambassadors, Doves, Herons and Bristol 170 freighters on its charter and scheduled routes. However with British United putting new BAC 1-11s into service and several of its other competitors also ordering jets Dan-Air needed to keep up if it wanted to continue to attract the IT holiday contracts from the travel firms. Many of the larger airlines such as BOAC who had operated Comets were now disposing of them in favour of the larger Boeing 707, VC10 and Douglas DC-8 airliners. The Comets were being sold off cheaply in comparison to say a new BAC 1-11 or Boeing 737 and as they had only had short lives with the major airlines they still had plenty of hours left on them. Also having had a reputation for spending their money carefully Dan-Air decided choosing the Comet was the route for them.


The inside of a Dan-Air Comet showing the five abreast seating the airline fitted as a modification to the standard four abreast layout. Photo: Walter Baxter CCA-2

After the first two had arrived in 1966 another pair of ex BOAC machines were purchased the following year, but the real influx of airframes came in 1969 with eight more arriving including five from Malaysian and Singapore Airlines including the two Atlantic pioneers PDB and PDC the other three being ex BOAC.  One of the ex MSA aircraft never flew in Dan Air service but was scrapped for spares

Dan-Air sourced Comets from all around the world, this one 5X-AAO was flying with East African Airways when Dan-Air purchased it for spares in 1970. Photo: Michael Jefferies CC-BY-NC 2.0/Flickr

1970-71 saw another ten, a mix of Comet 4 and Comet 4C join the fleet, but only half of these would see service the rest being used for spares. They came from far and wide with Comet 4s from Kuwait Airways and East African Airlines and 4Cs from Kuwait Airways and Aerolineas Argentinas.

This Kuwait Airways Comet 4C first flew in December 1963. Dan Air bought it in March 1971 registering it as G-AYVS. She flew for six more years before being reduced to spares and scrapped in 1978. Photo: Ken Fielding CCA-3/Flickr

The Comet buying spree continued into 1972-73 with sixteen more airframes joining Dan-Air. These were mainly ex Channel Airways and BEA Comet 4Bs with an ex Middle East Airlines Comet 4C being bought just for spares as were four of the BEA and Channel aeroplanes. These larger aircraft allowed the airline to start to retire the shorter fuselage Comet 4s. Dan-Air managed to seat 119 passengers into the newer jets.

Comet 4B G-APMB was delivered new to BEA in 1959 before being sold to Channel Airways in 1970. Two years later Dan-Air became the proud owners selling it six years later to Gatwick Handling as a training aircraft for their towing crews. Photo: Andrew Thomas CCA-2

1974 was a quiet year with no ‘new’ Comets being added ,but the following two years 1975-76 saw Dan-Air’s final push to monopolise the Comet world when it acquired eleven more Comet 4Cs. These airframes came from the RAF, Sudan Airways and Egyptair Airlines with just one Sudanese and the RAF aircraft entering service. The rest were scrapped for spares, some not even flying back to the UK.

The Egyptair Comet 4Cs were bought for spares with some being broken up at Lasham. The cockpit of G-BEEX can be found at the NEALSM museum near Sunderland. Photo: Alan Wilson CC-BY-SA 2.0/Flickr
Showing off the final Dan-Air Comet scheme is BDIW which had the honour of conducting the last Dan-Air scheduled flight with a trip for enthusiasts in November 1980. It is seen here at its present home the museum at Hermeskeil Germany. Photo: Klaus Nahr CCA-2

Dan-Air had very good utilisation of their Comet fleet and in the first four years of operating the type their Comets flew 8 million passengers. The slowly dwindling fleet flew on until the last Dan-Air Comet flight on 9 November 1980, when Comet 4C G-BDIW, one of the ex RAF machines took off from Gatwick for an enthusiasts farewell flight. Dan-Air then donated this aeroplane to a museum at Hermeskeil in Germany where it remains on public display. It is thanks to Dan-Air that a number of museums can boast a Comet in their collection.

An ex Kuwait Airways Comet 4C joined Dan-Air as YWX in 1971 ending its days at the hands of the scrap man in 1979. Photo: Piergiuliano Chesi CCA-3

 Most of the Dan-Air Comets were scrapped to keep the others flying and towards the end of the Dan-Air Comet era the engineers were kept busy swapping engines from one aircraft to another to eek out the last few hours of life they had before needing a major service. The lack of spares and the fuel costs finally led to the end of the Comets, it being said that a Comet carrying 119 passengers used the same amount of fuel as a DC-10 with 345 souls on board. The Comets and Dan-Air may have left our skies but both will always be remembered from the heyday of Comet operations.

Comet 4B, PME at Manchester, home to many a Dan-Air Comet flight. PME was delivered to BEA in 1960 before going to BEA Airtours. It became one of Dan’s Comets in July 1972. Photo: GB_NZ CCA-2

Here is a list of all 49 Comets owned by Dan-Air, for each type they are listed in order of arrival with the airline. Not all were in service at the same time and indeed some never did enter service just being used to provide spares for the others.




I would like to take this opportunity to thank fellow DAS member John MacLoughlin for his help in writing this article.

‘till the next time  Keith

Header photo:  Ken Fielding CCA3 Flickr


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