On this day in history : 27th July 1949 – The first jet-propelled airliner, the de Havilland Comet makes its maiden flight out of Hatfield Aerodrome, Hertfordshire….
The flight lasted for 31 minutes and was piloted by Chief Test Pilot John Cunningham – who was also known as ‘Cats Eyes Cunningham’ – having been a famous night-fighter pilot during World War 2…. He also flew the de Havilland Comet at the Farnborough Air Show in 1949 before the start of its flight trials….
The de Havilland DH106 Comet was the world’s first commercial jet airliner…. With its four de Havilland Ghost turbo jet engines, the quiet, smooth, vibration-free flight that it gave – compared to that of other propellor airliners – was quite a novelty for passengers at the time…. The pressurised cabin, with its large, square, picture windows gave its passengers a feeling of comfort and luxury virtually unknown in travel at that time…. There was a galley that could serve hot and cold drinks and meals, separate men’s and women’s loos and individual life jackets underneath the seats as well as several life rafts stowed onboard….
However, in the first 12 months of service three aircraft were lost in highly publicised accidents – two of which were found to be caused by structural failure due to metal fatigue in the air-frame – causing the planes to break up….
The de Havilland Comets were taken out of service and largely redesigned…. The large square windows were replaced with smaller oval ones, as this was one area identified as a structural weakness….
Sales for the aircraft never truly recovered…. However, an improved Comet 2 and then Comet 3 resulted in the redesigned Comet 4, which made its debut in 1958…. This proved to be a highly successful aircraft, with over 30 years of service…. As well as being used as an airliner it was also adapted for military purposes – such as for VIP travel and medical transport….