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The world's first jet-powered commercial airliner, the de Havilland Comet, began regular service on May 2, 1952 for British Overseas Airways Corporation and immediately established a new standard of speed and comfort in air travel. Cruising at nearly 500 miles per hour--almost 200 miles per hour faster than the fastest propeller-driven airliner--the Comet could whisk its passengers from London to Cairo, a distance of 2,168 miles, in just over five hours. It also cut the flying time from London to Tokyo to just 36 hours, compared with the 86 hours needed by piston-engine airliners.
The first Comets were powered by four de Havilland Ghost turbojet engines rated at just over 5,000 pounds of thrust each. And because the engines were mounted within the wings, rather than being suspended beneath the wings or attached to the fuselage just in front of the tail assembly as in later jetliners, the Comet had exceptionally clean lines.
The aircraft had a wingspan of 115 feet and a length of 93 feet. Its passenger capacity was 36--later increased to 44 in the Comet IA -- and its flight crew consisted of a pilot, copilot, flight engineer and navigator/radio operator. Because of its vibration free turbine engine and cabin pressurization, which could main an atmosphere of 8,000 feet at an altitude of 40,000 feet, Comet passengers flew in unprecedented comfort as well as unrivaled speed.
Unfortunately, the early Comets had an undetected--and fatal--flaw. At that time the science of metallurgy as applied to aeronautics was still limited, and little was known about the phenomenon of "metal fatigue."
After two Comets disintegrated in midair within four months of each other in 1954, all Comets were withdrawn from service. After extensive examination of the wreckage of the downed Comets, it was determined that constant changes in pressure which occurred every time the Comet climbed or descended, had caused a structural failure in the fuselage.
De Havilland reinforced its existing Comets and, in 1958, introduced the all-new Comet 4 with a much stronger airframe. The Comet 4 became the first jetliner to provide passenger service across the Atlantic Ocean.
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
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Updated: March 12, 2004