The DH.106 Comet Became The First Airworthy Civil Jet 70 Years Ago

This weekend marks 70 years since the de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1 received a certificate of airworthiness. This achievement on January 22nd, 1952, allowed the plane to become the first turbojet-powered civil aircraft to be awarded such a certificate, changing the face of aviation forever.

De Havilland Comet 1
The Comet helped revolutionize civil flight activity in the mid-20th century. Photo: Getty Images

The trendsetter

The DH.106 Comet brought several firsts to jet aviation. For instance, it became the first commercial jet to fly, performing its maiden flight on July 27th, 1949.

The Comet was later joined by the likes of the Tupolev Tu-104 and Boeing 707. While these other aircraft helped to mature the scene, it was the Comet that started it all.

Registration G-ALYS was the first Comet unit to receive a Certificate of Airworthiness. It was the fifth Comet 1 production and received the certification six months ahead of schedule. As a result, the Comet became the first jetliner to be introduced just five months later.

Thus, this year also marks 70 years since the Comet entered service, with between 36 and 44 passengers able to fit in the cabin when in operation. The first commercial jet flight was to Johannesburg from London on May 2nd, 1952. British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) brought in a new age for civil passengers, officially kicking off scheduled jet service.

de Havilland DH.106 Comet Prototype
Four Halford H.2 Ghost 50 engines buried in bulged wing roots helped the Comet 1 reach a cruise speed of 460 mph / 400 kn and a range of 1,300 NM / 2,400 km. Photo: Getty Images

Running before walking

There were numerous benefits to be had with the introduction of jet operations. Still, the most notable advantage was the speed that came with the aircraft. Airlines were keen to appreciate the new capabilities. However, during this incubation period of jet aviation, there were significant teething problems.

“Around 50% faster than the equivalent piston engine aircraft, scheduled flights from London to Tokyo on DH106 Comet took just 36 hours, compared to the 86½ hours recorded by aircraft such as the BOAC Argonauts, who had previously dominated the route. In its first year, DH106 Comets carried over 30,000 passengers and at least 8 DH106 Comet flights departed London each week, destined for Johannesburg, Tokyo, Singapore and Colombo,” BAE Systems shares.

“Sadly, the history of the DH106 Comet 1 is dominated by the two devastating accidents. The first (G-ALYP) saw the aircraft destroyed off Elba in January 1954 and the second (G-ALYY) which disappeared near Naples in April of the same year.”

Test Flight of De Havilland Comet 1 Prototype
In total, 114 Comets, including prototypes, were produced between 1949 and 1964. Photo: Getty Images

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A lasting legacy

These incidents saw the grounding of the type, leading to extensive research to help determine the cause and prevention. However, by the time the Comet 1’s predecessor, the Comet 4 was in action, the Boeing 707 was in charge when it came to civil jet aviation. Regardless, the de Havilland Comet was the one to get the ball rolling, pioneering what would become the standard in airline operations for the next seven decades.

What are your thoughts about the de Havilland DH.106? What do you make of the history of the aircraft following its launch and how it impacted the industry in the long term? Let us know what you think of the plane in the comment section.



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