The Aircraft That Brought The Future – de Havilland Comet

If you’ve never heard of the de Havilland Comet before, there can be multiple reasons why.

Firstly, the last Comets flew in the air for commercial airlines in 1980 for Dan Air. The airline is also defunct as of 1992. Secondly, airlines did not operate a lot of Comets. The previously mentioned Dan-Air was the biggest Comet operator in the world, with 49 aircraft in their fleet. However, the company had only 12 Comets in the air at one time at most. Thus, the chances of actually seeing a de Havilland Comet in the air were actually very slim.

Lastly and most importantly is that everybody wanted to forget it. While it brought the future, a lot of problems have followed the promises of a new era of jet travel.

Yet without it, we probably would not have seen the beloved Boeing 707 or the DC-8 in the skies so early. A question remains: how did an aircraft, which truly revolutionized the way we travel and influenced the biggest aircraft manufacturers to switch on their jet engines, is barely remembered?

To quote Will Smith, “It’s rewind time!”

Plans, Excitement and Troubles

If we want to fully understand the impact of the Comet at the time, we have to go back to the end of the Second World War. In the spring of 1943, everyone knew the fate of the war is settled. The Allies will come out victorious and it was only a matter of time and sadly, the cost of human lives.

Yet Britain had a problem. Their capitalist nerves were tingling, as they knew that their aviation industry is lagging behind their American counterpart. With Luftwaffe bombing their factories and their focus set to build as many bombers and fighters as they can, British commercial aviation was not in great shape.

So, to solve this, the British government set up the Brabazon Committee. The Committee had the goal to determine the future of their aviation industry. It came up with 5 aircraft types that would be needed after the war. And one of them, called Type IV, was a jet-powered aircraft. The requirements for it were simple: to be faster than piston-powered aircraft, more comfortable and have a bigger flying range. Interestingly, the founder of the de Havilland Company influenced the Committee to consider this type of aircraft. At the time, jet engines were seen as too unreliable with an insane amount of fuel consumed and too complex to maintain at a commercial level.

But Sir Geoffrey de Havilland was determined to change that opinion. And also to use the opportunity to create an aircraft, that would take over the skies. If it were successful, the new jet would completely dominate every single commercial market in the world. The potential rewards were astronomical (no pun intended). On the other hand, if it were to fail – the consequences would be very dire.

HYPE HYPE HYPE HYPE HYPE

When de Havilland presented the initial plans to the public, everyone was ecstatic. It promised redefined luxury and triple the speed of the fastest piston aircraft at the time. It also was much more efficient than piston engines, as flying at higher altitudes required much less fuel to propel itself forward. More comfort for the passengers as jet engines created much less noise and vibration than piston engines. The cabin space was unheard of at the time. Even today you would not find a narrow-body airliner with so much space. But that also created a problem – we‘ll talk about it later.

And the design, oh boy the design looked amazing. Even in 2019, 70 years after the Comet first took flight to test its capabilities, it looks futuristic.