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Old 6th Jun 2002, 05:12   #1 (permalink)
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The Comet Airliner - Secret History

Thursday 13/6/02 Channel 4 (U.K.) 21.00 - 22.00 (BST)

Documentary reviewing the early years of the D.H. Comet, the world's first jet passenger airliner, launched in 1952. Includes archive footage and interviews
with two of the test pilots.

Last edited by spekesoftly; 7th Jun 2002 at 22:57.
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Old 6th Jun 2002, 18:35   #2 (permalink)
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Ah, a documentry. I thought you were starting a thread about 51 Sqd.
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Old 7th Jun 2002, 19:33   #3 (permalink)
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The world's first jet airliner was the Avro Canada Jetliner. It first flew long before the Comet. Didn't sell (And didn't come apart in mid-air)
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Old 7th Jun 2002, 20:08   #4 (permalink)
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Sorry, the Comet beat it by two weeks.

Avro Canada C-102 Jetliner:

The first flight of this four jet aircraft occurred at Malton Airport, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, on 10 August 1949.


First engine test runs of prototype G-5-1 were made on 2nd April 1949 with roll out on 25th July after a complex program of engine tests. Two days (27th July) later the Comet made it's historic maiden flight which lasted 31 minutes. Crew: piloted by de Havilland Chief Test Pilot John Cunningham, John Wilson as co-pilot and the flight test observer was Tony Fairbrother.
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Old 7th Jun 2002, 20:38   #5 (permalink)
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I sit corrected.

I do note that the Avro history site calls the Comet's first flight a mere hop off the runway. Then again that same site says that the DC7 had 72 cylinders per engine. I don't intend to rely on it.

Edited to add useless information

Last edited by Flash2001; 7th Jun 2002 at 21:09.
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Old 7th Jun 2002, 21:20   #6 (permalink)
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Not just a hop:

The first prototype was rolled out for engine runs in April 1949. By mid-July all was almost ready. On Wednesday 27th July 1949 the London Press Corps were invited out to Hatfield for the unveiling of a new breed of airliner - all were aware that they were witnessing history in the making. Test pilot John Cunningham and his assistants were making a final series of ground-runs and fast taxi's in preparation for flight.


There was the usual hospitality laid on for the Press, and during the briefing they were told that '...the aircraft would fly when it was ready, and not before'. Due to inclement weather, this appeared as if the great moment would be delayed, so the Press Corps all went home!

Towards evening, the weather cleared, John Cunningham told the Tower at Hatfield that he was ready to go.On board also was J. W. Wilson, First Officer, F. T. Reynolds, Flight Engineer, H. Waters, Flight Engineer Electrics, and A. J. Fairbrother, Flight Observer. The warble of the Ghosts at idle changed to a shrill crescendo and at 6.17pm the Comet began to roll, lifting up at take-off speed into a shallow climb.

Thirty minutes later the aircraft was back over Hatfield, Cunningham making a flypast at 100 feet for all the workers who had gathered to watch the return.

Comet 2002 site

And, alas, even for the first in the world, no attempt was made to save it:

Britain entered the jet age of the airliner with build of the first de Havilland DH.106 Comet prototype, manufacturers serial no. 6001, having been ordered during June 1946. Roll-out of the aircraft occurred at Hatfield on 2 April 1949 and its first flight was accomplished on 27 July 1949, being flown by John Cunningham, the aircraft wearing Class B registration G-5-1 and being powered by four de Havilland Ghost 50 Mk.1 engines.

This Comet was used for experimental, research and development work with the manufacturers at Hatfield and was registered as G-ALVG by the UK CAA on 1 September 1949 and handed over to the Ministry of Supply/Aviation on that date. Research work continued through to April 1952. It was displayed at the 1949, (with its original single wheel main undercarriage units), the 1950, (by now in BOAC colours), 1951 and 1952 SBAC displays at Farnborough and the Paris Salon during 1951, arousing much interest throughout the industry.

On 3 April 1952, G-ALVG was allocated to de Havilland Engines for development work on the Ghost engine series. On 30 December 1952 the Comet returned to de Havilland Aircraft, for wing test flying work in conjunction with the proposed Comet 3 series. Development and test work continued and, on 31 July 1953, the aircraft arrived at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, for fatigue testing of its airframe by Structures Department. Its registration was cancelled on 6 November 1953, as being permanently withdrawn from use and, on 24 November 1953, it was officially Struck off Charge.

It was moved into Structures Department at Farnborough, building Q153, on 25 June 1954 and placed within the Cathedral structural test rig for wing fatigue tests. After completion of its tests, around September 1954, having basically been tested to destruction where the wing structure failed, it was removed from the test rig and the remains of the airframe were eventually broken up for scrap.

Last edited by ORAC; 7th Jun 2002 at 21:25.
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Old 7th Jun 2002, 23:25   #7 (permalink)
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Just a small point - you mention that G-ALVG was registered on the 1st September 1949 by the UK CAA. Should that not read ARB (Air Registration Board) ?

Last edited by spekesoftly; 8th Jun 2002 at 00:29.
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Old 10th Jun 2002, 04:07   #8 (permalink)
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Comet Cover-up

Article in yesterday's Mail on Sunday (Not that I normally read gutter press) about alleged cover up and deception during the design and build of the Comet. Covered in a Channel 4 documentary on Wednesday.

Channel 4

Maybe worth a watch.
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Old 10th Jun 2002, 05:48   #9 (permalink)
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If the Channel 4 documentary on the Chinook crash is their standard then don't bother.
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Old 10th Jun 2002, 09:20   #10 (permalink)
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I would imagine that their "discovery" is that metal fatigue set in around the square window frame and caused explosive decompression. Isn't it funny how DeHavilland and the investigators discovered this forty years before Channel 4.

Channel 4 also recently discovered that HMS Hood sank after taking a direct hit from a German naval shell in the main armoury; sadly about 50 years after the Admiralty worked that out by asking eye witnesses on other ships about what happened.

Apparently they are going to do a series of documentaries next year about how Channel 4 has just discovered the wheel, how to make fire and that ear wax tastes yukky.
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Old 10th Jun 2002, 09:29   #11 (permalink)
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Perhaps we should actually watch the documentary before passing comment on it?
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Old 10th Jun 2002, 09:45   #12 (permalink)
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The programme looks at handling problems and two crashes involved in that. It questions why Ghost engines were used instead of more powerful RR engines which were available. This led them down a weight saving path which included thinner skin material. Also they look at why the design of the window surrounds was changed from Re Dux glueing to rivetting to save time in construction - that then led to the fatigue problems.
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Old 10th Jun 2002, 11:49   #13 (permalink)
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I have my doubts about a coverup, myself.

However, there is a most interesting coincidence regarding the fate of the Comet.

A certain British novelist wrote a very popular novel in 1948, which had as its storyline the failure of a new British translatlantic airliner in flight due to metal fatigue, which was only pipointed as the cause after several crashes and extensive testing-to-failure at the RAE. The book was made into a very successful motion picture in 1950. All of this pre-dated the first flight of the Comet by at least two years.

The novelist knew whereof he wrote - he had, in his earlier life, worked for Geoffrey de Havilland, been instrumental in the structural design of very large aircraft and gone on to start his own successful aircraft company. He was FRAeS, and was personal friends with Lord Brabazon of Tara, one of the driving forces behind the Comet project.

The writer didn't make this story up out of thin air - he made it up because he knew that metal fatigue was a significant issue in aircraft structures, and would only become more so. While structural design should be based in sound engineering practice, the publication of such a work of popular fiction indicates, to me at least, a suggestion that this was a problem not adequately understood or addressed at the time.

Interesting, what?


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Old 10th Jun 2002, 12:19   #14 (permalink)
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That'd be Nevile Shute's "No Highway", then.....a top tale, well written, and not just of interest to those "in the know".

There is a Comet 1 at the Mosquito museum on the M25 at London Colney...well worth a visit; just have a look at the fuselage structure and see how flimsy it appears, compared with today's pressurised jets; it's a real education.
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Old 10th Jun 2002, 12:35   #15 (permalink)
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I'm not exactly inspired after hearing the trailer for the Comet programme, with a newsreel voice-over talking about the aircraft breaking up -- the voice-over was taken from the Farnborough airshow (1952 ??) and referred to the Sea Vixen which broke up during its display.
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Old 10th Jun 2002, 15:40   #16 (permalink)
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Nopax - that's the one.

At the risk of terminal thread drift - fans of Nevil Shute may be interested to know that his first new book in more than 40 years has just been published. Entitled "The Seafarers", this 90,000-word manuscript was among his unpublished papers at the time of his death in 1960. While it speaks strongly to themes found in later works, it's a very good read in its own right.

Find details at www.papertig.com if you are interested and, no, it's not my business and I don't make a dime from the recommendation.


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Old 10th Jun 2002, 16:04   #17 (permalink)
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I understood that the airframes were certified and approved by A.R.B. for the issue of its Certificate of Airworthiness - but that the certificates were then issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

The CAA is presently responsible for maintaining the the UK Register of Civil Aircraft. I am presuming that this function was carried out by the Ministry prior to the CAA's founding in 1972.

The following is the text of part the evidence given in the inquiry into the crash og G-ALYY which explains the procedure. I also include a link to the site, which is excellent.

"Yoke Yoke was granted a Certificate of Registration No. R.3221/1 on the 18th September, 1951 in the name of B.O.A.C. as owners and first flew on the 10th September, 1952. On the 23rd September, 1952 it was certified and approved by A.R.B. for the issue of its Certificate of Airworthiness and this Certificate, No. A.3221, was issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation on the 30th September, 1952. After approval by A.R.B. on the 21st September, 1953 the Certificate of Airworthiness was renewed on the 23rd September, 1953 and was valid at the time of the accident".


Last edited by ORAC; 10th Jun 2002 at 16:20.
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Old 10th Jun 2002, 16:43   #18 (permalink)
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His name was Neville Norway actually. He decided to use the name "Shute" (his mother's maiden name) so that his boss, Mr B. Wallis and his firm, Vickers, wouldn't know that their Chief Calculator on the R100 also wrote novels! He eventually became his own boss when he formed an outfit called "Airspeed".

Try reading "Slide Rule" the autobiography of an engineer.
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Old 10th Jun 2002, 18:14   #19 (permalink)
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Thanks for the clarification, and the excellent link.
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Old 10th Jun 2002, 18:36   #20 (permalink)
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Square cornered windows caused the structural failure. Absolutely no doubt about that, and there was no cover up for sure. However, it absolutely amazes me that they used square windows on a pressurised airframe. Even 50 years ago the science behind stress concentrations on corners was very well understood. Why did they do it???
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