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Comet 4 at BOAC

Old 27th Oct 2011, 16:36
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I'm just amazed that they were training apprentices on an Argonaut long after piston-engined aircraft were given up in the fleet. Were there secret bulk stores of Avgas and spark plugs that just had to be used up ?
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Old 27th Oct 2011, 17:57
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As a BOAC apprentice 1960 to 1965 I remember the Argonaut fondly. It was retained for engine /airframe apprentices to get some piston engine experience which was at that time required for their City and Guilds exams.
There was no problem with Avgas as piston powered airliners were operating into Heathrow, and indeed Aden Airways were operating Argonauts into Heathrow. We left our old Argonaut one Friday ,but when we came back on the Monday the flaps were hanging down because Aden airways had pinched one flap jack over the weekend to get their aircraft serviceable.Also we used to chain our ground power unit to the nose leg as British Eagle had in the past used it over the weekend only to leave it with no fuel.

The Argonaut training was run by an old Overseas Engineer, by the name of George Tippings who would lecture us for an hour or so about all the safety requirements [Chocks, ground power , fire Guards, prop Guards etc] before one would run the engine, and often he would be driven mad by some Connie engineers, who during this lecture, would walk out to their Connie and with none of the above precautions crank the engines up the aircraft batteries,resulting in huge clouds of smoke and loud cheers from the apprentices.

Little did I realize that I would be doing the same on a Connie some 40 years later.

During the last two years of my apprenticeship I spent on Comet /VC-10
major and then minor maintenance, and while on Majors spent a lot of time in the old Comet's Pod fuel tank for which you got a shilling a day extra pay and a free pint of milk to take the taste of fuel away. As you left the bottle of milk on the stand just outside the tank it was most times pinched for the hangar medivac tea swindle.

Happy times

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Old 27th Oct 2011, 19:57
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We lived in the Sudan 1958 to 1961, and I have fond memories of the BOAC Comet 4's arriving and departing from Khartoum Airport where they stopped on the London - Jo'burg run, along with the Britannia 102's.

Khartoum was a busy transit stop in those days as virtually all Europe to East and South Africa flights stopped to refuel. There was also a big expat community. The rooftop terrace of the airport restaurant was a favourite place for dinner or drinks (Khartoum had a brewery in those days!) and I remember some of the early Comet 4 flights passing through. People would stand up and cheer when the Comets arrived or departed! Most of the aviation activity seemed to take place in the evening to early morning. The explanation give by local wags was that they had to because the runway melted during the daytime, such were the extremely high temperatures! The take-off noise was thrilling of course, pure turbojets, quite novel in those days.

As well as BOAC, I can remember KLM, Alitalia, Ethiopian DC6B's, Lufthansa Super Connies, Swissair DC7C's, South African DC7B's, Air Liban DC6B's, plus numerous charter airlines such as Hunting Clan which operated the Africargo DC6 freighters, Viscounts, and Britannia 300's. The local carrier was Sudan Airways which operated DC3's and Doves plus the "Blue NIle Viscount" on the Gatwick run. We got to fly in all of these. The local crews were invariably very jovial Brits (or so they seemed to me) who would let you sit in the co-pilot's seat during the flight, as I did myself on a Khartoum-Port Sudan run.

Sadly I never got to fly in the Comet 4's although in later years I had some flights in BEA Comet 4B's to Spain. Lovely smooth aircraft, very stable (at least from the pax point of view) and most elegant.
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Old 27th Oct 2011, 20:04
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as it was on the way to the crew hotel (Juhu Beach?).
I went to the Sun n Sand hotel in Juhu Beach in 1962. It was there that I saw my last Liberator flying. An Indian Navy one approaching Juhu Airfield.
From the swimming pool, obviously.

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Old 29th Oct 2011, 00:12
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The apprentice Comet had an interesting flight from Mexico on delivery. The Mexican crew consisted of 3 training Captains and no proper Flight Engineer.
Mexicana did not have any navigators so Jimmy Nightingale (of game park fame) who was working in the navigation office at the time, was sent to navigate the thing across the pond.

On the approach to Gander there was a fire warning, upon which the captain occupying the F/E seat made a curse in Spanish and removed the fire warning relay for the offending engine. They were located in the doorway to the cockpit. He said to Jimmy "they are always a problem"!!

A few days after the airplane had arrived at LHR Jimmy got a call from maintenance and was asked to come to the hangar where the Comet was parked. When he got there they showed him the hole/crack in the side of the engine that had caused the REAL fire warning!! Fly Mexicana!!!!!

Speedbird 48.
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Old 29th Oct 2011, 11:35
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I didn't work for BOAC/BEA but if I remember correctly the Argonaut and Comet used for Apprentice training were parked near the Harlington Corner-Hatton Cross road through the hangar area which you could access by public bus!

G-ALHJ by David Whitworth, on Flickr

BOAC 1971 Apprentices2 by topemup, on Flickr

the Argonaut ended up on fire-training by Perry Oaks Sludge Works...now T5?....what of the Comet?

Air-Britain : G-ALHJ

Last edited by A30yoyo; 29th Oct 2011 at 11:45.
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Old 3rd Aug 2022, 09:32
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The Sun n Sand is still the best kept secret at Juhu Beach. It was remodelled about 20 years ago.
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Old 3rd Aug 2022, 10:19
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There is a very interesting article in the latest edition of The Aviation Historian concerning the Comet.
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Old 3rd Aug 2022, 14:31
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Dan Air's BOAC Comets

Saw my first Dan Air London (ex BOAC) Comet 4 sitting at Rimini Airport in summer of 1967.
We were on a British Eagle Britannia - I was so jealous of the 'new jet' LOL..

DA had just got their first examples ex BOAC from 1966 onwards, G-APDJ, PDK, PDN, and PDO.
It was Dan's first Jet.
Dan Air went on to obtain many more BOAC Comet 4's in 1969 and 1970.

This Comet had an incident in 1959 while on a flight from London and was approaching Ciampino Airport at Rome.
The crew experienced difficulty obtaining reliable ADF indicators. Bearings from a NDB were therefore used to assist in positioning the aircraft on its approach.
The aeroplane finally touched down but unfortunately with it’s gear retracted!
The weather was cloudy at the time. BOAC’s investigation attributed the accident to pilot error – albeit with some distraction caused by the failure to locate the ADF.
BOAC staff were assisted by de Havilland’s service and production engineers and together they succeeded in repairing the damaged aircraft in only 45 days – it was a remarkable achievement credited, in no small part, to the strength of the Comet’s airframe. The main damage was found to be to the centre section and wing stubs and, to a lesser extent, there was also damage to the fuselage. The undercarriage doors, engine cowling doors and inner flaps were all replaced.
All the engines were changed as a precautionary measure because it was not possible to examine them for shock-loading damage on-site.

G-APDL again!
After the Rome incident this BOAC Comet once more hit the ground in 1964 and survived to fly again (and yet again)
This time it struck the ground 9 miles short of Nairobi Airport whilst on approach. It made a safe landing.
The aircraft was London bound from Salisbury and was carrying 62 passengers and a crew of 7.
It initially touched down in a Game Reserve during the pitch black night approach. No one was hurt.
G-APDL was given a heavy landing check and found to be undamaged.

G-APDL was yet again involved in yet another accident on October 7 1970 this time with Dan Air, the incident being another wheels-up landing at Woolsington Airport, Newcastle
when it was being used on a crew training flight.
As the pilots brought the plane down to practice a flapless landing they forgot to conduct all of the pre-landing checks, and landed with the wheels up.
Nobody was hurt, but G-APDL was so severely damaged that it was now considered irreparable, written off, and scrapped.

Dan Air – ex BOAC Comets operated

G-APDA 6401 Spares use only by Dan Air
G-APDB 6403
G-APDC 6404
G-APDD 6405
G-APDE 6406
G-APDG 6427
G-APDJ 6429
G-APDK 6412
G-APDM 6414
G-APDN 6415 W/O near LEGE en route EGCC-LEBL
G-APDO 6416
G-APDP 6417

DAN AIR's ex BOAC Comet operationsFaced with competition from Freddie Laker’s British United Airways who were ordering the new BAC 1-11 200 for their IT European routes, Dan-Air had to have jet transports of their own.
The first move was made in May 1966 when two ex-BOAC Comets G-APDK and G-APDO were purchased and so, for the first time, Dan-Air began to operate jet aircraft.
In 1967 Dan-Air were able, no doubt because they could now offer the Comet, to land IT charter contracts with some of the countries largest package tour operators.
In 1969 Dan-Air landed a major contract with a large German tour operator and began to service Berlin.

U.K. bases were set up at the airports where package tours were to operate from, such as Gatwick, Luton, Glasgow, Birmingham, Newcastle, and Manchester.
The Comet was designed primarily for the long to medium-haul ‘Empire routes’. It’s use on comparatively short-haul routes should have put it at a disadvantage operationally.
The package-tour scene was not what the Comet was all about, here the objective is maximum payload / maximum flights and utilization.
BOAC’s utilization had been reasonably high but with less flight cycles.
The BOAC Comets were configured to carry up to 81 passengers resulting in Dan Air Engineering making many cabin modifications to allow 99 charter passengers (later 106)

Dan-Air were not in the new aircraft market though and had not at this stage in their history, ever ordered direct from the manufacturer.
They had to buy the most economical ‘Jet’ they could – the Comet being ‘economical’ in that its purchase price was very low.
Obviously being one of the first commercial passenger jets into service meant that Comets, along with the Boeing 707 and 720 were the first of their type to appear on the second-hand market in any numbers.
As it happened Dan-Air’s need for jets coincided with BOAC phasing out the Comet, and the Corporation had been testing the market for second-hand jets when Dan-Air came along.

So once suitably modified the Dan Air Comet 4 could be made to suit the charter market well.
De Havilland (who since 1960 were now part of the Hawker Siddeley Group of companies) assisted Dan-Air in devising the necessary modifications.
The plan was to increase the standard cabin seating to accommodate 99 passengers, so this required that the cabin floor be strengthened.
(106 passenger seats were eventually fitted)
The wing structure was stiffened too to withstand the more frequent landings – based on experience gained with the short haul BEA 4B.

BOAC Comets were designed for long-haul type flights. To extend the working life it was necessary to modify the wing front spar too, the bottom booms, the rear spar top boom and the bottom skin panel in the area of the wheel well cut-out. In fact Corporation Comets were sold with the front and rear spar top modifications completed were to give up to a further 4,000 flights. These were expensive modifications making BOAC Comets better value still.
Whether expensive spar-modifications were made depended upon the number of hours already accumulated.
This became important as Dan-Air acquired more and more used aircraft.
With very high standards of maintenance and servicing BOAC’s Comets had lived a relatively easy life and were in good condition which was more than could be said for some of Dan-Air’s later Comet purchases.
An idea of the amount of work needed to be completed before the aircraft joined the DA fleet is even more interesting when one considers that some Dan Air Comets were only used for four full holiday seasons before being withdrawn from use.
The DA Comets proved well suited to their new role and Dan-Air expanded their fleet as and when they could as other carriers retired the type.
BOAC’s G-APDJ was purchased in April 1967 and G-APDN joined the fleet in October the same year.
The next phase of purchases came in early 1969 when G-APDL. PDM, and G-APDP were added to the fleet, all being ex-BOAC.
Malaysian Airways then put all five ex-BOAC Comets up for sale. G-APDA, ‘DB, ‘DC, ‘DD and ‘DE were all acquired by Dan-Air in 1969.
Fortunately these Malaysian Comets had been little modified since BOAC and only required minor work before being put into service.
One aircraft though, G-APDA was not flown again commercially and was just used for spares.
ex-BOAC G-APDG was acquired from Kuwait Airways and entered service in 1970.
Standard equipment comprised dual VHF and HF, ADF, DME, weather radar, transponder and Smiths Autopilot and flight system.
Dan-Air operated their Comets in the (then) conventional way with two pilots and a flight engineer per aircraft.

The IT market in the UK and Germany had continued to expand during the 1970s with more carriers taking a slice of the market.
This market was cut throat and very competitive with the newer IT operators equipping with more modern and less fuel thirsty aircraft – BAC 1-11 500, Trident, Boeing 727 and 737-200.
These modern aeroplanes made the Comet look dated and usually, they had lower operating costs. On the other hand, in aircraft terms, Dan-Air had got their Comets for next to nothing. A book value of Zero was offset by the cost of modification and aircraft’s higher thirst for Kerosene.
However the balance still – just – favoured the Comet.

Utilization rates continued to increase and the Comet fleet were now accumulating over 23000 hours during the year and because IT was summer seasonal it enabled the winter lay-off period to be used for maintenance.
By the late 1970s the economic balance and rising fuel prices had swung against the Comet and Dan-Air were planning their retirement.
To see how the Comet compared at this time with contemporary aircraft one has to look at its fuel efficiency compared to other IT Jets.
A Comet 4 used more fuel with 106 passengers from Gatwick to Palma than a DC-10 used with 345 passengers.

The only Comet to be lost in Dan-Air service was the ex-BOAC Comet 4 G-APDN.
The accident happened on 3rd of July 1970 when the Manchester aircraft flying for Clarksons Holidays as DA1903 bound for BCN, crashed into the Monteseny Mountains, close to Gerona, and some 34 miles NW of Barcelona, Spain.
Dan-Air announced the there were 112 people, including 7 crew, on board. There were no survivors.
The aircraft had descended to an area of high ground and struck the slopes and Beech trees of Les Agudes peak, Monteseny at a height of about 3500ft.
Initial reports were that the Comet had crashed into the sea.
G-APDN Accident report

The Comet crash was Dan-Air's first fatal accident.
News of the first major accident in the company's eighteenth year of existence came just two days after a major British tour operator Global Holidays had awarded Dan Air a four-year, 2.5-million contract for all Global charter flights from Birmingham and Newcastle with Comets, starting in April 1971.
The Spanish authorities insisted on an immediate burial of the 112 victims for supposedly public health reasons, but it has become known that Gen. Franco wanted as least as possible publicity and Press coverage of this crash, so it is thought that he made the decision for a quick mass burial in Spain, with no relatives allowed coming from the UK.
They are buried with a Memorial at the Cemetery in the village of Arbucies, 24 miles from the holiday resort of Lloret de Mar.
Locals know the crash site, a section of the range known as La Font de la Cresta.
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Old 3rd Aug 2022, 19:08
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Nice thread, I flew ro Montpellier and back on Dan dare in 1975 4b out and 4c back as I recall. i had only previously flown on BEA Tridents or BOAc 74-707 and VC10 so was intrigued about this 'old' airliner and indeed the service. i found the cabin dated but comfortable -were they 5 across . Did not sit behind the engines either way as had been warned off the noise by friends BOAC Engineer father . Montpellier was a charming litle airport where ona nice day once checked in you could sit in pleasant well tendd garden and wait for your flight to board- security what security.

had a decent little snack on way out , return districted by seat companion who I had met canoeing on the Ardeche and took up most of my attention lol I did gallantly get the hand baggage down from the overhead -no bins just the hat rack style .

Overall though i thought it was a very smooth comfortable trip and my goodness 20 years earlier it must have seemed a different planet toa DC6 or similar. it is sad how the Uk aircraft industry changed , I dont think we in the Uk can ever handle large scale enterprises and a lot of small firms even when shoe horned into two larger ones did not have the size and economies of scale of Boeing and Douglas.

This was neatly encapsulated in a story about Boeing from the daughter of a Boeing test and development pilot , an interesting book if I remember it correctly. basically everyone in there street worked for Boeing and most of her school friends had one parent there. Anyway the story was that two senior Boeing people visited DH Hatfield to see the Comet and assess how much of a risk it was to the still developing 707. Reporting to the CEo the senior engineer was asked his opinion about the British competitor. His answer was this plane is no threat whatsoever to us, which came as a surprise . Why do you say that was the follow up isnt the plane any good? the answer was the plane is fine a practical aircraft smaller than our but with good performance pause-but they are building them in a shed and cannot build them in any numbers as a consequence. Luckily a lot of the experience survived via Concorde and the now Airbus Uk is a huge successful enterprise , except of course it isnt British . Apologies for the thread drift but I hope that there were guys who built the Comet as apprentices stayed the course to take pride in the A380 and many other Airbus wings built here and how they played a part in the seemingly impossible achievement of Europe matching and indeed overtaking USA in building airliners.
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