DALLAS – Today in Aviation, the Comet 1 prototype took to the skies for the first time from Hatfield Aerodrome in Hertfordshire, UK, in 1949. The de Havilland DH.106 Comet was to be the world’s first commercial jet airliner.
The aircraft featured an aerodynamically clean design with four de Havilland Ghost turbojet engines buried in the wing roots, a pressurized cabin, and large square windows. For the era, it offered a relatively quiet, comfortable passenger cabin and was commercially promising at its debut in 1952.
Within a year of entering airline service, complications began to appear, with three Comets being lost due to catastrophic in-flight break-ups. Two of these were discovered to be the consequence of structural collapse caused by metal fatigue in the aircraft, a phenomenon that was not well understood at the time; the other was due to over-stressing of the airframe during flight through severe weather. The Comet was taken out of service and thoroughly tested.
Design and construction issues, such as faulty riveting and unsafe stress concentrations around some of the square windows, were eventually uncovered. As a result, the Comet was completely redesigned, with oval windows, structural reinforcements, and other modifications.
Other manufacturers took notice of the lessons learned from the Comet while constructing their own aircraft.
On March 11, 1943, the United Kingdom’s Cabinet established the Brabazon Committee, which was responsible for determining the United Kingdom’s airliner requirements following the end of World War II. One of its recommendations was to develop and manufacture a pressurized transatlantic Mailplane capable of carrying 1 long ton (2,200 lb; 1,000 kg) of freight at a nonstop cruising speed of 400 mph (640 km/h).
De Havilland was interested in this demand but chose to question the widely…