December, 1949, Canadian Aviation
by Floyd S. Chalmers
London – We went out to the de Havilland plant the morning after the Comet’s amazing six-hour hop to Castle Benito, Lybia and back – an aerial triumph that made headlines the world over. Workmen were busy stripping the world’s first jet airliner of engines and instruments for examination.
The Comet is a neat looking job. It will seat 36 passengers. Its normal cruising speed is 500 mph but to achieve maximum fuel economy at that speed it must fly at 40,000 feet. Obviously this is no plane for short distances. Flying to Africa it took roughly half an hour, or around 150 miles, to reach that height.
Questions To Be Answered
This first Comet will be kept flying under all sorts of conditions for the next year to work out many problems. What is the weather like at 40,000 feet? What happens to pressurization (which has to be two and a half times the pressurization of the ordinary transatlantic airliner)? What happens when one runs into headwinds of 150 mph, which are common at that height? Is it better to make a quick ascent to the top level or to take it slowly? What is the best speed at which to fly?
In addition to these and a thousand other technical questions that must be answered, de Havilland has to determine from actual experience the answer to the key question of the optimum range of the Comet. Obviously, it is uneconomical for the shorter hops for which Canada’s Avro jetliner is designed. But is it a 2,000-mile machine or a 3,000-mile machine or something in between? If it is a 2,000-mile machine, then it is not for North Atlantic flights; at 3,000 miles it might tackle London to Gander nonstop, cutting out one stop.
At the de Havilland plant, a second Comet was nearing completion. It is also for test flying. But work is well advanced on the first four planes ordered by BOAC. There was a good deal of venturesome courage in the placing of the order by BOAC for 14 of these airliners. De Havilland itself financed the design and development. The British Government ordered the first two to be built. BOAC bought the next 14 off the drawing board. But with a guarantee as to cost, date of delivery and performance. When these have been delivered anyone else may buy them.
To a layman the time between conception and first commercial flight of an airliner seems incredibly long. It is three years since de Havilland began to blueprint the Comet. It will be another three years before the first completed planes will be delivered to BOAC. Even at that, de Havilland is certain that it will be years ahead of any other jet airliner of comparable range. That it is guessing right seems to be indicated by the enquiries flooding in from around the world.
This article originally appeared in the December, 1949 edition of Canadian Aviation.