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The First Commercial Passenger Jet Flight

The development of the jet Engine revolutionised Air Travel, an advance driven by the prospect of war and the desire to gain an advantage over the potential enemy rather than commercial forces. As with commercial air travel, Germany was quickest off the mark, Hans von Ohein building the first experimental jet plane, a Heinkel He 178, which made its maiden flight on August 27, 1939. Anselm Franz improved upon the design to create an engine suitable for use in a jet fighter. A Messerschmitt Me 262, flown by Alfred Schreiber, was the first jet fighter to be used in active combat, attacking an RAF de Havilland Mosquito on July 26, 1944, but failing to shoot it down.

Due to its high fuel consumption, the German jet spent much of its time on the airfield, making it an easy target for Allied air raids. Meanwhile, in England Frank Whittle had independently invented a jet engine, a version of which was used to propel the Gloster Meteor. Used primarily for defensive purposes due to its lack of speed, the Gloster scored the world’s first jet on jet aerial victory when Flying Officer Dean shot down a V-1 flying bomb on August 4, 1944.

Curiously, though, once war had ended commercial airlines were slow to take advantage of the possibilities offered by the jet engine. There were several reasons, some of which presaged the troubles that dogged early commercial jet planes. Although jet engines were simpler than piston engines, they needed to operate at considerably higher temperatures, which meant that more expensive metal alloys had to be used, which at the time were notoriously unreliable. Heavy fuel consumption increased operating costs and the jet’s lower take-off speeds meant that runways had to be extended.

Someone had to grasp the nettle and it fell to aviation veteran, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland to make the first move. Inspired by the Wright brothers, he had made and piloted his first aeroplane in 1910, established the company which bore his name in 1920, and during the Second World War designed several fighter planes, for which he was knighted in 1944. Once the war had ended, he turned his attention to jets, designing the Comet and the Ghost engine, the first de Haviland Comet making its inaugural test flight on July 27, 1949.

It took almost three more years of testing before the aeroplane was deemed to be ready to make its first commercial flight. On May 2, 1952, the third Comet ever built, registered as G-ALYP, took off with forty-four passengers on a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) scheduled flight from London to Johannesburg. The route was carefully chosen, allowing the plane to make stops at Rome, Beirut, Khartoum, Entebbe, and Livingstone, near Victoria Falls and fly mainly over land.

It was declared a success, passengers noting that the aeroplane was quieter and did not vibrate as much as planes propelled by piston-engines. With a cruising speed of 480 miles per hour, it was more than two and a half times faster than the most well-known piston-engine aircraft, the DC-3. The age of commercial jet travel had arrived.

Problems, though, dogged the Comet. The pioneering G-ALYP was one of the first commercial jet airliners to be lost when on January 10, 1954, after taking off from Rome on the last leg of BOAC’s scheduled flight from Singapore to Heathrow, there was an explosion. The plane crashed into the Mediterranean near Elba. killing all twenty-nine passengers, ten of whom were children, and its six crew members. Their fatal injuries of fractured skulls and ruptured lungs were consistent with the investigators’ findings that the plane had suffered metal fatigue caused by repeatedly pressuring and de-pressurising the cabin.

After another fatal crash, the Comet was grounded and it took a further four years before a modified version satisfied the regulators that it was safe to operate commercially, by which time American airline manufacturers, Boeing and Douglas, had cornered the market with their more efficient jets.

Today, air travel is the safest mode of travel with just 0.07 deaths per billion passenger miles, a statistic which seventy years was just a pipe dream. Air travel has certainly come a long way since then. 



This post first appeared on Windowthroughtime | A Wry View Of Life For The World-weary, please read the originial post: here

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The First Commercial Passenger Jet Flight

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