Curator’s corner: The story of the DH.106 Comet at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum

PUBLISHED: 16:45 03 April 2020 | UPDATED: 20:40 04 April 2020

The Comet being moved into its new home in the de Havilland Aircraft Museum’s new hangar, in December 2019. Picture: supplied by de Havilland Aircraft Museum

The Comet being moved into its new home in the de Havilland Aircraft Museum’s new hangar, in December 2019. Picture: supplied by de Havilland Aircraft Museum

Supplied by de Havilland Aircraft Museum

Alistair Hodgson, curator of the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, shares some of the Hertfordshire museum’s special attractions and hidden secrets. In week two of his Curator’s Corner, we take a look at the history-making DH.106 Comet.

The de Havilland Comet 1a in the new Sir Geoffrey de Havilland Hangar at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum. Picture: Alan DaviesThe de Havilland Comet 1a in the new Sir Geoffrey de Havilland Hangar at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum. Picture: Alan Davies

In July 1949, the residents of Hatfield were the first people in the world to hear a sound that would become very familiar around the globe – the noise of a jet airliner taking off.

The DH.106 Comet Mk.1, powered by four of the Hatfield-based company’s Ghost jet engines, took to the skies on July 27 – Sir Geoffrey de Havilland’s 67th birthday – and changed the face of air travel forever.

READ MORE: Hatfield celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Comet – the world’s first jet airliner

The Comet was sleek, fast and luxurious but the aircraft contained a fatal flaw.

In very simple terms, the metal skin of the fuselage was very thin and couldn’t withstand the stress of repeated pressurisation, which is necessary for an airliner to fly at high altitude.

This caused the skin to crack around the corners of the window openings, which were square.

Restoration work in progress on the flight deck of the Comet at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum.Restoration work in progress on the flight deck of the Comet at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum.

This led to a catastrophic failure of the aircraft structure in flight, and two Comets were tragically lost over the Mediterranean along with everybody on board.

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The entire Comet fleet was grounded, and several aircraft were taken to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough to be tested to destruction to find the cause of the problem.

Our Comet flew with Air France and was one of those scheduled for testing – but the fault was found before it went to the test rig, and it survived.

The wings were scrapped but the fuselage stayed at Farnborough until 1985 when it came to the museum.

It’s unique because it is the only surviving Comet 1 in the world that has those original square windows which were the cause of the problems.

de Havilland Aircraft Museumde Havilland Aircraft Museum

When we acquired it, this Comet was an empty shell, and our volunteers are making a splendid job of rebuilding the entire interior, complete with seating, galley, flight deck and even separate Ladies’ and Gents’ toilets!

Once the faults were corrected, the Comet airliner was a great success and broke many speed records on international routes.

Our unique Comet 1 tells the story of the type’s tragedies and triumphs, and is a fitting tribute to the pioneers of the early days of the jet airliner.

Sole-surviving DH Comet 1a moves into the new hangar at de Havilland Aircraft Museum. Picture: Garry LakinSole-surviving DH Comet 1a moves into the new hangar at de Havilland Aircraft Museum. Picture: Garry Lakin

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum at Salisbury Hall, London Colney is solely reliant on visitor admission fees and charitable donations.

You can donate at www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk/product/charitable-donation/

The volunteer-run museum is preserving the aviation heritage of Hatfield’s de Havilland Aircraft Company.

Visit www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk for more on the first aviation museum in Britain.

The Welwyn Hatfield Times is #ThereWithYou during the coronavirus crisis.The Welwyn Hatfield Times is #ThereWithYou during the coronavirus crisis.


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