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1952: Comet inaugurates the jet age

The world's first ever jet airliner has begun its maiden flight from London to Johannesburg.

Crowds cheered as the BOAC Comet G-ALYP took off from London airport at 1512 local time carrying 36 passengers.

The De Havilland Comet 1 is regarded as a feather in the cap for British design and innovation and promises to usher in a new era of faster, smoother air travel. The plane's sleek design incorporates its four De Havilland Ghost 50 Mk1 engines inside the wing of the plane.

The total journey of nearly 7,000 miles is expected to take 23 hours 40 minutes, allowing for five stops at Rome, Beirut, Khartoum, Entebbe and Livingstone.

Sir Miles Thomas, the operator's chairman, will join the flight at Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia.

BOAC's regular flights to Johannesburg on piston-engine Hermes airliners take 27 hours and 55 minutes to reach their destination on a route 1,000 miles shorter than the Comet's.

Because of the length of the journey, the crew will be replaced at Beirut and then at Khartoum.

Each passenger on this historic flight will receive a special first flight certificate signed by the pilot of the first part of the flight, Captain AM Majendie.

A single fare costs 175 and a return 315 - the same price as for BOAC's piston-engine aircraft.

In Context
The Comet was hailed as a great success for British aviation but barely a year after it went into commercial service, disaster struck. In March 1953 a Comet crashed on take-off killing all 11 on board. Two months later another went down a few minutes after take-off from Calcutta killing all 43 people. The following January another dived into the Mediterranean killing 35.

Detailed investigation revealed a devastating design flaw - metal fatigue. The constant stress of repressurisation at high altitude would weaken an area of the fuselage around the Comet's square-shaped windows. The exterior would then become so stressed that high-pressure cabin air would burst through the slightest crack, ripping a large slice in the aircraft's fuselage.

All Comets were grounded, the jets were redesigned and re-entered commercial service in 1958 - with a severely damaged reputation.

Airlines opted for the new American Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8, each of which could seat almost twice as many passengers as the Comet.

Though confidence in the Comet never recovered, the military version still flies today, under the name Nimrod.

Comet facts