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  • The year is 1952, and you're sitting in the  newsroom of the London paper where you work  

  • as a reporter when you get the big news - you've  been chosen to cover the inaugural flight of the  

  • world's first passenger jet airplane! As happy  as you are to get this important assignment,  

  • you're not exactly thrilled about the idea of  taking to the skies - civilian jet air travel  

  • is still a very new, very untested, concept, and  you're not keen to be a guinea pig. If you had  

  • known at that moment that you were about to soar  through the skies in the worst aircraft ever,  

  • you just might have listened to  your gut and stayed on the ground;  

  • but when you got your assignmentthe world had no idea about the  

  • tragic fate that awaited the de Havilland  Comet, the world's first commercial jet.

  • Today, we think nothing of hopping on a plane  and jetting across the globe on a whim. With  

  • more than 2 and a half million people travelling  on more than 40,000 flights every single day,  

  • travelling by air is nothing exciting these  days. But in the years following World War 2,  

  • the idea of an average civilian ever taking to  the skies was nothing short of a pipe dream.  

  • Airplanes had only been in use for a few decadesand Word War 2 was the first time that the world  

  • saw planes powered by jet engines. When the de  Havilland DH 106 Comet was introduced in 1949,  

  • it was truly groundbreaking - the world's  very first commercial passenger jet airplane  

  • would mark the start of the jet age and  change the world forever. For the first time,  

  • the average person could dream of visiting  far-flung destinations, and conceive of  

  • travelling there by air, a privilege previously  reserved only for the extremely wealthy.

  • But the rise of the jet age was anything  but a smooth ascent. From its earliest days,  

  • man's quest for mastery of the skies has been  marked by tragedy, and the dawn of the age of  

  • commercial air travel is no exception. Only  a few short years after winning the race to  

  • put the first commercial jet into the airBritain's dreams of dominating the jet age  

  • would literally blow apart at the seams. The Comet may have turned out to be the  

  • worst aircraft ever, but there's no denying  that it changed the course of travel - and  

  • history - forever. But we'll get to that in  a minuteFirst, you've got a plane to catch!

  • On the big day, you arrive at the airport withknot in your stomach - to say that you're nervous  

  • for your first-ever airplane flight would be  an understatement to say the least, and getting  

  • your first look at the machine that will hurtle  you through the sky is definitely not helping.

  • To take your mind off your nerves, you focus on  the job you're here to do - you start talking  

  • to the other passengers and air industry  officials to gather background information  

  • and quotes for your article. By the time the  first passengers start to board the plane,  

  • you'll have learned a lot about the engineering  marvel that's about to hurl you through the skies,  

  • and you'll also have a much better appreciation  for what a historic moment this is.

  • You chat with an official from the de Havilland  Aircraft Company as you walk around the plane  

  • admiring it's exterior. With it's sleek, modern  design and impressive 135 foot wingspan, it truly  

  • is beautiful - but you're still having trouble  imagining how this giant metal tube is going  

  • to manage to stay in the air. Your new friend  tells you all about how the Comet came to be,  

  • and how this 115,000 pound marvel will  safely deliver you across the world.

  • De Havilland is the world leader  in jet engine technology,” he brags.  

  • We honed our expertise in the warand I don't mind telling you that  

  • our fighter jets were instrumental to  the war effort. After we won the war,  

  • it seemed selfish not to share the wonders  of jet technology with the world! After all,  

  • if you can trust our planes to win a war, you can  certainly trust them to shuttle you around the  

  • world in comfort and style. The Comet here runs on  4 of our powerful de Havilland Ghost MK1 engines,  

  • giving her a cruising speed of 475 miles per  hour - that's 100 miles an hour faster than the  

  • fastest propeller plane! Mark my words, the Comet  will revolutionize travel and change the world!”

  • While you have to admire his enthusiasmyou steer the conversation back to  

  • the facts and ask him to tell you  more about how the Comet is built.

  • Glad you asked!” he says. “It took us 3 years to  adapt our exceptional military jet technology to  

  • the civilian world and get the Comet air-readyOur first test flight took place on July 29th,  

  • 1949 - which, coincidentally, happens to  be Jeffry de Havilland's 67th birthday,  

  • as well as the birthday of our test pilot,  'Cat-Eyes' Cunningham! We weren't the only ones  

  • working on this technology, of course - I'm sure  you've heard of the American firm Boeing? Yes,  

  • well, I'm happy to say we beat them to the  punch that day - what a birthday present, eh!?”

  • While you're proud to learn that your country won  the jet race, a small part of you is worried that  

  • this intense pressure to be the first to produce  a commercial jet might raise some red flags about  

  • safety. It's almost time to board, though, and you  have more questions for the de Havilland official,  

  • so you push your worries aside for now -  a decision that will return to haunt you.  

  • Instead, you ask him about  what's next for the company.

  • Great question!” he says. “Now that our  technology has been proven and we've established  

  • ourselves as the world leaders in commercial  jet technology, we have to be prepared to meet  

  • the inevitable new demand for air travel that's  coming. That's why we're currently in the process  

  • of building a brand-new, world-class production  facility in Hatfield, England - when it's done,  

  • it will be the world's largest aluminum  building with an unsupported span!”

  • It's time to board, so you thank him  for his time and head towards the plane,  

  • conscious as you climb aboard and enter  the cabin that you're making history.

  • The takeoff experience almost destroys  your newfound sense of confidence - you  

  • find yourself fighting panic as the plane's 4  mighty engines roar just beyond your window,  

  • and you have to close your eyes as  the plane hurtles down the runway at  

  • breakneck speeds before finally, at what  seems like the very last second to you,  

  • tilting skyward and becoming airborne. You  can hardly believe it - you're flying! Too  

  • bad you're too busy focusing on holding down  your lunch to properly enjoy the moment...

  • Finally, the Comet settles intocomfortable cruising altitude of 40,000 feet,  

  • and you're able to calm down enough to take in  your surroundings. The interior of the cabin  

  • is surprisingly comfortable and well-appointedThe chairs are plush, and complete with built-in  

  • ashtrays so you can enjoy your cigarettesof course. You're also pleasantly surprised  

  • at how quiet the engines are once the plane is  cruising - your seatmate, an experienced flyer,  

  • tells you it's much better than the noise and  vibration of the old fashioned propeller planes.

  • By the time you land - despite another harrowing  landing experience- you've officially been  

  • converted - flying is the future! Your article  about your experience gets a lot of attention,  

  • and it would be the first of many pieces  you'd do on the air travel industry  

  • as you carve out a niche for yourself in  journalism as thefly guy”. That's why,  

  • a short time later, when rumors of a tragedy  involving a Comet first start circulating,  

  • you're able to quickly get the full, gruesome  story from your contacts in the airline industry.

  • Apparently, a British Overseas Airways, or  BOAC, Comet 106 taking off from Calcutta,  

  • India en route to Delhi crashed just 6 minutes  after takeoff. Witnesses to the crash reported  

  • that the aircraft appeared to break apart  in midair before plummeting to the ground,  

  • killing all 43 passengers and crew on boardThe story is especially chilling to you,  

  • not only because the plane was the exact  same model that you yourself flew in on  

  • your history-making flight, but the crash  happened exactly one year to the day after  

  • that momentous flight. What should have  been a happy anniversary became a tragedy.

  • While you're horrified at the thought of an entire  plane full of people losing their lives in such  

  • a tragic way, you are comforted by the fact  that the weather must have been to blame for  

  • this fluke accident - a severe tropical storm had  hit the area around the time the plane took off,  

  • which must have contributed to the crashUnfortunately, that illusion wouldn't last long.

  • Only a few months later, on January 10th, 1954,  another eerily similar rumour starts to make the  

  • rounds - another Comet has crashed, once again  killing everyone on board. This flight was headed  

  • to London, but plunged into the Meditterainan  sea near the island of Elba shortly after  

  • taking off from Ciampino Airport in ItalyAll 35 passengers and crew lost their lives.

  • Because the crash was suspiciously similar  to the one back in May - witnesses again  

  • reported seeing the plane break  apart before plunging into the  

  • sea - BOAC temporarily took their  fleet of Comets out of service.

  • After covering the second crash, something feels  off to you. A single accident is one thing,  

  • but two? It can't be a coincidence. Sadly, you  don't have to wait long to have your suspicions  

  • confirmed. BOAC would unground their fleet of  Comets after only 3 months, and on April 8th,  

  • 1954, just one month after the BOAC Comet fleet  was ungrounded, tragedy would strike again.

  • This time, a South African Airways Comet  

  • heading to Cairo from Rome crashed into the  Sea of Naples immediately after takeoff,  

  • killing all 21 passengers and crew on boardThis time, the pattern couldn't be ignored.  

  • The Comet's Certificate of airworthiness  was withdrawn due to the similarities  

  • between all three crashes, and the entire  fleet of Comets were grounded indefinitely.

  • With commercial jet travel surging in  popularity in the few short years since  

  • your historic first flight, everyone was watching  the airline industry, and the Comet tragedies were  

  • heavily covered all over the world. And  yet, rather than scare people away from  

  • travelling by air, the popularity of air travel  continued to explode in the following years.

  • When humans decided they wanted to master  the skies, they couldn't do so without taking  

  • some risks along the way. Flying has always been  dangerous, and has always been marked by tragedy,  

  • especially in the early years. But the  modern airline industry has learned many  

  • important lessons from these tragedies, and  as a result, flying is now incredibly safe.

  • In the case of the Comet tragediesthere were plenty of lessons to be  

  • learned that would make air travel  safer for everyone in the future.  

  • The Comet tragedies resulted in an unprecedented  investigation into the plane's safety record,  

  • and led to permanent improvements in  airplane design and air safety regulations.

  • The investigation revealed that the crashes  were the result of metal fatigue caused by  

  • the repeated pressurization and depressurization  of the cabin in repeated takeoffs and landings.  

  • Using extensive water tank testing, investigators  were able to identify the weak areas of the cabin,  

  • particularly the square corners  of the escape hatch and windows.  

  • Repeated stress on these vulnerable pointscombined with a flawed riveting technique,  

  • had eventually caused the planes to literally blow  apart at the seams. This might seem obvious to us  

  • in modern times, but pressurization and metal  stress were not widely understood in the 1950s,  

  • and these tragedies directly led to  huge advancements in these areas.

  • De Havilland's American competitors Boeing  and Douglas would use the findings from this  

  • investigation to improve their own commercial  jets, and go on to dominate the long-distance  

  • travel industry. De Havilland wouldn't go down  without a fight, though - in 1958, they would  

  • again make history when the redesigned Comet 4 -  this time with rounded windows - made the first  

  • Transatlantic passenger crossing, beating Pan Am  by only a few weeks. Still, de Havilland would  

  • never again achieve the same level of aerospace  dominance that it enjoyed before the tragedies.

  • It's incredibly unfortunate that so many people  had to lose their lives, but the improvements made  

  • to commercial jets as a result of these and other  air tragedies would undoubtedly save countless  

  • lives in the future, as more and more people took  to the skies and the jet age really took off.

  • As for you? Well, you go on to nurture a lifelong  passion for air travel and conquer your fear of  

  • flying for good. You become a respected aerospace  journalist and take many more flights throughout  

  • your life. The more you learned about airplane  design and airline industry safety standards,  

  • the more you realized just how safe air travel  is - up to 19 times safer than travelling by car,  

  • in fact. Besides, you survived  flying on the worst aircraft ever!

  • Check out the videoHow A 1 In A Billion  Chance Brought Down A Whole Airplane”,  

  • or, you might like this other video instead.

The year is 1952, and you're sitting in the  newsroom of the London paper where you work  

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Why This is the Worst Aircraft Ever Made

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/10/31
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