News / USA

Relic of Modern Air Travel Gets a Facelift

The only complete Comet - the first jet airliner in passenger service - in the Western Hemisphere is being restored

Only the front half of the de Havilland Comet - the first jet airliner in passenger service - fits into the restoration hanger.
Only the front half of the de Havilland Comet - the first jet airliner in passenger service - fits into the restoration hanger.

Multimedia

Audio
Tom Banse

The jet age of passenger travel began when the de Havilland Comet airliner took flight in Britain in 1949.

Now, the only complete de Havilland Comet to survive in the Western Hemisphere is being restored in Everett, Washington.

Taking flight

It was back in 1950 that newsreels first depicted commercial flight much as passengers experience air travel today. Travelers soared high above the clouds instead of bouncing along in a noisier, slower, propeller-driven plane at the mercy of the weather.

The British-built de Havilland Comet was the first jet airliner in passenger service. Prior to that, only the military had jets. Even today, the plane is recognizably different. The four turbojet engines are embedded directly into the wings.  They're not slung below the wing or attached to the tail as is common now.

Volunteer Bob Hood in the Comet's restored cockpit.
Volunteer Bob Hood in the Comet's restored cockpit.

Seattle's Museum of Flight acquired one of the few surviving examples in 1994. Retired electrical engineer Bob Hood felt an instant attraction and has since led the mostly volunteer restoration crew.

"People don't realize how much air travel has changed," says Hood. "The Comet made worldwide travel possible and practical because the piston airliners were slow and high maintenance and they just didn't have the comfort for passengers that the jets did."

Comet troubles

The Comet entered scheduled service in 1952 but a flaw in the initial design led to two mid-air explosions in 1954. Hood says the entire fleet was grounded, but the groundbreaking continued.

"Even the accident investigation was full of innovation. It was the first time they had immersed a hull in water and pressure-cycled it until it broke," Hood says. "They were able to look at and analyze the break."

The design flaw was fixed but the disasters damaged the Comet's reputation and gave rivals a chance to catch up. Soon the American-made Douglas DC-8 and Boeing 707 would overtake the British forerunner.

Ironically, the Comet museum piece is being lovingly restored mostly by retired workers from rival plane maker Boeing - on Boeing's home turf of Washington State, where the Seattle Museum of Flight is located.

The Comet's interior might be completed by the end of 2010 and then full restoration is in sight. Hood says this restoration is taking so long because many corroded parts have to be copied and retooled by hand.

Hood points to the gallery as an example. "The only thing here that is really original is the stainless steel counter surfaces. Almost everything else has been remade, some of it from scratch. We had the corroded and torn up originals that we made copies of."

The museum's Comet in its original Mexicana livery.
The museum's Comet in its original Mexicana livery.

Back in the public eye

The Comet that is currently being restored was the first jet flown by Mexicana Airlines. The 81-passenger plane is now back in good enough shape so that aviation buffs can tour it at the restoration center in Everett, Washington. Eventually it will move into a new gallery at the Museum of Flight in nearby Seattle. Museum spokesman Ted Huetter says the plan is to display it alongside its milestone successors.

"We've got the original Boeing 747. We've got the original 727 and 737," says Huetter. "We've also have a Lockheed Super Constellation that's going to be moved to the airpark in just a couple of weeks. All of them very, very significant and rare airplanes."

According to Huetter, the museum's long range plan is to put all of the aircraft under cover to protect them from Seattle's long, damp winters. It's a big undertaking.  Huetter says there's no official date yet for completion of the Comet restoration or for the opening of the new commercial aviation gallery at the flight museum.  

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid