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

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 Million by January

update US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide 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.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid