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.


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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs