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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs