On this day 60 years ago: de Havilland Comet performs first flight

On 27 July 1949 de Havilland chief test pilot John Cunningham, previously a famed night-fighter pilot, celebrated his birthday by leading his flight-test crew aboard the all-silver prototype DH106, the world’s first purpose-built jet airliner, and taking off on its maiden flight.

The de Havilland Ghost-powered DH106 was soon afterwards named Comet.

Here is a cutaway from our collection of the Comet:

DH Comet 1 DPS cutaway.jpg

To celebrate the Comet’s 60th anniversary, we took a look through Flight’s archives to find both the major stories and also the smaller details of the world’s first jetline.

Note: the referenced date corresponds the material’s publishing time

28 July 1949

Roll out of Comet: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1949/1949%20-%201324.html

Flight reporter saw Comet before rollout, commented on its ”businesslike appearance”, and other impressions:http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1949/1949%20-%201326.html

4 August 1949

“Surprise” first flight: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1949/1949%20-%201356.html

22 December 1949 

Operational characteristics of Comet:http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1949/1949%20-%202017.html


27 April 1950 

Water-methanol injection and liquid-fuel rocket motors have been developed to assist the take-off of the de Havilland Comet when fully loaded from tropical or high-altitude runways:


7 September 1951

Flight calls the Comet the “premier example of the pure-jet airliner for arterial routes”: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1951/1951%20-%201739.html


9 May 1952 

Coverage of first commerical flight (BOAC service to South Africa’s Johannesburg): http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1952/1952%20-%201275.html


1 May 1953 

BOAC issued rubber-soled shoes to maintenance workers to keep exterior skin smooth: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1953/1953%20-%200555.html

BOAC pilot discusses pilot conversion training:http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1953/1953%20-%200539.html


1 May 1953 

Statistics on Comet’s first year of service with BOAC (number of miles flown, routes): http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1953/1953%20-%200549.html



Comment on the Comet’s “lustre” decreasing due to crashes, as well as information on crashes: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1954/1954%20-%201481.html


3 September 1954 

  • Comet 1 built to accommodate 36-40 passengers and weighed 107,000-115,000 lb
  • Comet 2 could accommodate 44 passengers at 120,000 lb 
  • Comet 2 had 4x Rolls-Royce Avon turbojets, permitted stage lengths of 1750-2200 miles, payload capacity 13,000 lb


12 January 1956 

Information on a Comet’s 30,000 mile tour in Asia and Oceania: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1956/1956%20-%200012.html

6 July 1956 

Flight writes that the Comet’s economics are similar to piston-engined aircraft: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1956/1956%20-%200883.html



Flight praises the “handsome lines and elegant finish of the Transport Command machines”: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1957/1957%20-%200176.html


Writer argues in thorough analysis that the Comet is still a good aircraft: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1958/1958-1-%20-%200252.html


25 July 1958

First flight of Comet 4, and overivew of what is different about the 4: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1958/1958-1-%20-%200119.html


6 Mar 1959

Information on how Aerolineas Argentinas plans to deploy its new fleet, including the Comet: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1959/1959%20-%200642.html


11 Sep 1959

Assorted Comet comments including that galleys were standarised with the Viscount; description of “ingeniously” folding doors that blocked the rear galley from passengers’ site during boarding; and the rear galley could be removed and more seats added if desired: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1959/1959%20-%202223.html


3 June 1965

Obituary of de Havilland, who reportedly only appeared on television once and was at a loss for words when “smart alec” journalist asked a question about the Comet crashes: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1965/1965%20-%201563.html


31 Jul 1969

Flight’s coverage of Comet’s 20th anniversary: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1969/1969%20-%202527.html


  • Comet 1 initially cost £275,000 (US$1.1 million); Comet 4 cost £1.2 million
  • Comet 1 required 34,000 “manweeks” before first flight and 50,000 “manweeks” before entry into service


15 November 1980

Coverage of Comet’s final flight: http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1980/1980%20-%203431.html

16 September 2008

Comet holds a legacy for fatigue design: http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2008/09/16/315932/europe-works-to-develop-built-in-structural-sensors.html

Happy 60th birthday, Comet!


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4 Responses to On this day 60 years ago: de Havilland Comet performs first flight

  1. Gary Glover 27 July, 2009 at 12:27 pm #


    You may be right but Wikpedia disagrees with you on the first “jet airliner”:

    The first airliners with turbojet propulsion were experimental conversions of the Avro Lancastrian piston engined airliner, which were flown with several types of early jet engine, including the de Havilland Ghost and the Rolls-Royce Nene, however these retained the two inboard piston engines, the jets being housed in the outboard nacelles and these aircraft were therefore of ‘mixed’ propulsion. The first airliner with full jet power was the Nene-powered Vickers VC.1 Viking G-AJPH, which first flew on the 6 April 1948.


    Keep up the good work,


    Gary Glover

  2. Brenton Scheiblich 24 December, 2009 at 10:13 am #

    I appreciate and respect your point of view.

  3. Stephen Kosa 24 December, 2009 at 10:59 am #

    Well, maybe not so ideal – but big change to the world of internet.

  4. Maldives Tourism 30 June, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    Sounds like there are some very interesting stories there indeed. It must have took time gathering the research here and so well done. Great stuff

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