De Havilland and the jet age – end of

This month’s final flight by a BAE Systems Nimrod marked the end of an era in more ways than one.

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The last Nimrod to fly, an R1 (XW664) was ferried from its old base at RAF Waddington to East Midlands Airport for preservation on 12 July, touching down after a flypast. That final flight came almost 62 years to the day that the world’s first jet airliner, and the Nimrod’s “great grandfather” – the de Havilland Comet prototype – completed its maiden flight from Hatfield.

Three years after that first flight on 27 July 1949, the Comet 1 ushered in the start of the jet age for airline passengers worldwide when BOAC put it into service on 2 May 1952 between London and Johannesburg.

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The Comet 1 era was of course far too short, coming to an abrupt end in 1954 after a series of disastrous in-flight break-ups. The larger, re-engineered Comet 4 was introduced in 1958, when it inaugurated transatlantic jet services just ahead of the Boeing 707′s arrival. But by then the de Havilland jet had missed its calling, although the Comet 4 series did provide the basis of the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod.

At the time of that 1952 jet airliner inaugural of course, it looked like the UK aircraft manufacturing industry was set fair to rule the commercial airways until fate took its toll.  So the retirement of the Nimrod is the final chapter in the UK’s jet-age dream that began six decades ago.

Oh well. At least it gives me a good excuse to publish a few pictures of Britain’s beautiful, RE Bishop-designed jet pioneer.

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