|De Havilland Comet 4 in the superb markings of XV814 of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough.
The de Havilland DH 106 Comet was the world's first commercial jet airliner to reach production. Developed and manufactured by de Havilland at the Hatfield, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom headquarters, it first flew in 1949 and was a landmark in aeronautical design. It featured an extremely aerodynamically clean design with its four de Havilland Ghost turbojet engines buried into the wings, a low-noise pressurised cabin, and large windows; for the era, it was an exceptionally comfortable design for passengers and showed signs of being a major success in the first year upon launching.
However, a few years after introduction into commercial service, Comet airframes began suffering from catastrophic metal fatigue, which in combination with cabin pressurisation cycles, caused two well-publicised accidents where the aircraft tore apart in mid-flight. The Comet had to be withdrawn and extensively tested to discover the cause; the first incident had been incorrectly identified as having been caused by an onboard fire. Several contributory factors, such as window installation methodology, were also identified as exacerbating the problem. The Comet was extensively redesigned to eliminate this design flaw. Rival manufacturers meanwhile developed their own aircraft and heeded the lessons learnt from the Comet.
Although sales never fully recovered, the redesigned Comet 4 series subsequently enjoyed a long and productive career of over 30 years. The Comet was adapted for a variety of military roles, such as surveillance, VIP, medical and passenger transport; the most extensive modification resulted in a specialised maritime patrol aircraft variant, the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod. Nimrods remained in service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) until they were retired in June 2011, over 60 years after the Comet's first flight.
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