On this day in 1949, the world’s first jet-propelled airliner, the British de Havilland Comet, made its maiden test flight in England. The jet engine would ultimately revolutionize the airline industry, shrinking air travel time in half by enabling planes to climb faster and fly higher. The Comet was the creation of aviation pioneer Sir Geoffrey de Havilland (1882-1965). IN 1939, an experimental jet-powered plane debuted in Germany. During World War II, Germany was the first country to use jet fighters.
De Havilland also designed fighter planes during the war years. Following the war, de Havilland turned his focus to commercial jets, developing the Comet and the Ghost jet engine. After its July 1949 test flight, the Comet underwent three more years of testing and training flights. Then, on May 2, 1952, the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation began the world’s first commercial jet service with the 44-seat Comet 1A, flying paying passengers form London to Johannesburg. The Comet was capable of traveling 480 miles per hour, a record speed at the time. However, the initial commercial service was short-lived, and due to a series of fatal crashes in 1953 and 1954, the entire fleet was grounded.
It took another generation for man to master flight. Still, planes go down. But that does little to deter the millions who are in a hurry to get from one place to another.
For most of his history, man has not been able to fly. And that seemed alright for thousands of years. But now we know better. The question is whether we are better.