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5/02/1952: First Commercial Jet Flies to South Africa

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DALLAS – Today in Aviation, the first scheduled jet flight bound for Johannesburg, South Africa, left London in 1952 with 36 passengers. The flight was operated by BOAC, the first airline to introduce a passenger jet, the de Havilland Comet, into commercial service. 

The Johannesburg-bound Comet, designated G-ALYP by BOAC, flew at 450-500 mph at 35-40,000 feet, covering 6,700 miles in 23 hours and 20 minutes, with stops in Rome, Beirut, Khartoum, Entebbe, and Livingstone. The return flight to London took place three days later, on May 5, 1952.

The flight to Johannesburg lasted 18 hours and 40 minutes. An alternative route that bypassed Beirut and went via Cairo cut the total distance by 450 miles and the travel time by an hour.

De_Havilland_Comet_1_BOAC_Heathrow_G-ALYBOAC Comet 1 G-ALYX (Yoke X-Ray) at London Heathrow Airport in 1953 prior to a scheduled flight. Photo: Altair78, CC BY 3.0

BOAC Overseas Service

British Airways (BA) forerunner British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was formed in 1939 with the merger of Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd.

BOAC inherited Imperial Airways’ flying boat services to British colonies in Africa and Asia until WWII when Italy and France overtook those routes. Throughout the war, BOAC still continued to provide overseas services.

The Comet, a four-engine aircraft about the size of a small Boeing 737, was a British jet designed by de Havilland. The type was the backbone of the British merchant fleet. Depending on the cabin configuration, the original Comet could carry 36 to 44 passengers.

Comet_Prototype_at_Hatfield.v1-1-1024x74Comet 1 prototype (with square windows) at Hatfield Aerodrome in October 1949. Photo: By British official photographer – This is photograph ATP 18376C from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain

The de Havilland DH.106 Comet

The de Havilland DH.106 Comet is the world’s first passenger jet airliner. The Comet 1 prototype was developed and produced by de Havilland at its Hatfield Aerodrome in Hertfordshire, UK, and first flew in 1949.

With four de Havilland Ghost turbojet engines buried in the wing roots, a pressurized cabin, and wide square windows, it had an aerodynamically clean build. It had a relatively quiet and comfortable passenger cabin for its time, and it was commercially promising when it first flew in 1952.

The plane that flew from London to Johannesburg for the first time was also one of the first passenger jets to go missing. On January 10, 1954, G-ALYP crashed into the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Elba, Italy, killing all on board. All Comet 1 aircraft were grounded in April 1954 after three other Comets had crashed.

The aircraft that brought the future to commercial aviation flew commercially for the last time for Dan Air in 1980. With 49 Comets in its fleet, the airline was the type’s biggest operator in the world. The chances of actually seeing a de Havilland Comet in the air, though, as the carrier only flew 12 at any one time.

1625px-De_Havilland_Comet_RAF_Museum_CosA Comet 1’s fuselage and de Havilland Ghost engine intakes. Photo: Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK. Comet front Uploaded by oxyman, CC BY 2.0

Featured image: BOAC Comet 1 at Entebbe Airport, Uganda in 1952. Photo: Ministry of Information official photographer derivative work: Altair78, Public Domain.

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