Comet pilot unveils anniversary exhibition

Wednesday 2nd May 2012


On the 2nd May 1952 a BOAC de Havilland Comet 1 carried 36 passengers on the first leg of a journey from London to Johannesburg on what was the first fare paying passenger flight in a Jet Airliner. To mark the 60th anniversary of this historic flight, the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford will be unveiling a specially commissioned temporary exhibition which charts the Comets story and includes previously unseen archive film footage. The exhibition will be displayed alongside the Museum’s Comet, the only complete Comet 1 remaining anywhere in the world.

The exhibition includes display cases with a collection of artefacts including photos, log books and airline memorabilia. In addition to this information, display boards highlight key facts and figures on the Comets checkered history plus archive film footage shows Comets during their route proving flights in Africa during 1951/52.

The exhibition will be unveiled on Wednesday 2nd May by Comet pilot George Aird, now aged 84. As a test pilot for de Havilland, the manufacturers of the Comet, George flew the Museum’s Comet extensively throughout the 1960s. Although George never flew the Comet for an airline, he was a Captain of the Museum’s example when it was used as a flying laboratory, carrying scientists and test equipment in its cabin during guided missile tests. George flew the Museum’s Comet on its final flight to RAF Shawbury in 1968, for storage for the RAF Museum.

Also attending on the day is Comet 4 Air Stewardess Judy Lerrigo who will be bringing along her uniform and original flight plans and offering a perspective on what it was like to work within the passenger cabin of a Comet.

In the Early 1950’s the Comet was a pioneering aircraft that could fly higher, faster and further than any other commercial aircraft of its time. When the de Havilland Comet entered service with BOAC as the first commercial jet airliner, it marked a new era in civil aviation and left other aircraft manufacturers years behind. The new aircraft could carry 36 passengers at a cruising speed of 720 km/h (450 mph) over a distance of 4000 km (2500 miles). BOAC became the envy of world airlines by operating the first jet fleet.

After only eighteen months of service two aircraft disappeared within three months of each other. The Secretary of State for Civil Aviation ordered a full investigation into the causes of the disappearances. One part of the investigation examined cabin pressurisation. Through the water tank testing of another ex-BOAC Comet, and the reconstruction of the recovered remains of one of the crashed aircraft, evidence revealed that metal fatigue in the pressure cabin was the cause of the accidents.

Once this was known the Comet was redesigned and went on to serve as a transport aircraft with the RAF and as a commercial airliner in its larger Comet 4 guise, flying around the world with various airlines until the late 1970s.

The Comet 60th anniversary exhibition will be on display from Wednesday 2nd May to Monday 11th June 2012 in the Museum’s Hangar 1. The Museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm and admission is free of charge. For more information on the exhibition or the Museum please call 01902 376200 or visit

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