19 May 1959: The first Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, FAA registration N31241, made a 1 hour, 11 minute first flight from Renton to Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington. The -436 was a stretched version of the original 707-120, but with Rolls-Royce Conway 508 bypass turbojet engines (now called turbofans) in place of the standard Pratt & Whitney JT3C-6 turbojet engines. The fuselage and wings were lengthened allowing an increased load and greater fuel capacity. It could carry 189 passengers and had a range 1,600 miles further than the -120. Transoceanic flights without an intermediate fuel stop were possible. This airplane was the first of 15 which had been ordered by British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1956. It was re-registered G-APFB and delivered to BOAC 9 May 1960.
Initially, British aviation authorities refused to certify the -436 because of low-speed handling concerns. Boeing increased the height of the vertical fin 40 inches and added a ventral fin. These modifications became standard on all future 707s and were retro-fitted to those already manufactured.
G-APFB served BOAC until 1974, and then with other airlines. It was sold to Boeing Commercial Airplane Company in 1976. The forward fuselage and cabin was shipped to Renton for use in Boeing’s E-3A Sentry program. The remainder of the airliner was scrapped in 1978.
2 May 1952: At 15:12 GMT, British Overseas Airways Corporation’s de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, G-ALYP, departed London for Johannesburg, South Africa, with 36 passengers and a crew of 7. The approximate 7,000 mile (11,265 kilometer) flight was expected to take 23 hours, 40 minutes with intermediate stops at Rome, Beirut, Khartoum, Entebbe and Livingstone. There were crew changes at Beirut and Khartoum. BOAC’s chairman, Sir Miles Thomas, joined the flight at Livingstone for the final stage.
G-AYLP arrived at Johannesburg at 14:38 GMT, 3 May, fourteen minutes ahead of schedule. This was the very first regularly-scheduled revenue passenger flight for a jet airliner.
The AAP reported on the Comet’s arrival at Entebbe:
Record-shooting Comet nears end of long jet flight
KHARTOUM, Sat.: The Comet airliner opening the first jet passenger service is now hurtling across Africa at nearly 500 m.p.h. on the last stages of the London-Johannesburg flight.
The Comet arrived at Entebbe, Uganda at 3.30 p.m. Adelaide time, exactly on schedule.
The eight-miles-a-minute jet will stop next at Livingstone.
It is now on the fifth and second-last leg of its southward dash.
At Beirut the first crew, skippered by Capt. A.M. Majendie, handed the plane over to a fresh crew with Capt. J.T Marsden as skipper.
A third crew, commanded by Capt. R.C. Alabaster, took over at Khartoum.
Between Rome and Beirut, the plane established a new world record by reaching 525 m.p.h, beating its own previous trial performances.
The plane is carrying 36 fare-paying passengers and a crew of five.
During the flight, passengers relaxed luxuriously in the dove-grey and dark-blue pressurized cabin as the Comet, hurtling along at more than 230 yards a second, created an impression of motionless suspension.
One of the two women passengers sketched out during the flight the first music ever written in a jetliner.
“It is the ‘Comet Prelude,’ ” explained Miss Avril Coleridge-Taylor, who is the daughter of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, famous composer, who died in 1912.
Miss Taylor, who is in her early forties, is to conduct a symphony concert in South Africa.
The first man to book on the Comet, Mr. Albert Henshaw, 63, of Lincolnshire, has been flying since World War I.
“I’ve been in them all and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
“This may be as near to heaven as I’ll ever get—and it’s well worth it.”
Another passenger is Steven Naude, a young South African who was given a mercy seat in the Comet to Johannesburg when he heard that his mother was lying dangerously ill in Bethlehem, Northwestern Free State.
The lastest message from Cape Town reports a slight improvement.—AAP
— The Mail, Adelaide, South Australia, Saturday, 3 May 1952, Page 2, Columns 2–4.
The de Havilland Comet was the first commercial jet airliner and its introduction had revolutionized the industry. The DH.106 Comet 1 was the first production version and was very similar to the two prototypes. It can be visually identified by its square passenger windows. It was flown by a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator. The airliner could carry up to 44 passengers.
The airplane was 93 feet (28.346 meters) long with a wingspan of 115 feet (35.052 meters) and overall height of 29 feet, 6 inches (8.992 meters). The Comet 1 had a maximum takeoff weight of 110,000 pounds (49,895.2 kilograms). It was powered by four de Havilland Engine Company Ghost 50 centrifugal flow turbojet engines, producing 5,000 pounds of thrust, each. This gave it a cruising speed of 460 miles per hour (740.3 kilometers per hour) and cruise altitude of 42,000 feet (12,801.6 meters). The airliner’s range was 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers).
Twelve DH.106 Comet 1 airliners were built.
G-ALYP suffered catastrophic explosive decompression while flying over the Mediterranean Sea, 10 January 1954. This was the first of two accidents caused by metal fatigue in the fuselage as a result of expansion and contraction during pressurization cycles. The DH.106 Comet I fleet was grounded and the aircraft were removed from service.
8 April 1968: British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 712, call sign Speedbird 712, a Boeing 707-465 Intercontinental, registered G-ARWE, departed London Heathrow for Sydney, Australia, with 116 passengers and 11 crew. Approximately 20 seconds after takeoff, there was a loud bang and severe shudder as the Number Two jet engine failed catastrophically. The flight crew started through emergency procedures while calling MAYDAY and turning back toward the airport. The failed engine fell off the left wing which then caught fire as fuel continued to flow. Three minutes, thirty-two seconds after takeoff, Speedbird 712 touched down on Runway 05 and rapidly came to a stop. Fuel continued to burn, and the airliner’s cabin crew began evacuating passengers.
Stewardess Barbara Jane Harrison was among the crew members who helped passengers escape from the burning Boeing 707. The exit slide had not deployed correctly and Miss Harrison was encouraging passengers to jump to the runway surface, and in some cases, even pushed them out. She was seen standing in a doorway as the flames and smoke spread, and people below, including the airplane’s captain, shouted at her to jump. Instead, she turned away and went back inside, presumably to help a disabled passenger in a wheelchair. She gave her life to help others. Later, the bodies of Miss Harrison and the disabled passenger were found together in the burned out wreck. Four other passengers also died.
For her gallantry in saving the lives of others at the cost of her own, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the George Cross, for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.”
Barbara Jane Harrison was 22 years old.
CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD
ST. JAMES’S PALACE, LONDON S.W.1
8th August 1969.
The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned award.
Miss Barbara Jane HARRISON (deceased), Stewardess, British Overseas Airways Corporation.
On April 8th 1968, soon after take-off from Heathrow Airport, No. 2 engine of B.O.A.C. Boeing 707 G-ARWE caught fire and subsequently fell from the aircraft, leaving a fierce fire burning at No. 2 engine position. About two and a half minutes later the aircraft made an emergency landing at the airport and the fire on the port wing intensified. Miss Harrison was one of the stewardesses in this aircraft and the duties assigned to her in an emergency were to help the steward at the aft station to open the appropriate rear door and inflate the escape chute and then to assist the passengers at the rear of the aircraft to leave in an orderly manner. When the aircraft landed Miss Harrison and the steward concerned opened the rear galley door and inflated the chute, which unfortunately became twisted on the way down so that the steward had to climb down it to straighten it before it could be used. Once out of the aircraft he was unable to return; hence Miss Harrison was left alone to the task of shepherding passengers to the rear door and helping them out of the aircraft. She encouraged some passengers to jump from the machine and pushed out others. With flames and explosions all around her and escape from the tail of the machine impossible she directed her passengers to another exit while she remained at her post. She was finally overcome while trying to save an elderly cripple who was seated in one of the last rows and whose body was found close to that of the stewardess. Miss Harrison was a very brave young lady who gave her life in her utter devotion to duty.
—Supplement to The London Gazette of Thursday, 7th August 1969, Friday, 8th August 1969, No. 44913, at Page 8211, Column 1.
8 April 1954: South African Airways Flight 201, a chartered British Overseas Airways Corporation de Havilland DH.106 Comet 1, aircraft registration G-ALYY, departed Rome at 1832 UTC, bound for Cairo. The Comet was under the command of Captain Wilhelm K. Mostert, with First Officer Barent J. Grove, Navigator Albert E. Sissing, Radio Officer Bertram E. Webstock, and Flight Engineer August R. Lagesen. Air Hostess Pamela L. Reitz and Flight Steward Jacobus B. Hok were in the passenger compartment with the 14 passengers.
As the airliner climbed toward 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), they made several position reports. Last heard from at 1907 UTC, radioing an expected arrival time at Cairo, the Comet disintegrated in flight and fell into the Mediterranean Sea. Searchers found a debris field and floating bodies the next day near the volcanic island of Stromboli. All 21 persons aboard were killed.
This was the second catastrophic failure of a DH.106 in just three months. BOAC immediately grounded its entire Comet fleet, and the British Air Ministry revoked the airliner’s certificate of airworthiness. Production of the airliner at de Havilland was halted.
The first crash had been presumed to be a result of an in-flight fire, and the second, an uncontained turbine engine failure. But an extensive investigation eventually determined that the cause of both crashes was the in-flight break up of the fuselage pressure hull. Metal fatigue of the fuselage was caused by the repeated expansion and contraction of pressurization cycles. Cracks in the aluminum skin formed at corners of the passenger compartment windows and then spread outward. This resulted in catastrophic explosive decompression.
The DH.106 Comet 1 was the first production version and was very similar to the two prototypes. It can be visually identified by its square passenger windows. It was flown by a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator. The airliner could carry up to 44 passengers.
The airplane was 93 feet (28.346 meters) long with a wingspan of 115 feet (35.052 meters) and overall height of 29 feet, 6 inches (8.992 meters). The Comet 1 had a maximum takeoff weight of 110,000 pounds (49,895 kilograms). It was powered by four de Havilland Engine Company Ghost 50 centrifugal flow turbojet engines, producing 5,000 pounds of thrust, each. This gave it a cruising speed of 460 miles per hour (740 kilometers per hour) and cruise altitude of 42,000 feet (12,802 meters). The airliner’s range was 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers).
Twelve DH.106 Comet 1 airliners were built.
The de Havilland Comet was the first commercial jet airliner and its introduction had revolutionized the industry. The two disasters were a blow from which the company never really recovered.
5 March 1966: British Overseas Airways Corporation Speedbird 911, an around-the-world flight, departed Tokyo-Haneda Airport (HND) at 1:58 p.m., enroute Hong Kong-Kai Tak (HKG), with 113 passengers and 11 crew members. The airliner was a Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental, serial number 17706, with British registration G-APFE. It was nearly six years old, having been delivered 29 April 1960, and had 19,523 hours on the airframe.
Shortly before takeoff, the flight crew requested a change from an IFR flight plan to VFR, with a course that would take the airliner near Mount Fujiyama. The 707 climbed to an altitude of 16,000 feet (4,875 meters) as it approached the mountain from the southwest. The weather was very clear. A weather station on Mount Fuji recorded wind speeds of 60–70 knots (111–130 kilometers per hour).
Flying upwind toward Fujiyama at 320–370 knots (592–685 kilometers per hour), Speedbird 911 encountered severe Clear Air Turbulence that resulted in a catastrophic structural failure of the airframe. The vertical fin attachment failed and as it fell away, struck the left horizontal stabilizer, breaking it off. Next, the ventral fin and all four engine pylons failed due to extreme side loads. The 707 went in to a flat spin, trailing fuel vapor from ruptured tanks. The entire tail section broke away, the right wing failed, and the nose section came off.
The 707 left a debris field that was 10 miles (16 kilometers) long. Speedbird 911 crashed in a forest on the lower flanks of Mount Fujiyama at about the 3,500 foot (1,066 meter) level. The forward section crashed about 1,000 feet (300 meters) away from the main wreckage. All 124 persons aboard were killed.
PROBABLE CAUSE: “The aircraft suddenly encountered abnormally severe turbulence over Gotemba City which imposed a gust load considerably in excess of the design limit.”
The accident was photographed by the Japanese Self Defense Forces from the East Fuji Maneuver Area, located in the foothills of the volcano. A passenger aboard Speedbird 911 had been filming with an 8 mm movie camera. The camera and film were recovered from the wreckage and the film was developed as part of the investigation. The film showed that the aircraft had experienced severe turbulence immediately before the accident.
A U.S. Navy Douglas A-4 Skyhawk was sent to look for the accident site. When the fighter approached Mount Fujiyama, it also encountered severe turbulence, to the point that the pilot feared the small fighter would break up in flight. After returning to base, the A-4 was grounded for inspection. Its accelerometer indicated that it had experienced acceleration forces ranging from +9 Gs to -4 Gs.