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DH Comet - The Demise Of British Civil Aviation?  
User currently offlineEGGD From United Kingdom, joined Feb 2001, 12443 posts, RR: 34
Posted (13 years 6 months 2 weeks 6 hours ago) and read 2614 times:

The early 1950's - Britain is at the forefront of Aviation technology. The newest creation, the de Havilland Comet is widely anticipated around the world. It became the worlds first commercial jetliner, and Britain were set to be the leaders in the world of aviation for years to come.


But, a serious of mysterious accidents tied down the marvel of engineering. The aircraft, on a number of occaisions disintegrated in mid-air. The comet was taken out of service, with Scientists and air crash detectives working together to find the causes of these terrible incidents.

After months of hard work the problem was found, it was narrowed down to pressure building in the corners of the square windows causing metal fatigue. Modifications were made but De havilland never recovered, and neither did public confidence.

American manufacturers learned important lessons from the British's mistakes, and put into production the 707, and later the DC-8. These two aircraft held a vast sector of the market leaving de havilland (Hawker Siddeley) with next to nothing.

Boeing and Douglas were now leading the field in the world of Aviation, with Hawker Siddeley sagging far behind.

Things began to look up in the 1960's, with the go ahead of the Concorde (joint venture with Aerospatziale) project and Boeing's similar project being underfunded. But Confidence was once again ruined in potential buyers eyes when they realized the running costs of such a unique aircraft, Boeing had capitolized with the production of the 747. But the damage had already been done back in the 1950's.

What would have happened if the Comet had been a success???

your views?

EGGD

31 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
 
User currently offlineEGGD From United Kingdom, joined Feb 2001, 12443 posts, RR: 34
Reply 1, posted (13 years 6 months 2 weeks 6 hours ago) and read 2569 times:

Oops, forgot to add about the bae-146 never really made in roads into the international market, eventually becoming part of the RJ series and attempts like the VC-10, hs748, hs trident, BAC 1-11 and Bae ATP all not becoming major sellers in relation to the DC-9 series, MD-80, MD-11, DC-10, B747, 757, 767, 777, 737, 727, Tristar etc etc etc.

EGGD


User currently offlineCedarjet From United Kingdom, joined May 1999, 8171 posts, RR: 54
Reply 2, posted (13 years 6 months 2 weeks 5 hours ago) and read 2564 times:

I don't think the Comet's initial structural problems were cause for the demise of British aviation. It was killed by a short-sighted establishment which forced the manufacturers to build for the needs of the state owned national airline/s, BOAC and BEA. If the Comet 4 had been the size of the 707 then the British would still be at the forefront, but the Comet 4 has a cabin the same width and length as a Canadair RJ, and the 707 has an almost identically wide and long cabin as a 757. Which is going to be more viable and allow market growth?

Part of Concorde's problem was that it was so small - Braniff were serious about getting into the SST business and sent representatives to the UK to look at Concorde. They said it was too small and too slow and no one would buy it, and that was in the late 60s. If Concorde had been a 200 seater and faster, it would possibly have sold a lot better. I don't know if it's size and speed were limited by the state of the art at the time, but I DO know that airlines weren't consulted (compared to Boeing's work before they finalised the 777) about what they required.

The British suffered from a lack of world view and were obsessed with building machines for their government airlines. And by the way, the British have not historically been any better than the Belgians at running an airline, BA spectacularly unprofitable, costing the British taxpayers £1m a day throughout the late 70s til the mid 80s. Hence the products that resulted were smaller and less efficient than their American counterparts - there was no defiancy on the technical side, the VC10, Trident and 111 were built like tanks and had excellent safety records.

By the way, the 111 was profitable and sold widely (including 75 to AA, and a big fleet for Braniff as well). The 146 has been reasonably successful, flown by dozens of major airlines such as UA, LH, BA, QF, and performing a unique role due to it's amazing field performance. And most interestingly of all, the VC10 only sold about 50 or 60 examples but Vickers made a profit on the program - remember, British manufacturers were tiny outfits in those days, the VC10 first flew from Wisley, which is a nice SW London suburb. The runway was only something like 7,000 feet long, surrounded by houses, gardens and parks.

Today the industry's major triumph is designing and building the most advanced and efficient wings in the world, for the A330 and A340, as well as the A300 and A320. The wing is a major contribution to the success of Airbus and I think the British industry should take pride in that. That part of the Airbus program was not awarded to Britain randomly, it's because despite shortsighted commerical attitudes, their operating experience is unrivalled, even in the US - for all the research $$ and military programs Boeing et al benefit from, the British have actually BUILT and OPERATED an SST, a jet STOL aircraft, and were flying jet transports as long ago as 1949. If the result is building the most advanced airliner wings in the sky then the past cannot be considered a failure in the if it provides for such a strong present and future.



fly Saha Air 707s daily from Tehran's downtown Mehrabad to Mashhad, Kish Island and Ahwaz
User currently offlinePhilB From Ireland, joined May 1999, 2915 posts, RR: 13
Reply 3, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 22 hours ago) and read 2547 times:

Cedarjet has pretty much summed it up.

The following needs to be added to complete the picture:

1. In 1946 the US had an industry geared up for war, a population of around 200,000,000, massive natural resources, no food shortages, no physical damage to its industrial infrastructure and the advantage from an agreement with the UK that, during WW2, the US would build transports whilst all the UK production would be on warplanes (the only exception was the Avro York).

On the other hand the UK had a population of around 42,000,000, few natural resources, a food shortage, massive damage to both the industrial and domestic infrastructure and no history of new airliner building for 8 years.

2. Yet in a very short period of 10 years the following types helped rebuild British and many world airlines and air forces (the military and civil developments in both the US and UK are totally interlinked in the first 30 years after 1946), in some cases led the technology, broke world records and, whilst some types led the industry down blind alleys, at least showed the way to go.

Avro: Tudor, Vulcan
Bristol: Brabazon, Britannia
de Havilland: Vampire, Venom, Dove, Heron, Comet.
English Electric: P1/Lightning
Fairey: FD1, FD2
Hawker: Hunter
Rolls Royce (engines) Dart, Derwent, Avon, Tay
Supermarine: Swift
Vickers: Viking, Viscount, Valiant

After 1956 we move on to the era of the jet transport and, as already mentioned in the thread, the heavy hand of BOAC and BEA who so tightly drew the design outlines of both the VC10 and Trident that they made sure that neither would be anything but superbly over engineered, totally reliable, white elephants, as far as the rest of the world was concerned.

Fortunately the dead hand of bureaucracy did not fall on the 1-11 or the 146 and both have sold relatively well as did the 748. On the military side, only in the last 5 years have any designs come near to the superb Harrier and there is still nothing in service to equal its flexibility.

To go back to the original point, had the Comet sold, say around 900 as the 707 eventually did, the question has to be asked as to the capacity of de Havilland to cope.

Resources at both Hatfield and Chester would have been stretched to breaking point to produce the Dove, Heron, Vampire, Venom, Sea Vixen and the 400+ Comets that may have been required between 1953 and 1957



User currently offlineEGGD From United Kingdom, joined Feb 2001, 12443 posts, RR: 34
Reply 4, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 21 hours ago) and read 2538 times:

Don't get me wrong here, these aircrafts were not failures. But if you compare them to the leaders of the market they were far behind. If the comet had outsold the 707 and it was the 707 which went out of production, what would've happened?

I agree that Chester, Woodford, Hatfield etc would have to expand, but so did Boeing in Seattle. If you get where i'm coming from here, if the Comet had lead the field the government and Hawker Siddeley would have the funds and the determination (not to mention public support) to build many more aircraft in the future, but as you said the majority of manufacturers were only small. Which, if you want to sell an aircraft widely you just cannot achieve.

I can see where you are both coming from, and you have made some very valid points!

Very interesting discussion(for me)

EGGD


User currently offlineVC-10 From United Kingdom, joined Oct 1999, 3702 posts, RR: 34
Reply 5, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 21 hours ago) and read 2530 times:
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Cedarjet ,

We have had this conversation before, the VC10 DID NOT make a profit for Vickers it lost them £20 million (source: British Aircraft Corporation - A History by Charles Gardner). This can also be confirmed by a presentation by Sir George Edwards, the VC10's Chief Designer & forrmer Chairman of the British Aircraft Corporation, gave to The Fellowship of Engineering in 1982 where he says - "the VC10 also lost us money".
Incidentally all the VC10 first flew from Brooklands, but the test programe was run from Wisley.


The project that lost the British lead in the airliner race was the VC10's forerunner, the Vickers 1000. This a/c was derived from the Vickers Valiant bomber using the same basic technology and aerodnamics. An order had been placed for a prototype and six production a/c for the RAF while BOAC was also involved as it specified a six-abreast seating and a transatlantic range. It would have been the British entry into the long range big jet race. It had a trans-Atlantic non-stop capability, something the 707's of the time did not. Any way the project was cancelled six months before it's first flight because of political considerations in Northern Ireland. Due the high unemployment in the region the Government made the RAF buy the Bristol Britannia with a/c being built a Shorts in Belfast.

BOAC were asked if they wanted the project to continue but replied on the 8th Dec 1955,"BOAC is satisfied that it can hold its own commercially on the Noth Atlantic route until well into the 1960's with the Comet IV and the long rang Britannia". Then six months later when the government announced the £44 million BOAC order for 15 707's the reason was explained as " in order that the Corporation may hold their competative position in the North Atlantic route from 1959 to the 1960's. At that time no suitable new British Aircraft can be available for that purpose - the purchase is an exeptional measure to bridge the gap."

Regarding the Trident, the original DH121 was 727 size, with an engine (the RR Medway) to match. BEA decided that the 121 was too big so it was cut down to the Trident 1 size, with the engine project cancelled and a smaller engine put in. As soon as BEA got the Trident 1 it was too small ! Thereafter Hawker Siddeley were trying the stretch the a/c with an under powered engine.

The cancellation of the Medway made its effects felt on the 1-11 as it limited the growth potential of that to.


User currently offlineL-188 From United States of America, joined Jul 1999, 29813 posts, RR: 58
Reply 6, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 20 hours ago) and read 2526 times:

I would like to add that I agree that there was a significant learning curve for you Brits, regarding commercial aircraft after the war.

I do belive the consolidations in the industry that occured over where the major factors why your aviation industry pretty much tanked compared to what it was pre-war. It wasn't killed by a lack of skilled workers or talented engineers. It was the government.




OBAMA-WORST PRESIDENT EVER....Even SKOORB would be better.
User currently offlinePhilB From Ireland, joined May 1999, 2915 posts, RR: 13
Reply 7, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 20 hours ago) and read 2519 times:

L-188,

What you say is partly true - the heavy hand of government, particularly between 1955 and 1975, made for difficulties and a great deal of "shotgun" marriages between manufacturers.

There is another factor. Look at how many UK born, raised and educated engineers etc., worked for NASA, Boeing, Lockheed, Douglas et al.

They were lured away from the politicised British aviation industry by excellent pay, conditions, a far higher level of expendable income coupled to far lower prices and, in a number of cases, the sunshine of either California or the Sunbelt was also a factor.


User currently offlineCapt.Picard From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 8, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 20 hours ago) and read 2518 times:

Nice little discussion we've got here!-anyone care to add some photos?

Amazing what politcical considerations can do to stifle aviation, and these days, orders from certain a/c manufacturers!

I'd heard the TSR (now in Cosford) was cancelled by the UK Gov't. What was the reason behind that? Money?

Rgds,
CP



User currently offlineCapt.Picard From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 9, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 20 hours ago) and read 2514 times:


Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Bill ARMSTRONG




Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Brian Hill



ps-there was a good book on East African Airways-which also operated the VC-10-wish I'd snapped it up before it got sold out!

Rgds,
CP


User currently offlinePhilB From Ireland, joined May 1999, 2915 posts, RR: 13
Reply 10, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 19 hours ago) and read 2505 times:

TSR2 is off topic, but it was cancelled by the 1964 Labour Govt under Denis Healey's defence review as being too expensive and the F111 was ordered instead.

There was more to it than this.

1. the left wing of the Labour Party was solidly anti defence spending at the expense of social programmes.
2. Harold Wilson rightly denied the use of UK troops in Vietnam and resisted US calls to reintroduce conscription to build an army to be slaughtered there.
As a peace offering, the F111 was ordered, but quickly cancelled.

It was left to the Tornado to eventually take on the tasks that the TSR2 could have done better and sooner and one outcome of the decision was that the TSR1 (otherwise known as Canberra) is still on RAF charge.



User currently offlineVC-10 From United Kingdom, joined Oct 1999, 3702 posts, RR: 34
Reply 11, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 19 hours ago) and read 2507 times:
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The link below gives some TSR-2 history

http://www.airliners.net/discussions/tech_ops/read.main/14943/


User currently offlineEGGD From United Kingdom, joined Feb 2001, 12443 posts, RR: 34
Reply 12, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 19 hours ago) and read 2503 times:

What sort of pictures?

Well this is the Comet in service with Dan-Air London:


Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Eduard Marmet



Vickers VC-10 in BOAC colours:


Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Caz Caswell



BAC 1-11 in EAC colours:


Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Peter Unmuth



hs 748 in Royal Tongan colours operated by Emerald Airways


Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Colin Abbott



hs Trident BA colours


Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © AirNikon



EGGD  Smokin cool


User currently offlineCapt.Picard From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 13, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 19 hours ago) and read 2499 times:

Thanks for all info and photos-much appreciated!

Rgds,
CP


User currently offlineRayChuang From United States of America, joined Jun 2000, 8031 posts, RR: 5
Reply 14, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 18 hours ago) and read 2492 times:

I think another HUGE mistake on behalf of British aviation was the fact the British government backed out of the Airbus consortium, forcing Hawker Siddelery to stay in the consortium as a private venture to develop the wings for the A300B. If the British had stayed in Airbus Industrie today would likely have France, Germany and the UK all as 30% partners in the partners in the project, and very likely one of the final assembly lines for Airbus planes would be in the UK, not in Germany.

Remember, it was a joint marketing research project by British European Airways and Air Inter that developed the basis for the design of the A300 back in the middle 1960's.

If the British government had stayed in the Airbus consortium Airbus would have likely sold at least 20-25 A300B2/B4's to British Airways, instead of Airbus languishing in sales until the late 1970's.


User currently offlinePhilB From Ireland, joined May 1999, 2915 posts, RR: 13
Reply 15, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 2488 times:

Ray,

Spot on


User currently offlineCedarjet From United Kingdom, joined May 1999, 8171 posts, RR: 54
Reply 16, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 14 hours ago) and read 2481 times:

Capt. Picard: the EAA book is excellent and very nicely produced. Highlights include the time their DC9 was stolen by joyriders. The author is Peter J Davis, type it into the search engine at www.bibliofind.com and you'll find a cheap secondhand copy which will be on your doormat within days.


fly Saha Air 707s daily from Tehran's downtown Mehrabad to Mashhad, Kish Island and Ahwaz
User currently offlineCapt.Picard From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 17, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 14 hours ago) and read 2471 times:

Oh Joy!!  Smile/happy/getting dizzy

I had always wanted to read the story behind the airline-I met an Emirates A300 Captain who had also Captained the VC-10's for EAA in his "youth", and since I used to live in Kenya (wish I still did), I could easily picture the VC-10's climbing out of Embakasi.....thanks v.much for your reference, I shall grab a copy immediately!

Rgds,
CP


User currently offlineLindy field From United States of America, joined Mar 2001, 3129 posts, RR: 14
Reply 18, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 14 hours ago) and read 2466 times:
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None of the aircraft mentioned failed as badly as the French Dassault Mercure. Any ashamed Brits should lord that over the French.


Click for large version
Click here for full size photo!

Photo © Eddy Cuperus



User currently offlineEGGD From United Kingdom, joined Feb 2001, 12443 posts, RR: 34
Reply 19, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 6 days 10 hours ago) and read 2456 times:

Lindy Field - The French were never at the forefront of modern aviation (technologically more advanced than any other country) but the British were, essentially the failure (upto a point) of the worlds first Jetliner brought down Britain as a world leader.

EGGD


User currently offlineShankly From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2000, 1547 posts, RR: 1
Reply 20, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 5 days 23 hours ago) and read 2442 times:

High quality debate from all above. Well done.

RayChuang's point about the A300 is so true. In the early 1990's I had the opporunity to have a good chat with my local MP on the terrace of the House of Commons (only about 6 months after being made redundant - remember those days!?). Well in a general talk about industry, he started banging on about Govt assisting and supporting industrial successes including BAe/Airbus. I had one of those rare opportunities to silence a politician, when I reminded him that the Govt (colours not important) had failed to back the Airbus venture and that the British involvement was a private venture.

Even after Comet us Brits had two great chances. The V1000, but I beleive more importantly the VC10. US airlines were very interested in its hot & high abilities for South America. If BOAC hadn't publically ridiculed the aircraft, it would have been a winner. The irony is of course that those people that did destroy the industry went on to become Lords and Sirs and the high and mighty, whilst the once great industry became no more than a sub-contractor.

Just to leave a bit of a smile, I would add that as a subcontractor the British aircraft industry is now hugely successful, but the chances of seeing a design like the VC10 roll out of a hanger are now long gone.



L1011 - P F M
User currently offlineVC-10 From United Kingdom, joined Oct 1999, 3702 posts, RR: 34
Reply 21, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 5 days 22 hours ago) and read 2437 times:
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Shankly,

You imply that the VC10 was a better bet than than the V1000, but remember the V1000 would have got our "foot in the door" and hopefully the airlines that bought the V1000 would have bought the "new improved" V1000, the VC10.

I once spoke to Sir George Edwards about the '10 and he said it would have been a world beater if it had come out 2 years earlier.

It is interesting to note when BOAC eventually came clean about the '10 it revealed the '10 was cheaper to operate than the 707 & had a higher daily utilisation


User currently offlineShankly From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2000, 1547 posts, RR: 1
Reply 22, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 5 days 19 hours ago) and read 2429 times:

VC10:

No implication intended. Simply that the VC10 was the last of "the last two chances". I agree, had the V1000 programme survived, we would maybe now be posting about the third or fourth generation "V-ships"!

Even today, the truth about the VC10 operating costs still makes me annoyed!

I can remember as a lad flying to Bermuda from LHR in the mid seventies and being gutted that we would by flying on a 747 and not a VC10!

Nice footnote about the VC10 that I hadn't known until recently was that during a test flight an elevator detached. The pilot was the late Brian Trubshaw of Concorde fame, who guided the VC10 safely back.



L1011 - P F M
User currently offlineVC-10 From United Kingdom, joined Oct 1999, 3702 posts, RR: 34
Reply 23, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 5 days 19 hours ago) and read 2428 times:
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He only brought it back because as he slowed down to allow a bale out he found the violent pitching stopped, so he thought he would give it a go.

As you can tell fron my "handle" I am a VC10 fan and it makes me annoyed what BOAC did for the '10. They issued their own specification, Vickers built it to their specification, changed it when BOAC wanted things changed, and when BOAC had it delivered they cried it wasn't what they wanted.

BOAC & BEA (both Government organisations )between them distroyed the UK civil aviation manufacturing base.

I read a book some time ago that pointed out that in the UK the Universiies have always looked down on Industry. The people in power all study the arts or history & similar subjects so when it comes to making intustrial decisions they have no idea. The book "The Lost Victory" is an interesting read. It details all the lost chances Britain had to make a strong recovery after the war


User currently offlineCkw From UK - England, joined Aug 2010, 765 posts, RR: 16
Reply 24, posted (13 years 6 months 1 week 5 days 18 hours ago) and read 2418 times:

I think you have to go back before the war to see the roots of Britains post-war civil airline problems. While Douglas with the DC-2/3, and to a lesser extent Fokker, Junkers and Focke-Wulf were building fast, modern and above all economical aircraft, the British were using frankly outdated designs and flying boats in order to service the all (politically) important empire routes.

These routes were never going to be an economic proposition, but this was considered less important than
maintaining the empire links.

With her back to the wall during WWII, Britain had little time for civil aviation, and, the logistics of an initially European war did not require priority on long range air transport.

The US, however, started an industry based almost purely on operating economics. Furthermore, the nature of the war for the US involved less disruption to industry, plus the logistics of America's war made the development of long range transport a necessity. The sheer productive might of the US meant, by wars end, there was an abundance of relatively cheap transport aircraft - while the British struggled with converted bombers (no market there!), the US had DC3s and 4s in abundance ... which the airlines could readily sell to help capitalise the DC6, 7 and Connie.

It is unlikely the aircraft industry in the UK could ever have hoped to compete immediately post-war on pure economics alone (how many DC-3 replacement projects have there been? ).

The only hope was a quantum leap forward, and in fairness to the Brits, the Brabazon committee was thinking along these lines during the war. Unfortunately, the thinking was still based on pre-war politics, economies and unproven technologies - hence we had the Saunders Roe Princess and the Bristol Brabazon. The Comet was the only proposal to really succeed in any fashion, but, like the Concorde later, great technology alone doesn't mean much to airline accountants.

With regard to the 707, it must also be realised that the US industry was heavily subsidised and influenced by the military needs of the time - the 707 was, essentially, a development of a jet tanker built to SACs urgent requirements (cost, was I would bet, no object)!
Britain had no corresponding military driver.

On the related subject of post-war military aircraft development, I strongly recommend a book called "Project Cancelled" (sorry, can't recall the author, and my Dad's nicked my copy!). It's enough to make any Brit cry! Aside from the tragic scrapping of the TSR2 - an incredible plane - we have the 1946 Miles supersonic fighter, which by all accounts would have worked, but the government forbade it be flown due to danger to the pilot, and a number of promising fighter projects scrapped overnight when the government decided only ground to air missiles would be required in future!

Cheers,

Colin



Colin K. Work, Pixstel
25 Post contains images RayChuang : Colin, I think your assessments are extremely correct. People forget that by the early to middle 1930's, the race was on to develop modern air transpo
26 PhilB : Ray, First off, thanks for your email - right in every respect again! ckw: The flying boat wasn't just a British pre-occupation. Without the Sikorsky
27 Prebennorholm : You Brits are always so fast pointing at your own mistakes. There has been a few of them, mainly politically driven. But why not sometimes point at yo
28 RayChuang : Preben, The reason why SNECMA couldn't produce the M56 engine as envisioned in the late 1960's was the fact they didn't have the technology to produce
29 Ckw : PhilB - don't get me wrong ... there was nothing inherently wrong with flying boats, at the time for the purpose ... as you say, the US used them as w
30 VC-10 : For once, the Government was not responsible for the failure of the Vanguard. BEA managed that all on its own. BEA wanted a larger Viscount and consid
31 PhilB : Colin, You are so right about the British class system and flying. Some may say BA's insistent pursuit of the premium fare passenger is the modern day
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