The de Havilland Comet almost immediately began breaking travel time records once it was put into service. It was a point of national pride for Britain, but it may have been too far ahead of its time. The sleek design of the Comet was impressive, but the jetliners began to suffer catastrophic failures after about a year after entering service. Two Comets broke apart mid-flight due to catastrophic failure resulting from metal fatigue, and a third failed after being overstressed by severe weather. After further examination, it was found that square avionics windows and other design flaws were to blame. The entire de Havilland fleet was grounded as a result, and the planes’ Certificates of Airworthiness were revoked.
The de Havilland Comet was soon extensively redesigned with oval-shaped windows, structural reinforcement, and other improvements that addressed the problems of the first jetliners. Unfortunately, sales of the Comet never recovered. By the time the new planes were put into service, other manufacturers such as Boeing and Douglas had their own commercial jetliners in the air. Even though these new planes almost always outsold the improved Comets, the redesigned Comet 4 began a productive 30-year career when it was introduced in 1958.
At a glance, it’s easy to look at the de Havilland Comet as something of a failure compared to other jetliners that came after it. After all, it was seriously flawed and quickly grounded. However, it was the first commercial jetliner in the air, and it did enjoy a brief period of success as the pride of Britain’s civil aviation industry. All technology has to start somewhere, and without the de Havilland Comet, the airline industry would not exist as it does today.