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Comet! The World’s First Jet Airliner

Comet! The World’s First Jet Airliner Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review March 2014 Title Comet! The World’s First Jet Airliner
Author Graham Simons Publisher Pen & Sword
Published 2013 ISBN 9781781592793
Format 288 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) $39.95


The subtitle says it all: "The World's First Jet Airliner".

Comet! recaps the whole terrific tale of de Havilland's pioneering design.  And author Graham Simons superbly summarizes the stupendous saga in 288 fascinating pages.

De Havilland understandably tapped the familiar.  Initial Comet concepts resembled scaled-up Vampire fighters with multiple jet engines.  Canard and tailless studies followed.  But all proved dead-ends – until captured German swept-wing research changed design dynamics.  That's when Comet's classic layout first evolved.

The pioneering project also required tooling, materials testing, prototype construction, production, maintenance, ground handling, flight management, air route development, traffic control and training innovations.  Meteorology assumed heightened importance.  Records regularly broke.  And Simons capably recaps all.

Every version from the fateful Comet 1 through the familiar Comet 4 enjoys detailed coverage.  Passenger seat configuration?  It's there.  Galley layout?  That, too.  Cockpit and instrument specifics?  Yowza.  Even New York noise-abatement restrictions for initial transatlantic Comet service.  Detail enthusiasts will love this book.  Simons even names the complete crew and passengers for the world's scheduled jet-airliner flight!

Half the book details Comet development and initial operation of 21 Series 1 and 1A machines.  And coverage turns tragic with mysterious losses of three early aircraft.  Simons' engrossing account of ensuing accident investigations reads like a detective thriller.

Text next turns to Comet 2, 3 and 4 developments in military and civil service.  After retirement from major airline use, a major variant – the Nimrod – soldiered on in maritime reconnaissance, ASW and SAR roles.  Nearly 60 years after the Comet's landmark commercial introduction, that, too, left service – finally bringing the amazing account to a close.

Simons extensively taps "primary source documents" and other first-person sources.  The author interviews, for instance, key de Havilland design, production and test personnel.  And he salts his story with a potent plethora of fascinating facts – including operator anecdotes.

Simons covers military use, too.  In addition to VIP transport duties, for instance, RCAF No 412 Squadron used Comets in the "high-speed target role to test the abilities of the CF-100 force that made up the bulk of [Canada's] Air Defense Command".  RAF No 192 Squadron machines also served on SIGINT and ELINT missions.  And Nimrod receives considerable attention.

The lavishly illustrated volume sports dozens of B&W and color photographs, drawings, maps, art, portraits, and even cartoons and memorabilia.  A selected bibliography and index neatly wraps things up.  And – ta! da! – Simons correctly calls the Old Testament "Tanakh"!

Nitpicks?  A few.  Sloppy punctuation plagues passages – especially quotations.  The possessive of "it" is "its" – not "it's".  An apostrophe with the letter "s" does not form English word plurals.  Accounts like this really require annotations.  And I'm still not sure what "amenities of the neighborhood" means in context.

But – hey – don't let pedantic grammarians like me spoil your fun.  De Havilland's design changed the calculus of commercial air travel.  And for Comet's amazing story, grab Simons' enormously informative – and often entertaining – effort.

Robustly recommended!

With thanks to Casemate for the review copy.