I wanted to start the blog with some introduction of myself… but I did not feel like preparing a piece for this purpose. Then I thought: “I could use the icebreaker speech I gave in Toastmasters when I joined”… this was a better idea. Since this not only introduced myself but started creating topics for next posts, e.g. what is Toastmasters? Speeches?…
The only objection: I went through that speech and I don’t like it much anymore, nevertheless I came to see again another speech, which even though hasn’t been the best one ever since, it talks about some of the things I like the most: a bit of aircraft, another bit of travelling and some numbers here and there. Since that is what this blog will mostly talk about in the future… here it goes that speech (given on May 7th 2008):
“May 2nd is a very important day for Madrid. It is the day of the uprising. The day, in which the people of Madrid rebelled against the occupation of the French troops. A day that changed our history.
I will talk about another 2nd of May that changed our history as well. The 2nd of May of year 1952. That day took place the first commercial flight of a jet plane, the De Havilland Comet.
In this speech I will talk about that flight, about how it changed the history and I will finish explaining one of the Comet’s biggest contributions to engineering which at the same time caused the very end of the aircraft.
That first flight departed from London to Johannesburg and was operated by BOAC, British Overseas Airways Corporation, one of the companies that later merged in today’s British Airways.
BOAC used a configuration of 36 seats (a luxurious configuration for the size of the aircraft). The galley could serve hot and cold food and there was even a bar. There were separate men’s and women’s washrooms. The passenger cabin was quieter than those of propeller-driven planes.
Many people thought jet engines wouldn’t be economically viable on a commercial plane since jets had higher fuel consumption. However the Comet was able to fly at an altitude of 35,000 feet where the air is less turbulent. The Comet was smoother and faster. Hours were cut off in flights. New York was only twelve hours flying time away from London instead of the eighteen hours it took piston-engine planes.
Now let’s see how it changed the history by comparing some differences from that first flight to commercial aviation today!
- It took only 3 years from the first design work till the first flight of the Comet; it took about 14 years for the A380.
- The Comet could take 36 persons to a distance of 2,700 kilometres, compared to the more than 800 passengers in a 3-class configuration to 15,000 km of the A380.
- If we take a look at that first flight, London – Johannesburg, it took more than 23 hours!! With 5 stops in between (Rome, Beirut, Khartoum…) like a frog jumping from one water lily to the other. Now, the same company, British Airways, operates the flight with a B-747 and takes less than 12 hours (half the time) in a non-stop flight!!
- A ticket in that first flight cost 175 pounds, while a ticket for tomorrow’s flight in the afternoon would cost you 240 pounds taxes included! That could seem just a bit more expensive, but in fact if we discount the effect of the inflation throughout the 50 years now it is about 4 times cheaper!
- The Comet needed a crew of four men: including two pilots, a flight engineer, and a navigator. Nowadays planes need only 2 pilots… if any.
- 114 aircraft of the different models of Comet were produced compared to the more than 5,200 Boeing 737 built to date plus the 1,500 in waiting list.
- The estimated price of a Comet 1 was a quarter million pounds, while the B-747 costs 120 million pounds (hundred times more expensive after discounting the effect of inflation).
Only a year after it began commercial service, Comets started to fall out of the sky. Thirteen aircraft were lost in fatal accidents with hundreds of victims. Extensive investigation revealed a devastating design flaw – metal fatigue. This problem had never been encountered in aviation.
The constant stress of pressurization weakened an area of the fuselage in the corner of the windows. All Comets were grounded until the jets could be redesigned. This was a tragic but great contribution of the Comet to aeronautical engineering.
The Comet re-entered commercial service in 1958, but its reputation was forever damaged. The Comet 1 disasters contributed to archrival Boeing’s domination of the jetliner market.
2nd of May. A special day both in the History of Madrid and in the History of commercial aviation. A day that changed the lives of madrileños in a good way. The uprising in Madrid and the Comet’s first commercial flight.”
May this serve as introduction.