March 14, 2019

THE De HAVILLAND COMET: I obviously have no idea whether the 737 Max is flawed in some way that has contributed to the recent tragedies. They don’t teach aircraft design in law school. But for those of you interested in the history of flight, the story of the ill-fated De Havilland Comet is worth reading about.

In the early 1950s, the British-made Comet was the world’s first commercial jetliner. It was the coolest thing in the sky … until one failed to become airborne departing Rome on October 26, 1952 … then another failed coming out of Karachi on March 3, 1953 … then a third crashed shortly after takeoff in Calcutta on May 2, 1953 … then a fourth broke apart in midair over the Mediterranean on January 10, 1954 … then a fifth crashed near Naples on April 8, 1954. We’ve learned a lot since then, but sometimes we’ve had to learn the hard way.

P.S.  I am fond of the famous dictum of British jurist Baron Bramwell (1808-1892):  that it is entirely false to suggest that “because the world gets wiser as it gets older, therefore it was foolish before.”  The Comet’s engineers were not idiots.  We owe a lot to early aircraft designers.

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