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On the 27th July 1949 the world’s first commercial jet airliner, the De Haviland Comet, took off on its maiden flight.

The pilot was de Havilland Chief Test Pilot John Cunningham, a famous wartime fighter pilot, who commented: “I assumed that it would change aviation, and so it has proved. It was a bit like Concorde.”

The Comet was considered a landmark in aeronautical design but after a successful introduction in commercial service with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) early Comet models suffered from catastrophic metal fatigue, causing a string of well-publicised accidents and the aircraft was temporarily withdrawn from service and redesigned.

The new design – The Comet 4 series – subsequently enjoyed a long and productive career of over 30 years, although sales never fully recovered. The Hawker Siddeley Nimrod, the military derivative of the Comet airliner, is still in service. The original decades-old airframes are being rebuilt with new wings and engines to produce the Nimrod MRA 4, expected to serve with the Royal Air Force until the 2020s, more than 70 years after the Comet’s first flight.

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