Museum preserving historic de Havilland Comet jet airliner
- Credit: Garry Lakin
A civic leader has set yet another ‘first’ for the world’s first jet airliner, the de Havilland Comet – by being the first Welwyn Hatfield mayor to sit in the pilot’s seat.
Wearing his chain of office, the mayor of Welwyn Hatfield, councillor Roger Trigg, sat at the controls of a Comet, which was built by the de Havilland Aircraft Company at its Hatfield factory in 1952.
The event took place on Tuesday, July 9, at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum at Salisbury Hall, London Colney, where the sole surviving totally original Comet 1a is being preserved.
As the museum prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the maiden flight of the Comet with a Gala Day on Saturday, July 27, the mayor was given an exclusive preview of all the restoration work being carried out by the museum's team of volunteers.
Cllr Trigg said: "Sitting in the pilot's seat was an absolute privilege. The Comet 1a is more than unique, it was a magnificent and beautiful aeroplane."
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He added: "Hatfield is home to the Comet, the fact there is one here [at the museum] we must make known to everyone.
"I had no idea the museum was as big as it is. I am bowled over by it and the tremendous work these volunteers are doing.
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"It is extremely important to preserve the de Havilland heritage and recognise the huge contribution the company made to put Britain at the very forefront of aviation."
After leaving the Comet, Welwyn Hatfield's mayor was taken on a tour of the large new hangar being built at the museum with the support of the National Lottery Fund and other sponsors, so that the Comet and other aircraft currently kept outside can be moved under cover.
There are more than 20 de Havilland civil and military types on display at the museum and the Gala Day being held there on Saturday, July 27 will celebrate the Comet's maiden flight from Hatfield on July 27, 1949.
At the controls for that ground-breaking flight was the de Havilland Aircraft Company's chief test pilot John 'Cat's Eyes' Cunningham, the Second World War RAF night fighter ace.
Three production Comet 1a's were delivered to French national carrier Air France in 1953.
Following the loss of five aircraft between 1952 and 1954, all Comet 1a were withdrawn from service and either modified or scrapped.
The sole original Comet 1a, one of the Air France fleet, arrived at the museum in 1985 having been saved from the scrapyard.
It arrived minus wings, tail, engines, undercarriage and all internal equipment and seats.
"We were faced with a tremendous job," said museum curator Alistair Hodgson.
"But this is such an important aircraft and as it is the only example of the original Comets left with its square windows, we realised that we just had to preserve it so that generations in the future will be able to see it."
The small team of museum volunteers carrying out the restoration over the past five years have sourced a complete set of instruments and controls for the flight deck, and are refurbishing one side of the passenger cabin with ex-de Havilland seats.
They are leaving the other side exposed to show construction detail.
Team leader Peter Kay said: "It is a real labour of love for us and visitors to the museum who board the Comet see the work being done and are amazed at what we are achieving."
"Unfortunately," he added, "none of the missing parts have survived so we will never be able to fully restore it, but it is such an important aircraft and we are delighted that we have been able to rescue the fuselage."
The Comet Gala Day also coincides with the anniversary of the births of both Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, founder of the company, and pilot John Cunningham.
Alongside the museum's Comet 1a, which will be open to the public, will be an entertainment programme.
Details of the event can be found at www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk