So – what was it that justifies being here to day?
It was the day that the world’s first passenger carrying jet airliner, a BOAC De Havilland Comet, call sign G-ALYP, with 36 fare-paying passengers aboard, set off on its’ maiden, scheduled flight from London to Johannesburg.
It was, in fact, a part of BOAC’s standard route but today it was on proving trials for the Comet. The total journey of nearly 7,000 miles took just under 24 hours to complete the journey. Why so long? It was on a ‘testing’ run and had five stops – at Rome, Beirut, Khartoum, Entebbe and Livingstone. Because of this length of the journey, the crew were replaced at Beirut and Khartoum! Each passenger on the flight received a special First Flight Certificate signed by Captain A M Majendie, the pilot of the first part of the flight.
What was the cost? Well – a single, one-way, ticket would cost you £175 while a return fare was £315. These were the same prices that travellers on the normal BOAC piston-engine aircraft paid – but those flights took around 28 hours!
This de Havilland Comet, flying for British Overseas Airways Corporation, becomes the first jet aircraft to enter commercial service, carrying passengers from London to Johannesburg, South Africa. The four engines Comet carried between 36 and 44 passengers, depending on its cabin configuration but most early commercial jets were roomy and passenger comfort was a much higher priority than it is today.
However – the plane that made that first London-Johannesburg flight was also among the first passenger jets to be lost when it crashed into the Mediterranean Sea off the Italian island of Elba on Sunday January 10th 1954, killing everyone on board.