Looking back, I realize just how fortunate I was to be an air-minded
son of an air-minded father, growing up in
in the 1950s.
is known as “The
because it is at an altitude of 5,280 feet above sea level.
In the summers, temperatures rise to the mid 90s, though with low
humidity (generally less than 20 percent and usually around 5 percent) it’s
called a “dry heat.”
On a warm
day, the density altitude can reach 7-8,000 feet. All that is important,
because Stapleton Field outside
was the highest-elevation major commercial airfield in
As such, nearly
every important airplane designed and built in the 1940s and 1950s
eventually came there for their “hot and high” tests.
These visits made it into the newspaper, and my father always made a
point of taking me out to the field to see such things as the Convair B-36
(which couldn’t take off for a week, not having jet engines, because the
density altitude was too high - much to the
public relations discomfort of
the Air Force), the Lockheed Constitution with its “bug eye” pilots’
canopies, the Super Constellation, and many others.
Most particularly including - in 1950 or ‘51, I don’t remember
exactly - the arrival of the DeHavilland Comet I, the world’s first jet
When I look back on those innocent days from the perspective of
today, where one must arrive at the airport an hour early to doff shoes and
be skin-searched and X-rayed to get anywhere near an airplane, it is hard to
believe that Stapleton Field was really the way it was back then.
It wasn’t the big monster airport you may remember from the 1970s and
The airport terminal
then was about half the size of the elementary school I went to.
There weren’t any locks on the gates, and if you wanted to do more
than stand on the patio outside the terminal and look at the airplanes, you
just went through the gates and walked up to them!
I well remember the Comet, because it was so much bigger than the
DC-3s, DC-4s and DC-6s that populated the field (Stapleton was the
headquarters for United Air Lines).
It was very sleek and shiny, and the pilots talked a strange language
I had never heard before, which I now know as “the Queen’s English.”
I do remember that the pilot was quite friendly and when he realized
from my father’s questions that we weren’t just gawkers, we got to walk
around the airplane and even go up the stairs and stand inside (life was
very cool for airplane folks back then, when everyone involved actually
loved airplanes and loved sharing them).
I think the airplane could best be described as a 1950's Concorde.
It was set up for what I now know was about 36 passengers in
all-First-Class 4-abreast seating.
To this day, I think the de Havilland Comet 1 is one of
classic airliners, with its sleek fuselage, and four jet engines inside its
The airplane was
very futuristic at the time to 6 or 7-year old me, and is still one of the
most beautiful airliners to my mind, right up there with the triple-tail
Design for what would eventually become the Comet began in 1940, when
de Havilland considered using the Whittle jet
engines (since they owned
them) to power what later became known as the Flamingo.
By the end of the war, when access was gained to German aeronautical
research, thought was given to a tailless design for 20+ passengers.
The D.H. 108 Swallow, in which Geoffrey de Havilland was killed, was
a one-third scale airframe test of the possible design.
Eventually, a more mainstream design was settled on.
Weight soared during construction, and when the Comet I first flew in
1949, powered by four Ghost 103 engines, its cruising speed was nearly 100
mph less than originally estimated, only 450 m.p.h.
This was still a good 200 m.p.h. faster than the piston-powered
competition, and design progressed on the Comet 3, which would be longer and
powered with the
an engine with a lot of growth potential.
As the world's first jet airliner, the Comet heralded an opportunity
for British commercial aviation to regain the ground lost during the Second
World War and perhaps get a jump on the competition.
All the major American airlines were definitely interested in buying
Comets. DeHavilland had the jump on Boeing and Douglas, who were both
several years from flying the first prototypes of their jet airliners.
The company expected to “make hay while the sun shines.”
What no one knew at the time was that the Comet carried the seeds of
its own destruction. It was technologically a great leap forward in terms of
speed, passenger capacity and altitude. No airliner had ever before
regularly carried passengers at such a sufficiently high altitude to bypass
weather, while being fast enough to finally make long-distance air travel
Unfortunately, the Comet’s potentially-bright future abruptly ended
after a series of fatal accidents. In the first two years of operations, six
The first two
were the result of poor design of the wing leading edge, which was quickly
changed. However, in 1954 two aircraft were destroyed at cruising altitude
by explosive decompression resulting from what was later determined was
accelerated metal fatigue of the airframe due to the frequent pressurization
and de-pressurization, leading to cracks in the corners of the large square
second crash, the Comet was grounded. Unfortunately, the loss of confidence
in the type meant that the Comet never regained its place as the premiere
jet airliner, with the fully-redesigned Comet 4 only making the first
successful full-passenger load non-stop trans-Atlantic flight in the fall of
1958, a matter of weeks before Pan American started regularly doing the same
thing with the much more advanced Boeing 707 which had been developed and
flown during the intervening years since the grounding of the Comet I.
Britain’s chance to dominate international air travel became a dream that
never came to pass.
released this 1/72 scale resin kit of the D.H. 106 in 2006.
It comprises 41 parts in cream-colored resin, with two clear vacuform
decals that include
for two BOAC aircraft plus individual code letters.
When I first received this kit for review, I said “This quite-large
kit has very nice surface detail done with
finely engraved panel lines. The resin is well cast, with a few
pinholes visible under the surface of one of the fuselage halves. This will
be hidden under primer and paint. Otherwise, the surface is flawless. The
fuselage and wing parts are quite large, but will be ready to assemble after
only a few minutes’ work with a sanding stick and sharp X-acto. Some smaller
parts have thin flash, but this will be easy to clean up.”
Boy, was that overly-optimistic!
The decals provide markings for two specific aircraft, including
G-ALYP, the worlds first commercial jet airliner and the fifth Comet to
crash - the first whose cause was laid to metal fatigue. The sheet also
includes eight additional individual code letters, so that, with some
careful mixing and matching, a modeler should be able to create almost any
BOAC, or South African Airlines, Comet 1. The decals are
As I first thought, the kit went together fairly quickly, though
closer association with the parts led me to see how really primitive the
castings were, and how ill-fitting the parts were.
It was clear at the outset that only a fool would try to build it
with the vacuformed cockpit windshield and open windows, so the solid nose
was used at the outset and the cabin windows filled in. Once assembled, the
model obviously needed putty.
I puttied and
sanded and puttied and sanded and puttied and sanded and puttied and sanded.
Much of the surface detail was gone and it was still not a model with
smooth surfaces like an airplane.
At that point I put the model on the shelf of doom.
Six months later it went to the real shelf of doom at the back of the
And sat there for six
Out of sight, out of
A couple months ago I was going through things out in the garage and
took another look at the kit.
Six years of garage dirt was all over it, and one resin wing had drooped in
I decided to pull
it out and look it over.
was a small chance of saving it.
First things first: the wing.
Several sessions with a big pot of just-to-the-boiling-point hot
water were needed to get the wing to unwarp (mostly) and stay unwarped.
If you look at the left wing head on, there is still evidence of the
warp, but you have
to look for it.
By now I had started using Tamiya on some projects, so I slathered
that on over the engine nacelles and the wing-fuselage joint.
Letting it set up thoroughly over a week, I managed to go through
several sanding sticks and finally get the fuselage smooth.
Then I dropped it and the tail came off.
There was a week while the model’s life hung in the balance as I
considered finally chucking it.
Then in a burst of I-don’t-know-what, I glued the tail back on, puttied it
again and sanded it smooth.
This time I also had to repair the dorsal fin to the vertical stabilizer.
I also repaired the wing fences since those had broken long ago.
At that point, watching a re-run of James May’s “Toy Stories” episode
about the 1:1 Airfix Spitfire, I spotted a Comet I in the back of the hangar
A few minutes with Google and I learned of G-APAS, the last complete
Comet I still in existence, and found a bunch of photographs.
I checked the decal sheet and realized I could do those markings, and
that the model would be a nice two-footer when completed that way.
With this for inspiration, I proceeded.
The model was given several coats of Tamiya grey primer from the
rattle can, sanding after each to correct all the things that still needed
The primer is thick
enough that after about the sixth
coat I realized I had a pretty nice smooth
finish, and left it at that.
then mixed up some Tamiya Light Grey and Flat White to get the “dove grey”
color of G-APAS and painted that overall.
I gave that a coat of Future, and then painted the upper fuselage
with Tamiya Gloss White.
I gqave the decals a coat of Future before cutting and applying them.
The decals were dodgy, but with care they went on and I was able to come up
with the G-APAS registration.
decided not to worry about the fact the cabin windows were now white, since
the original has white windows now, with a dark smoky-grey cockpit
windscreen like the decals provided.
Once everything was settled, I gave the model another coat of Future.
Fortunately, the resin landing gear is strong with wire cast inside.
I sanded the parts to fit inside the wheel wells, painted them
aluminum, painted the resin wheels and attached them, and glued the gear in
It sat on all 10 wheels and the gear didn’t break!
I then attached the gear doors and put it aside.
This is definitely one of the dodgier resin kits I have ever run
across, to put it as politely as possible.
Building it made my ten-rounds-no-holds-barred battle royale with the
Collect-Aire P-59A seem like a romp in the park in comparison.
For poor fit and dodgy molding, it’s right up there with that kit,
the Aviation USK 1/48 PBM Mariner, and the Alpha Flight
(both of which I gave up on).
The kit has a nice design, marred by resin part production that put the
state of the art back 20 years.
All that said, it’s the only kit of a Comet I that I know of in any scale.
If you were to find one of these kits at a dealer’s table at a show,
and really, really, really, want a model of the world’s first jetliner, and
you have the skills and the perseverance (and perhaps plain blockheaded
stubbornness) to keep at it, you can create a nice model, and if you were
crazy enough to put considerably more effort into things than I did, you
could come up with something of which people would take notice. Of the three
people I know received review kits six years ago, this is the only one I
have seen completed.
Since the publication of
this review, Jessica Cooper contacted me and told me there is a 1/72
vacuform-resin kit of the Comet I by Welsh Models. She referred me to her
article on building it at Kitmaker.com's Aeroscale site, and it really does
look like a good kit that will produce a worthwhile result. If you really
want a Comet I in 1/72 scale, I suggest you go that route. See it here:
Be advised that the page is heavy with adverts and watermarks.