DTE is working with volunteers at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum to help restore an Air France Comet 1A F-BGNX. DTE has provided its services free-of-charge to produce 3D drawings of the original instrument panels which have been submitted to a sheet metal fabricator to manufacture exact replicas of the original cockpit panels. The volunteers are intending to have the fuselage of the Comet available for public viewing in Spring 2015.
Being the world’s first commercial jetliner in 1952 the de Havilland Comet has, unsurprisingly, gained an industry significant yet tarnished reputation. A year after entering commercial service the Comets began suffering problems, with three aircraft breaking up during mid-flight in well-publicised accidents. Consequently, the Comet was withdrawn from service in 1954 and extensively tested to discover the root cause of these failures. The findings identified a key design flaw. Once in a pressurised environment the square windows of the Comet would suffer from fatigue failures in the corners which ultimately resulted in the plane crashing – hence why windows in modern commercial aircraft are oval. Although sales never fully recovered, the improved Comet 2 and the prototype Comet 3 culminated in the redesigned Comet 4 series which debuted in 1958 and had a productive career of over 30 years.
The Comet 1A F-BGNX, which the volunteers are restoring, was delivered to Air France in September 1953 but was withdrawn from service in January 1954. It was subsequently delivered to the Royal Aeronautical Establishment at Farnborough, where it was dismantled. The wings were removed and tested to destruction; the fuselage was wrapped in a protective cocoon and sat on the airfield for nearly 30 years before it was donated to the de Havilland museum. In recent years the restoration has begun in earnest, thanks to the generous support of a private donor. Once completed the aircraft will be unique, being the only Comet in the UK with the original square window design.
Alan Higson, a recent addition to the volunteer team at the de Havilland museum, said:
“Work had stalled on the cockpit restoration due to the fact that the original instrument panels and their instruments had been removed over 30 years ago and discarded. On joining the team, I was immediately drawn to the challenge of replicating the instrument panels, fitting them to the aircraft and populating them with the instruments that would have been fitted to the original Air France aircraft.”
“I began the project with research and on a visit to BAE Systems Heritage discovered an indexed archive of Comet 1 drawings which included the port and starboard main instrument panels of the Air France model. The drawings showed me exactly what instruments were fitted to the aircraft and the dimensions of the starboard panel. This has enabled the dimensions of all three panels – including the centre engine panel – to be derived.”
Using the photos Alan took of the drawings, DTE produced 3D models of the three main instrument panels. In addition, as the project moves forward, DTE is using its 3D design expertise to provide models of other components within the aircraft including instrument panel mounting brackets and a ceiling light for the main fuselage.
Alan has sourced the instruments for the cockpit restoration from various sources including JetArt Aviation, GB AirSpares, the Airline Pilot’s Historical Society of America and even a young lady who was selling ex-RAF surplus stock on behalf of her grandfather through eBay!
The Comet 1A F-BGNX accommodated 36 passengers in economy and eight in first class and was intended to fly from Paris to destinations such as Beirut, Algiers and Morocco. Alan concluded:
“Without DTE’s help we would have been in considerable difficulty as we couldn’t have got the panels reproduced. The museum is run as a charity and we hope the Comet will attract some old friends and new visitors next year.”
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