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One of my favorite airplanes and one that I will almost certainly never get to fly, is the De Havilland DH88 Comet. Actually there is only two flying examples, one being a replica that was commissioned and built in the U.S., the other is in a museum in England.
The Comet is a gorgeous design, capturing the best of the art deco era. Built in 1934, it had to have been the hottest looking airplane on earth. It’s lines are very deliberate, but sweeping. Certainly function must have followed form when De Havilland designed this beautiful airplane.
The story of the DH 88 Comet is fascinating. These airplanes were built for a single purpose, to win the 11,300 mile MacRobertson Race between Mildenhall, England and Melbourne, Australia. Only five will built, three for the race and two that were built later on.
Powered by two De Havilland Gipsy 6 R engines, it cruised at 200 mph with a range of 2925 miles.
The Comet looked very modern, but it was extremely conventional, if not old-fashioned. It was made entirely of wood and although it had controllable pitch propellers (sort of) and retractable landing gear, it wasn’t the only airplane in the race to employ these ‘modern’ conveniences. In fact, the most modern airplanes in the race were the newly built, all-metal airliners from America, the Boeing 247D (predecessor to the B-17) and the Douglas DC-2 (predecessor to the DC-3).
A bright red Comet named, Grosvenor House, won the MacRobertson race against a field of 19 other entrants. The name was bestowed upon it by its owner who had a hotel by the same name in England. Piloted by C. W. A. Scott and Tom Campbell Black, it made the journey in 70 hours and 55 minutes, a record that still stands for that course. This is the only surviving original Comet and it has been fully restored and is in flyable condition in England.
De Havilland went on to design many amazing airplanes and the name ‘Comet’ was reused, only this time it was the famous jet airliner, the DH106 that first flew just 15 years later in 1949 – how’s that for progress!
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