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Jet: atozchallenge

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By which I mean he jet engine, a great British invention that had a profound effect on all our lives, transforming travel and airborne warfare in ways that WWII flyers like my father could never have imagined.

I was still a child when the first jet airliner, the De Haviland Comet, flew for the first time and, shortly afterwards, flew into trouble. Investigation of the causes of several disasters involving the Comet revealed the phenomenon of fatigue cracking of metal. Take one of those paper clips that litter your desk and twist it backwards and forwards several times. See how its appearance changes, first it loses that characteristic shine, then it starts to thin and, finally, breaks. That is what happens to metal components subjected to constant movement due to the vibrations induced in flight.

By the time I ended my career as an engineer, more than half a century after the Comet disasters, I was monitoring the progress of tests designed to investigate the fatigue life of various aircraft components and of complete aircraft, a process that is an essential part of the development of every new aircraft.

The problems encountered by the first jet airliner did not prevent the continuing development of jet propelled aircraft. I first flew on a Boeing 747 in 1973. That model, with its iconic body shape, is still being produced although the range of equipment and the power of the engines in use on 21st century versions of the craft are vastly different to those available in the 1970s. Over 1500 747 variants have been delivered to date.

My first job, as an apprentice and, later, as a design draughtsman, was concerned with components for use on aircraft, some revered, some now long forgotten. Hunter, Javelin, Vampire and Sea Venom were the fighter aircraft of the day. Canberra, Vulcan, Victor and Valiant, the bombers. A Canberra was the first aircraft to complete a non-stop transatlantic flight, in 1951. In 1957 one set the record for high altitude at 21,340 metres.

Civil aircraft projects of the time included VC10, BAC111 and De Haviland Trident. Among the projects that did not fulfill their early promise were a military aircraft designated TSR2, cancelled in 1965, and Concord, a civil transport concept that could never compete with the huge carrying capacity of the 747 or the Airbus A300 series. In the 1960s I had a hand in designing small components for all of these.

I left that company in 1966 and moved into general manufacturing, only returning to aircraft work in the late 1990s. Like the 747, the basic air frame for the fast jet trainers on which I was working was more than a quarter century old. But each customer required different capabilities and every new mounting for a piece of modern electronic equipment, every re-configuration of a wing pod to carry a different weapon, had to be tested to destruction as did a whole aircraft if the changed loads were significant compared to earlier configurations.

These days we take it for granted that we can step on a jet aircraft and know that our greatest fear is that of a terrorist bomb. Air frames and engines are so reliable that disasters not caused by human hands are rare. Unlike my father, the crews of modern military jets know that they can deliver their deadly load in a high speed pass, easily evading ground or airborne opposition.

What model of civil jet aircraft did you last fly on?

How often did you use this mode of travel in the last year?

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1 Comment

  1. I am on a jet 45 weeks per year. I am glad they are reliable. Delta has several in their fleet. My favorite is the new 737-900. They have soft lighting and entertainment behind every seat. This is great for long flights.

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