Understanding Air Safety in the Jet Age/The Dawn of the Jet Age
The British de Havilland Comet was the first jet airliner to fly (1949), the first in service (1952), and the first to offer a regular jet-powered transatlantic service (1958). One hundred and fourteen of all versions were built but the Comet 1 had serious design problems, and out of nine original aircraft, four crashed (one at takeoff and three broke up in flight), which grounded the entire fleet. The Comet 4 solved these problems but the program was overtaken by the Boeing 707 on the trans-Atlantic run. The Comet 4 was developed into the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod which retired in June 2011.
Following the grounding of the Comet 1, the Tu-104 became the first jet airliner to provide a sustained and reliable service, its introduction having been delayed pending the outcome of investigations into the Comet crashes. It was the world's only jet airliner in operation between 1956 and 1958 (after which the Comet 4 and Boeing 707 entered service). The plane was operated by Aeroflot (from 1956) and Czech Airlines ČSA (from 1957). ČSA became the first airline in the world to fly jet-only routes, using the Tu-104A variant.
The first western jet airliner with significant commercial success was the Boeing 707. It began service on the New York City|New York to London route in 1958, the first year that more trans-Atlantic passengers traveled by air than by ship. Comparable long-range airliner designs were the DC-8, VC10 and Il-62. The Boeing 747, the "Jumbo jet", was the first widebody aircraft that reduced the cost of flying and further accelerated the Jet Age.
One exception to the domination by turbofan engines was the turboprop-powered Tupolev Tu-114 (first flight 1957). This airliner was able to match or even exceed the performance of contemporary jets, however the use of such powerplants in large airframes was restricted to the military after 1976.
Jet airliners are able to fly much higher, faster, and further than piston-powered propliners, making transcontinental and intercontinental travel considerably faster and easier than in the past. Aircraft making long transcontinental and trans-oceanic flights could now fly to their destinations non-stop, making much of the world accessible within a single day's travel for the first time. As demand grew, airliners became larger, further reducing the cost of air travel. People from a greater range of social classes could afford to travel outside of their own countries.
The use of mass-production techniques similar to those of the motor industry lowered the cost of private aircraft, with types such as the Cessna 172 and Beechcraft Bonanza seeing widespread use, the 172 eclipsing even wartime production levels.
Aircraft came to be used increasingly in specialist roles such as crop spraying, policing, fire fighting, air ambulances and many others.
As helicopter technology developed, they also came into widespread use, dominated by Sikorsky's approach of a single main rotor plus tail counter-torque rotor.
Sport flying also developed, with both powered aeroplanes and gliders becoming more sophisticated. The introduction of glass fibre construction allowed sailplanes to achieve new levels of performance. In the 1960s the re-introduction of the hang-glider, now using the flexible Rogallo wing, ushered in a new era of ultralight aircraft.
The development of safe gas burners led to the re-introduction of hot air ballooning and it became a popular sport.
The introduction of the Concorde supersonic transport (SST) airliner to regular service in 1976 was expected to bring similar social changes, but the aircraft never found commercial success. After several years of service, the fatal crash of Air France Flight 4590 near Paris in July 2000 and other factors eventually caused Concorde flights to be discontinued in 2003. This was the only loss of an SST in civilian service. Only one other SST design was used in a civilian capacity, the Soviet era Tu-144, but it was soon withdrawn due to high maintenance and other issues. McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed and Boeing were three U.S. manufacturers that had originally planned to develop various SST designs since the 1960s, but these projects were eventually abandoned for various developmental, cost, and other practical reasons.
The fabrication of riveted stressed-skin aluminium airframes was widespread by the end of the Second World War, although the use of wood for private aviation continued. The pursuit of greater strength for less weight led to the introduction of advanced, and often expensive, manufacturing techniques. Key developments during the 1960s and 70s included; milling a complex part from a solid billet rather than building it up from smaller parts, the use of synthetic resin adhesives in place of rivets to avoid stress concentrations and fatigue around the rivet holes, and electron beam welding.
The development of composite materials such as fibreglass and, later, carbon fibre, freed up designers to make more fluid, aerodynamic shapes. However the unknown properties of these novel materials meant that introduction has been slow and methodical.
Many military aerodromes became civilian airports after the war, while pre-war airports reverted to their former role. The rapid growth in air travel ushered in by the jet age required an equally rapid enlargement of airport facilities worldwide.
As jet airliners grew larger and passenger numbers per flight increased, larger and more sophisticated equipment was developed for handling the aircraft, passengers and baggage.
Radar systems became commonplace, with Air traffic control facilities needed to manage the large number of aircraft in the sky at any one time.
Runways were made longer and smoother to accommodate new, larger and faster aircraft, while safety considerations and night flying led to much improved runway lighting.
Major airports became such vast and busy places that their environmental impact became substantial and the siting of any new airport, or even the expansion of an existing one, became a major social and political affair.