The De Havilland Comet and No Highway in the SkyDoug CairnsLysle A. Wood Distinguished ProfessorMechanical and Industrial Engineering
The De Havilland Comet BOAC British Overseas Airways Corporation Now British Airways
Early Hull Losses • 1952 • 1953 • 1954 (2) Early hull losses blamed on pilot error or weather Investigations and re-designs allowed Boeing 707 to enter the market….the rest is history.
Metal Fatigue Metals get tired—odd but true. It is called metal fatigue and is the reason why even a child can break a steel coat hanger with little difficulty: the back and forth motion induces small changes in the microstructure – cracks leading to catastrophic failure. The work was largely ignored by engineers but not by the novelist Nevil Shute, who wrote No Highway in 1948 about an aircraft disaster caused by metal fatigue; the subsequent film starred Jimmy Stewart. A few years later, reality caught up with fiction when the Comet aircraft did actually start to fall out of the sky, and it was only then that the science was taken seriously. (First published by Griffith in 1921.)
Nevil Shute’s No Highway in the Sky • Prediction to Comet Disaster Coincidence? (You Decide) • Nevil Shute worked and was accomplished British aerospace engineer • Comet – Reindeer (the name of the aircraft model in the movie) • Nevil Shute’s “other books” • On the Beach (the end of humanity from nuclear war) • A Town Like Alice (about Alice Springs, Australia) • No Highway in the Sky was required viewing for all engineers working in Damage Tolerance for the FAA
Commercial Jet Fleet Safety Record Structural Reliability is a Given; One cannot argue with the results Structural Failures are now VERY RARE; Don’t Let this Movie Scare You.