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Flying Times

The story of the jet airliner - an invention that has changed the way we live     

    For millions of people, particularly in the United States of America, boarding a jet plane for a quick journey to a city many hundreds or even thousands of miles away, is very much a routine act. More than any other object, the jet airliner is the machine that has served to “shrink the globe”, bringing in the modern age of international travel and international economies; yet it was only in the 1950s that the first commercial jet passenger plane took to the skies.
The first Comet
1952 - The world's first commercial jet service prepares to take off.

Radlett, near London; April 1951; with a deafening roar, a great shining silver aeroplane hurtles down the runway outside the De Havilland Company's huge hangers on this airfield just north of London; a minute later, the world's first jetliner, the Comet, is airborne for the first time as the property of a commercial airline, B.O.A.C, the precursor of today's British Airways.

 At that moment, few of those on the ground watching the historic take-off could have had any idea of the impact that this new invention was going to have on civilisation in the second half of the twentieth century.

Yet without the jet plane to carry passengers over vast distances at high speed, be they businessmen, holidaymakers, politicians or even whole armies, the world in which we now live would be a very different place.

The Comet that took to the skies that day in 1951, after a year of test flights, was of course not the first jet plane.

It was in the year 1930 that an English engineer called Frank Whittle had  patented the first jet engine; but in an all-too common British twentieth-century manner, Whittle and others failed to grasp the commercial and military potential of his invention, and it was a German company, Heinkel, who actually produced the first jet aircraft, in 1937.

The first British jet aircraft to fly was an adapted version of the Gloster E-28 in 1941; but in the fever of the war years, priority was given not to developing experimental aircraft, but to mass producing those propellor planes, such as the famous Spitfire, whose performance was guaranteed. So it was not until 1944 that the world's first two real jet aircraft appeared, the Messerschmitt Me 262 in Germany, and the Gloster Meteor in England.

In the immediate post-war years, with the German aircraft industry out of action, development of jet aircraft technology progressed rapidly in Britain, as did aircraft design in general; and within three years of the ending of the war, the De Havilland company was working on its great project, the first passenger jetliner.

A year after being handed over to BOAC, the Comet entered commercial service, with a flight from London to Johannesburg; but it was a premature beginning. Within two years, two Comets crashed in mysterious circumstances, and all existing planes were grounded. The cause of the problem was soon identified: it was metal fatigue, a problem that had not existed with the smaller lighter aircraft of earlier times.

By 1955, a solution had been found, Comets were able to take to the skies again, and transatlantic jet services were reintroduced between London and major destinations; this time, the age of jet air travel had really begun.


The first Comet
1974 - One of the last Comets still in service, with historic "low-cost" airline Dan-Air.
    A pioneering aircraft, the Comet however was not a big commercial success. Over in the USA, Boeing had been working on an American jetliner, and within weeks of the reintroduction of Comet services by BOAC, the first Boeing 707’s came into service. Stimulated by sales on the vast North American market, the 707 was soon established as the world’s leading jetliner, pushing Boeing to the top as undisputed world leader in its field.
    The Comet, France’s Caravelle, and later Britain’s Vickers VC 10, products of sophisticated but small national aerospace industries, could not hope to compete in the world markets against the domination of Boeing; and it was their relative failure that eventually forced national governments to support the creation of Europe’s first really successful manufacturer of jetliners, the Airbus Consortium.
    Today, thanks to a steady increase in the size of aircraft and an improvement in their efficiency, the cost of air travel has fallen by over 80% since the first Comet flights half a century ago. Once the exclusive reserve of a privileged few, air travel has become a very ordinary event, and in North America at least, something that is considerably more of a part of everyday life than taking the train.
    Thanks to cheap and rapid air travel, allowing businessmen and politicians to travel vast distances at relative ease, the nature of trade and international relations has changed profoundly. Sixty years ago, international meetings of heads of state were rare events; today they are daily occurrences; sixty years ago, few people from Northern Europe had ever seen the Mediterranean, and today’s holiday resorts like Torremolinos or Cap d'Agde were just sleepy fishing ports; in military terms, the idea of a “rapid reaction force” was unheard of.
    If so much has changed since 1950, it leaves one wondering what people will be doing in 2050....

WORDS

airborne: in the air - deafening: very loud - grasp: understand - hanger: enormous garage for aeroplanes - hurtle: go very fast - jetliner: passenger plane - occurrence: event - patent: register a new invention - shrink: make something get smaller - trade: commerce - usher in: introduce, bring in



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STUDENTS' WORKSHEET

Flying times - the story of the jet airliner

Syntax: There are two points to note with this article; a) participles, and b) demonstratives.

Replace all the missing -ing and -ed endings (or other past participal forms), after first studying the text carefully

The first British jet aircraft to fly was an adapt___ version of the Gloster E-28 in 1941; but in the fever of the war years, priority was giv___ not to develop___ experimental aircraft, but to mass produc___ those propellor planes, such as the famous Spitfire, whose performance was guarante___.   So it was not until 1944 that the world's first two real jet aircraft appear___, the Messerschmitt Me 262 in Germany, and the Gloster Meteor in England.
               In the immediate post-war years, with the German aircraft industry out of action, development of jet aircraft technology progress___ rapidly in Britain, as did aircraft design in general; and within three years of the end___ of the war, the De Havilland company was work___ on its great project, the first passenger jetliner.
A year after be___ hand___ over to BOAC, the Comet enter___ commercial service, with a flight from London to Johannesburg; but it was a premature beginn___. Within two years, two Comets crash___ in mysterious circumstances, and all exist___ planes were ground___.
            The cause of the problem was soon identifi___: it was metal fatigue, a problem that had not exist___ with the smaller lighter aircraft of earlier times. By 1955, a solution had been found, Comets were able to take to the skies again, and transatlantic jet services were reintroduc___ between London and major destinations; this time, the age of jet air travel had really begun.

Can you explain and justify each correct answer ?


Creative writing:

“If so much has changed since 1950, it leaves one wondering what people will be doing in 2050....”

Try to produce a simple technical text, describing what travel may be like in the year 2051. Use at least five of the following words and phrases in your  150-200 word document:

     failure/ thanks to / markets / ordinary event / come into service / aerospace industries / cost

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Advanced level English resource



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Selected grammar pages
Online English grammar
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Reported questions in English
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Themed crosswords for EFL
The short story of English

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Originally published in Spectrum magazine
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Photo credits: Top COI / London Press Service, bottom creative commons photo by P Chiesi.


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