The sole surviving de Havilland Comet jet airliner “flew” for the first time in 60 years thanks to a Bedford firm.
NMT Crane Hire Ltd, was called to the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, in London Colney, to move the silver fuselage to make way for the construction of a new hangar, in which it will take pride of place.
The aircraft, designed and built by de Havilland at its Hatfield factory, was the world’s first jet airliner and is one of the museum’s star exhibits.
So it was with great care NMT’s 50-ton hydraulic crane shifted the aircraft.
Director Mark Ambridge said: “We were very aware that the Comet is a very special aeroplane, so we were delighted to be asked to do the job.”
Resting on a specially-built steel cradle, the six-ton fuselage was raised to a height of more than a foot and moved sideways more than 30 yards to its new position.
Crane operator Steve Brookes is no stranger to such important jobs. “I have lifted aircraft before, including a Hawker Harrier and a Spitfire at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford,” he said. “So I appreciated just how important it was that we carried out a perfect lift.”
Museum Comet project leader Brian Kern said this aircraft is the only one of the first batch built to survive unaltered, with its original square windows.
He added: “Any damage would have been disastrous, but the crane operators performed the job smoothly and expertly, and we were very relieved when they lowered it safely back onto the ground.”
The fuselage is one of three built for Air France. After fatal crashes involving three Comets built for the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (BOAC) all Comet 1s were withdrawn from service in 1954, and two were called in by the Royal Aeronautical Establishment for pressure tank testing at the research facility at Farnborough, Hampshire.
One was a BOAC aircraft, which tests revealed a major design flaw – metal fatigue fractures in the window square corners - to be the cause of the crashes, so the second model, the Air France F-BGNX was not needed.
It was donated to the de Havilland Museum in 1989, minus its wings, tail, engines, undercarriage, flight deck and all internal fixtures and fittings.
It is currently being restored at the museum, and will get extra protection from the weather in the new hangar.
Work on the hangar is expected to start by the middle of March this year, and the museum has applied for a £1.5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
For more details please visit www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk