L.E.F. [Ted] Young – Flight Engineer
Licence to Fly
Why produce this site?
In one sense the history of the Comet is already well documented. Contemporary articles in leading aviation journals – such as Flight International and The Aeroplane – or material produced by de Havilland by way of sales and publicity material can be found. There are also informative articles in the Company’s ‘internal’ magazines: The de Havilland ‘Gazette’ and the ‘Enterprise’. A number of books have been written. The excellent Classic Civil Aircraft 3 – de Havilland Comet by Philip J, Birtles is still available (Ian Allen) but the superb Famous Airliners 4 – The Comet by Derek Harvey is long out of print.
The baseline for my research was my father. L. E. F. Young – who was known to his friends in, and out of the aviation industry, as ‘Ted’. Armed with his Flight Engineers’ Flying Log, a number of photographs, and many personal contacts I began. Add to that the privilege of having flown many, many thousands of miles in Comets.
In 1958 it was said that the break-even figure for the Comet Mk.4 was the sale of fifty aircraft. By the time production ceased seventy plus Mk.4s (including variants) had been sold – so the Comet was, in strict commercial terms, a success.
But it never achieved the sales volumes it deserved. There were many reasons for that and this should not detract from the Comets’ real significance – it was a milestone in the evolution of the commercial aeroplane and it was a significant in it’s day as was Concorde to be twenty years later.
The logbooks give, I think, a fascinating glimpse into the work of a Flight Engineer – in this case – test flying for one of the most dynamic aircraft companies in the world.
The late 1940s, 50s and 60s were particularly exciting times at Hatfield – a golden era. A revolutionary aeroplane was being planned by one of the most progressive aircraft manufacturers in the world – de Havilland were, above all else, aviation pioneers- think Moth, Albatross, Mosquito – it can be argued that, in many respects the Company was often well ahead of its time.
This was a summit for British aviation – look at the status of the annual SBAC show at Farnborough – and, during this period, in every area, development aeroplanes and prototypes provided an incite into the future – and a spectacular display. But in commercial terms success eluded British companies. It was hoped that by combining the flare and innovation inherent in the industry the Comet would herald the re-emergence of British civil aviation.
The Logbooks serve to remind me too of the many remarkable characters around the Company at that time. Legendary names abound: John Cunningham – then Chief Test Pilot for de Havilland, Test Pilots’ Peter Bois, Peter Buggé and Peter Wilson and Production Test Pilot Pat Fillingham, Chief Flight Engineer Brackston-Brown – to mention only a few. These were people that helped write aviation history, legends within their own lifetimes and, I am pleased to report, many of whom have assisted me in the compilation of this work.
The Logbooks also serve to pinpoint significant dates and times in the Comet’s development.
Log entries are much abbreviated. I have reproduced them elsewhere without omitting any of the ‘cryptic’ details but, of necessity, I have expanded quite a few of the entries so that, I hope, they make sense.
Development of the Comet took place in parallel with various ‘test’ and ‘production’ aeroplanes. Obviously ‘my’ Log only relate to the flights undertaken by Ted. Even so it provides an interesting record of many special and notable events during that early period of experimental and (later) production test flying program on the Comet.
The Logs indicate too another aspect of test flying. Crews were abroad – often for weeks at a time – while various Comets (and Crews!) were subjected to tropical trials, crew training or simply demonstrating the Comet’s remarkable abilities to potential buyers. Sometimes these overseas postings were to last many weeks, and often many months.
Perhaps, for me, the most memorable trip of all was to Mexico and South America in the early 1960s. This came about when the Mexican airline – Mexicana – purchased three Comet 4Cs. de Havilland, as part of the sales package, sent staff out to Mexico City to train Mexicana crews and undertake route proving flights. These training sessions were to last for many weeks and the family were lucky enough to accompany the crews on many flights – sometimes to the USA – more often around Central and South America.
The Flight Engineer
Obviously with a father who spent his flying career as a Flight Engineer (F/E) I took a particular interest in his work. It should always be remembered that aircrew operate as a team – and each member a specialist within the team. A word, though, about the status of the Flight Engineer.
It is often assumed, and sometimes not only by lay-people, that the F/E is an anachronism, his role unimportant, perhaps along with a navigator, the least glamorous member on the flight deck… always assuming the public know he is there in the first place!
Origin of the F/E
In the early days of aviation aeroplanes, generally, were a lot smaller and, far more basic in design and construction. Aircraft control systems too were fairly basic … if the engine cut out …well !!!
There were few passengers to worry about. In any case it was universally accepted that flying was a risky venture – passengers were adventurers too and knew the risk they took.
But machinery and electrical systems gradually became more complex, and in the post war period far more people were entrusting their lives to aeroplanes – particularly as the civilian market expanded. It became advisable to have an engineer on board to monitor various basic functions – and take responsibility for their maintenance during a flight – the Flight Engineer.
The F/E took responsibility for, for example, the aeroplanes air-conditioning system, its pressurization systems, electrical and hydraulic systems and rate of fuel usage. In fact many F/Es held pilots licenses, as did Ted, but this is not relevant in this context.
Modern airliners are no less complicated today than in the days when the Comet first flew. In fact with the extensive use of electronic flight management and control systems – the so called ‘fly by wire’ technology – the complexity is being greatly increased all the time.
However to counter these developments it should be noted that there have been vast improvements in mechanical and electrical reliability. There has been much progress too in the development of fail-safe design (to which the Comet made a dramatic contribution) and much stricter safety standards are enforced by the industry’s licensing authorities.
Such developments have diminished the necessity to carry a F/E. It is now the case that most modern aeroplanes are designed for, and easily capable of being operated by, two man crews.
A notable exception to this, however, is Concorde where the F/E is considered to be indispensable … perhaps that tells us something of the complexity of the aeroplane itself…. Go back forty years in time and for ‘Concorde’ read ‘Comet’! On reflection though perhaps it is a mistake to think of Concorde as a modern aeroplane!
Reliability is the key word and, once aircraft manufacturers, and the airline operators, were able to convince the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA.), and US equivalent the FAA, that failure rates were extremely low, they introduced – then rapidly expanded – two pilot flights across the North Atlantic.
This is a far cry from the days when such reliability could not taken for granted and the need for the F/E was more obvious.
Flight Engineers were, if anything, realists. As Ted was to observe on many occasions, “our days are numbered”. BEA pointed the way as early as the 1960s when they sought, and obtained, certification for three pilots as crew on Comet 4Bs. However in the world of experimental, development and test-flying things are very different! Long may it be so.
As a footnote in 1994 it was reported that Lufthansa were to certify their new Boeing 747-400s for three pilot crew operation. Because of contractual obligations and union resistance their F/Es could not be sacked. The plan therefore was to re-train Lufthansa F/Es as pilots. Full circle you might say!