The foundations for post war British aviation development were laid during the chaotic years of the second world war.
During 1942 the first of two ‘Brabazon Committees’ began their work … their task was to evaluate and advise on what types of aircraft Britain would need for civil transport usage after the war. The Committee was headed by Lord Brabazon of Tara and its work started in December 1942.
Significantly a member of the Committee was the influential Sir Geoffrey de Havilland.
Obviously the Committee would have been fully aware of many war, and pre-war developments, for example, the jet engine. This was a pointer to the future and, despite its obvious limitations (in those early days there were many problems to be overcome with respect to performance and reliability) it was the only realistic alternative to the universal propeller/piston engine combination.
Supercharging had been used in piston engines for many years but it was clear that such combinations, with their inherent respiratory problems at higher altitudes, were reaching the limit of their design capability and operational envelope.
It was not thought that the propeller was destined to become completely redundant. Much faith was held in the prospect of the turbo-prop compromise. Indeed the technical adviser to the Committee, then Dr. Harold Roxbee-Cox, later Lord Kings Norton, thought that ‘propeller-turbines’ would always be more efficient, even on long routes (1943).
But already US. progress in design and production techniques left these designs far behind. Britain still preferred to build extensively in wood – for which there was a vast wealth of experience – the beautiful D H Albatross was a good example.
In the US things were very different where they were building up an enormous production capacity – mainly to satisfy the Air Force, and Allied air forces. They had, of necessity, created the ability to mass-produce efficiently, all-metal stressed-skinned aeroplanes, on a scale unimaginable in Europe. It was clear that when the war ended US production of military aircraft would decline and give way to civilian transports – military transports were, incidentally, being produced throughout the war years in enormous numbers too.
Britain, of necessity, was forced to concentrate on the production of fighters and bombers for the immediate needs of the RAF.
It was with these considerations in mind that in February 1943 The Brabazon Committee submitted to the government recommendations for the development of five specific ‘Types’.
These ‘types’ comprised various designs solutions framed with the objective of catering for all our perceived post war civilian needs. In addition, the Committee proposed as a stop gap measure, that wartime bomber designs were to be converted for civilian operations.
So in the immediate post-war years the sky resounded to familiar sounds: from the Wellington was developed the Viking, from the Lancaster the York, and based on the Halifax was the Hermes. These aeroplanes were as crude as their wartime ancestors … compared to the contemporary DC 3, for example, they were uncomfortable, noisy and slow.
The various Types soon became closely associated with different aircraft manufacturers. Bristol, for example, opted to build the ill-fated Type III – later to be named the Brabazon. Type III was a large turboprop long range airliner and, also, Bristol opted for the smaller Type Va – which became the successful Britannia.
Avro produced a medium range turboprop – the very successful Viscount – and also built the less successful Tudor while de Havilland had their eye on the Type Vb – which became the legendary Dove.
DH Dove – PH-10A
de Havilland also courted the glamorous Type IV – defined as a ‘jet propelled mail-plane for the North Atlantic’. Initially the objective of Type IV was to carry a ton of cargo at a cruising speed of 400 mph. (644 Km/h) of better.
The recommendations of the Committee were generally accepted by the government and detailed draft specifications were called for. On reconsideration the Committee extended it’s recommendations to include a sixth type.
The Committee met between August 1943 and November 1945. The proposal for the Type IV was not affected but the Committee was clearly concerned that with the current state of jet engine technology transatlantic capability did not seem realistic – it was not known how sufficient fuel could be carried to allow for transatlantic distances – experience to date had shown the turbojet to be very thirsty.
However de Havilland were more confident and the Ministry too saw enormous prestige in the Type IV if it could be developed successfully. A revised Type IV specification was laid down – two or more jet engines, the capacity to carry 14 plus passengers over a range of 700 to 800 miles (1127-1287 Km) at a cruising altitude of 30,000ft, with a cruising speed of 450 mph.(724 Km/h). The idea was to use this aeroplane on the Empire routes i.e. overland – where the potential for stop-overs and re-fuelling existed.
It was thus intended to use experience gained in the development of the Type IV to plan for a larger, probably re-engined, version for the prestigious North Atlantic route.
It is clear from the way the Comet evolved that the Type IV specifications of 1944 were fairly flexible. Since the whole exercise was aimed at producing a commercial aeroplane it was not surprising that at a very early stage the airline operators became directly involved.
In it’s discussions with the Brabazon Committee, and the Ministry of Aviation, BOAC [British Overseas Airways Corporation] considered the Type IV proposal and based on that indicated that it would probably require about twenty five aeroplanes.
This of course represented an enormous gamble on their part because the Ministry of Aviation’s Procurement division, with it’s specification 20/44, had only loosely outlined the design parameters for the project. But BOAC’s clear and confident indication that they thought there would a demand for the final product encouraged de Havilland to begin detail design studies.