The early pursuit for aerodynamic perfection-The DH Comet 88

By Willie Bodenstein

The MacRobertson Air Race was a long-distance multi-stage contest staged from the United Kingdom to Australia planned for October 1934, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Australian State of Victoria.

Geoffrey de Havilland, a British aviation pioneer and founder of aircraft manufacturing firm de Havilland, was determined that the race ought to be won by a British aircraft. He convinced the board to subsidise the project in the hope that the prestige that will result from a win would serve to both enhance the company's prestige and also provide benefits that would result from the research involved.

In January 1934, the company announced that if three orders were placed by 28 February, the company would build a racing plane to be named the Comet that would comply with the requirements of the 1934 England-Australia MacRobertson Air Race. The Comet would be capable of achieving a guaranteed speed of 200 miles per hour (320 km/h) and sell for £5,000 each. This price was estimated as being half of the cost of manufacture and the required orders were received before the deadline. Five were eventually built.

Designed by A. E. Hagg around the race requirements, Hagg produced a sleek innovative design in the form of a stressed-skin cantilever monoplane, complete with an enclosed cockpit, retractable undercarriage, landing flaps and variable-pitch propellers. Aerodynamic efficiency was the design priority and it was therefore decided to use a thin wing of RAF34 section. This was not thick enough to contain spars of sufficient depth to carry the flight loads and so the wing skin would have to carry most of the loads. Hagg's design resulted in an aircraft that even when parked on the apron, looked fast.

De Havilland's confidence in its product was rewarded when A. O. Edwards's Comet G-ACSS, named after the Grosvenor House Hotel which he managed and flown by C. W. A. Scott and Tom Campbell Black, crossed the finish line at Flemington Racecourse on 23 October. Their official time was 71 hours 18 seconds. The de Havilland Comets set many record times for long-distance flights during the 1930s, both during races and on special record-breaking flights.

General characteristics

Crew: two
Length: 29 ft 0 in (8.84 m)
Wingspan: 44 ft 0 in (13.41 m)
Height: 10 ft 0 (3.05 m)
Wing area: 212.5 sq ft (19.75 m2)
Airfoil: RAF 34[22]
Empty weight: 2,930 lb (1,332 kg)
Loaded weight: 5,550 lb (2,523 kg)
Powerplant: 2 ◊ de Havilland Gipsy Six R six-cylinder air-cooled inverted inline engine, 230 hp (172 kW) each
Maximum speed: 237 mph (206 knots, 382 km/h)
Cruise speed: 220 mph (191 knots, 354 km/h)
Stall speed: 74 mph (64 knots, 119 km/h) [23]
Range: 2,925 mi (2,541 Nm, 4,710 km)
Service ceiling: 19,000 ft (5,790 m)
Rate of climb: 900 ft/min (4.6 m/s)

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