1950 to 1959

During the 1950s the first turbo-propeller airliners ('prop-jets' in the USA)  were introduced followed shortly by the first jet airliners.  The jets didn't have an easy time to begin with due to pressurisation accidents and a false start to the 'Jet-Age'.

The first jet airliner, the De Havilland Comet 1, entered service on May 2, 1952 on the London - Johannesburg route.  This historic BOAC flight was followed by UAT Comet flights between Paris and Dakar, and South African Airways' own Jo'burg to London service in competition with the BOAC service.  Air France flew Comet 1 jets on their Paris - Beirut service and Pan American ordered Comet 3 jets from De Havilland.

The first Comet crashes were masked by genuine accident's as three Comets were lost in landing accidents and one was lost in a thunderstorm.  Like all new aircraft types civil or military, the jet airliner was a handful for pilots converting from the older propeller types. 

But when a BOAC Comet 1 broke-up during departure from Rome on January 10th, 1954 doubt was starting to set in which was fully confirmed on April 8th when a South African Airways Comet disappeared off the coast of Sicily at high altitude.   The comet 1 jets were grounded (permanently) and metal fatigue around the window frames were found to be the cause of the cabin disintegrating.

The 'Jet-Age' made a tragic false start only to begin again fully in 1958 with the introduction of the Comet 4 and the Boeing 707-120, with the DC8-30 following into service one year later.  Aeroflot used Tu-104s internally from 1955 and Air France flew 'test flights' with their new short-haul Caravelle jet from 1956.

The first jet service across the North Atlantic was by a BOAC Comet 4 at the beginning of October 1958 with Pan American flying it's first jet service in competition with BOAC using a Boeing 707 three weeks later.

The first sustained scheduled jet airline service was by the (then) Soviet Union's Aeroflot airline using Tupolev Tu-104 'Camel' jets (developed from the Tu-16 'Badger' bomber) extensively on internal routes from the summer of 1955.

Airspeed AS.57 Ambassador

Airline:  Dan-Air London in 1970 (1952) Country: UK
49 passengers
2 Bristol Centaurus engines
240 mph cruise

The AS.57 was another of those British airliners designed for the flag carrier (in Europe) BEA. It was introduced in 1952 and taken out of service again temporarily due to problems with the undercarriage. BEA called it the 'Ambassador'.

It was quickly replaced with the new Viscount and went on to serve with a handful of holiday airlines, notably, Dan-Air London, Globe Air and Autair. BKS Air Transport of the UK flew it on scheduled services to Europe.

thanks to Caz Caswell/AirTeamImages

Antonov An-22

Airline:  Aeroflot
Freight only
8 counter-rotating turbo-props

Used only by Aeroflot and the Soviet Air Force for large loads.

Antonov An-28

Airline:  TEPavia TRANS in 2000
Passenger feederliner
2 turboprop engines

The Antonov AN-28 is still fairly modern and is used by ex-Soviet Block nations.

Armstrong-Whitworth Aw.650 Argosy

Airline:  the prototype A.W. 650
Freight only
4 turboprop engines

The Argosy was designed for easy enplaning of large pallets of cargo and outsized loads. This was in the 1960s when most freight was in small pallets or loaded by hand.

Boeing 707-138

picture: a Boeing 707 series 138 of QANTAS in 1959
100+ Passengers
4 Pratt&Whitney engines
550 mph cruise

The 707-120 was the first civilian Boeing jetliner and was intended for the medium-long haul US trans-continental routes and the 'Big-four' US airlines that flew these 3000nm routes.

It was soon discovered that a true intercontinental version was needed. In the interim the Boeing 707-138 dominated the long-haul skies in 1959.

Boeing 707-320 series

Boeing 707-320B prototype in 1959 -for Pan American
150 Passengers
4 Pratt&Whitney JT4A engines
550 mph cruise
Span 146 feet
Length 153 feet

The Boeing 707-320 series was known as the 'intercontinental'. This was the most successful variant of the 707 jetliner. Pan Am ordered a large fleet of series 320B. TWA ordered the intercontinental too along with most of the works long-haul airlines.

Bristol Britannia 100 series

Airline:   prototype Britannia 102 in1957
90 Passengers
4 Bristol Proteus 705 turboprops
360 mph
Span 142 feet
Length 114 feet

The Britannia came out of the need for a long-haul turboprop. This was originally hoped to be the Brabazon but this proved too expensive so the Britannia came about. The original 100 series were popular and were in use by BOAC, Canadian Pacific and many other mainstream airlines quickly.

The aircraft was named 'Whispering Giant' by the airlines that used it because it gave a smooth and quiet ride at 20,000 feet compared to the US types with their noisy piston engines flying in the lower-level weather.

Bristol Britannia 300 series

Airline:   British Eagle series 321 in 1964  (1960)
114 Passengers
4 Bristol Proteus 761 engines
385 mph cruise
Span 142 feet
Length 124 feet

The classic 'series 300' Whispering Giant was much liked by the airlines. With the extra ten feet of cabin space more passengers could be flown and at a faster speed too.

Canadair CL-44

Airline: Loftleidir used CL-44s for passenger flights to New York
Freight or passengers
4 Rolls-Royce Tyne engines
373 mph cruise
Span 142 feet
Length 137 feet

The Cl-44 is a Canadian turboprop - once used for passenger work but now purely a freighter where still used...

Canadair CL44-D4 'Swing-tail'

The CL44-D4 variant had a 'swing-tail' system where the complete tailplane swung 90 degrees to give unhindered pallet loading operation.

thanks to Caz Caswell/AirTeamImages

De Havilland D.h.104 Dove

Airline:  Channel Airways
8-10 Passengers
2 DH Gipsy Queen engines

The Dove is a twin-engined piston type and a civil variant of the British military 'Devon' communication aircraft used in the 1960s.

De Havilland D.h.114 Heron

Airline:  Air Paris in 1970 (1953)
14 Passengers
4 DH Gypsy Queen engines
183 mph cruise
Span 71 feet
Length 48 feet

The Heron was used by many airlines in the 1950s and 1960s. This elegant, slim four-engined airliner was used by BEA on that airline's Scottish islands operations. BUIA, Jersey Airlines, Morton , Martinair and U.A.T. used them too. Even A.N.A. Japanese airlines used them.

They can still be found in all parts of the world. In the USA a re-engined version - the Riley Heron -is still operating.

De Havilland D.h.106 Comet 1

Airline:  Prototype Comet 1 G-ALVG in 1952
40 Passengers
4 DH Ghost engines
465 mph cruise

The prototype flew with BOAC's 'Speedbird' logo on the nose. The airspeed indicator probe would be removed when the prototype flew at Farnborough. The single main-wheels would be replaced with the standard four-wheel bogie when the Comet 1 went into production.

After several Comet crashes the entire Comet 1 fleet would be found to have an unsafe pressure hull and withdrawn from use permanently.

De Havilland Comet 4 and 4C

Airline:  Sudan Airways on delivery in 1958   (1958)
84 Passengers
4 Rolls-Royce Avon engines
535 mph cruise
Span 115 feet
Length 118 feet

After the tragic end of the original Comet 1 De Havillands worked to build a new version, taking into account what the jet airliner world had learned from the early cabin failures. The result was the Comet 2 which was used by the RAF and the CAF. The civilian airliner to come next was the Comet 4 in 1958, a long-range improved variant.

The Comet 4 and later 4C were used by BOAC and many British Commonwealth airlines and by airlines across the world. The Comet 4 and 4C had unusual fuel pods on the forward tips of the wings, making it a distinctive sight.

Sadly the western world's first jet airliner lost it's place against the newer Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 jets. The Comet 4 series remained in service (with Dan-Air London at Gatwick) until 1980.

De Havilland Comet 4B

Airline:  British European Airways (1959)
84+ Passengers
4 Rolls-Royce Avon engines
535 mph cruise

A year after the new Comet 4 had been introduced on BOAC's routes BEA, the European wing of BOAC, wanted a Comet of their own. Until this time BEA had only used turboprop types and a pure-jet was needed to compete with the Caravelle in common use by BEA's European competitors.

The Comet 4B variant was flown in 1959 and carried more passengers on medium-haul routes. This version of the Comet 4 did not have the extra fuel pods but had a clean wing. The Comet 4B was designed purely for BEA's route needs and was not used by other airlines.

Douglas DC8-30 series

Airline:  The prototype DC8 series 30  (1959)
150 Passengers
4 Pratt&Whitney JT4A engines
535 mph cruise
Span 142 feet
Length 151 feet

The DC-8 was Douglas's answer to the Boeing 707. It entered airline service in the same year and had a large customer base among important airlines, especially in the USA. TCA of Canada purchased a fleet of series 40 jets as did KLM and SAS in Europe.

Like the Boeing 707-100 the DC8-30/40 was too small and airlines wanted more. But for1959 the original DC-8 was a real success.

Fokker F-27 friendship

Airline:  Iberia with Side Cargo Door in the late 1960s(1959)
40 Passengers
4 Rolls-Royce Dart engines
270 mph cruise

The Friendship first entered airline service in 1959. This modern design remains in use today as a feeder-liner and freighter. It was updated by the 1990s by Fokker as the larger Fokker 50. Sadly Fokker ceased business in the 1990s.

Ilyushin IL-18

Airline:   Tarom Romanian Airlines in 1982  (1959)
80 Passengers
4 Ivchenko AL20 turboprop engines
420 mph cruise

The IL-18 - NATO codename 'Coot' - was introduced in the Aeroflot and Soviet Block airlines in the 1950s replacing the older and smaller IL-14 type. Similar to the Vanguard and L-188 Electra, the IL-18 operated extensively throughout Europe until it's replacement - the Tu-134 jet - came about toward the end of the 1960s.

Lockheed L.1649 Starliner

Airline:  Lufthansa L-1649C in 1958  (1956)
81 passengers
4 Wright R.3350 piston engines
320 mph cruise
Span 150 feet
Length 116 feet

The 'Starliner' was introduced in 1956 and was the final and largest, fastest of the 'Constellation' series. It was purchased in the couple of years before the first long-range jetliners (like the DC-7C) and so it's life was short-lived in the fleets of the large airlines. This sleek design did not sell as well as the Super-G version.

Lockheed L-188 Electra

Airline:   Lockheed's prototype Electra during trials (1959)
85 Passenger
4 Allison 501 engines
373 mph cruise
Span 99 feet
Length 104 feet

The Electra was another of the first-generation turbo-props that came out of the 1950s. Like most pre-1970s airliners designed in the USA, the L-188 was for the US domestic airline market as a short/medium haul aircraft operating out of smaller airports.

It was launched by American Airlines and was used around the world by Qantas and TAA in Australia and KLM in Europe. It flew it's last passenger operation in 2000. It continues to fly the world but in pure-freighter configuration.

Saab Scandia

Airline: VASP of Brazil used 5 Scandias from 1950 (1949)
2 piston  engines

The Scandia was a Swedish designed and little used twin-piston engined feeder liner. It was mainly used by SAS in Scandinavia although VASP and Aerovias Brazil used them in small numbers, both within Brazil.

Sud Est 210 Caravelle 3, 6 and 10

Airline: A prototype Caravelle 3 in 1963 (FF: 1956)
70 Passengers
2 Rolls-Royce Avon 531 engines (Caravelle 6R)
525 mph cruise
Span 112 feet
Length 105 feet

The Caravelle was the success story of the French airliner industry which, like Britain, often designed for the French airlines with disastrous commercial consequences. The Caravelle 3 started the run of SE-210 successes ending in the 'Super Caravelle'.

Sud Est used the nose of the British Comet 1 jet enabling the French manufacturers to quickly begin experimental Air France flights from 1956. The elegant Caravelle was used right up to the year 2000.

The Caravelle was introduced with big fleets by Air Inter and Air France. Many of Europe's airlines used the jet including Sabena, SAS, Luxair, Iberia, Sobelair, Swissair, Alitalia and TAP Air Portugal. It was first used by a surprising order from United Airlines in America and was used in Latin America by VARIG and other carriers.

Sud Est 210 Caravelle 12R

Airline: A prototype Caravelle 12Rin 1983 (FF: 1956)

The Caravelle 12R was a re-engined version of the 10R and was only sold to France's Air Inter at Orly. This longer and more powerful version of the classic SE-210 was the most attractive model too.. previous models had a fin ridge that ran down the leading edge of the fin and half-way along the top of the fuselage but the Twelve-R variant had a clean fuselage top.

Tupolev Tu-104

Airline:  Aeroflot in 1968  (FF:1956)
70 Passengers
2 Mikulm AM3 engines
500 mph cruise
Span 113 feet
Length 127 feet

The Tupolev 104 - NATO codename 'Camel' - was Russia's first jet airliner. It was introduced in 1956 and began scheduled, sustained services with Aeroflot extensively within Russia. It was therefore the first jet airliner operation in the world. It was sold to Soviet Block nations and used extensively within Europe.

An Aeroflot Tu-104 was the first jet airliner to visit London-Heathrow airport, the base of BOAC's Comet 1 jetliners. The Tu-104 was replaced by the newer Tu-134 jet in the early 1970s.

thanks to Caz Caswell/AirTeamImages

Tupolev Tu-114

Airline:  Aeroflot
8 contra-rotating turboprop engines
500 mph cruise

The Tupolev 114 was a long-range passenger airliner used by Aeroflot in the 1950s and early 1960s. It was also used in a military maritime patrol / nuclear bomber role.

Tupolev Tu-124

Airline:  Interflug
44 passengers
2 Mikulin AM-3M jet engines
604 mph cruise
Span 84 feet
Length 100 feet

The Tu-124 was a smaller version of the Tu-104 jet carrying 26 less passengers. It was not used extensively unlike the 104. Aeroflot and Interflug - the East German state airline - operated the type as did Iraqi Airways.

Vickers v.700 Viscount series

Airline:   Air France was one of the first to use the type (1953)
48 Passengers
4 Rolls-Royce R Dart R.Da6 engines
315 mph cruise
Span 94 feet
Length 81 feet

The turboprop Viscount first flew in 1953 by BEA and Air France on the Paris-London route and showed itself to be a real winner. It was sought after by airlines across Europe.

It was first used in the USA by Capitol Airlines. Lufthansa, KLM, Air Inter, Aer Lingus and Alitalia used it in Europe. In Britain BEA, British Eagle, Cambrian and BKS Air Transport used it for domestic and European routes.

Vickers v.800 Viscount series
Airline:   BEA series 800 had a larger door for freight (1958)
48 Passengers
4 Rolls-Royce R Dart R.Da6 engines
315 mph cruise

BEA was the main user of Viscount 700 series although it was used by many other carriers and was Britain's most successful airliner. Used on every continent in the world.

The Viscount 800 series was a larger version and Vickers had also taken the airline users' needs into account when it enlarged the forward port-side hatch allowing the Viscount 800 to be used for freight work as well as passenger flights.

The Viscount was used by BEA until the early 1980s and continued to be operated by smaller carriers until the end of the century.

thanks to Caz Caswell/AirTeamImages

Vickers v.950 series Vanguard
Airline:   British European Airways in 1966  (FF:1959)
85 Passengers
4 Rolls-Royce Tyne engines
390 mph cruise
Span 118 feet
Length 123 feet

The Vanguard was another of those national projects purely designed for the state airline, BEA. It first flew in April 1959 and began services with BEA in 1961. With longer range and payload than the Viscount it filled the route slots that the Comet 4B was less economic on.

Trans Canada Airlines placed orders for the type too and began services in the same year as BEA, who would use the aircraft until the late 1970s. It was also used by Invicta International as a freighter.

When these airlines sold the freighter type in the 1970s operators would be Air Bridge, Air Thor, Air Viking, Air Trader. Only Europe Air Service used them as passenger airliners.

A pure cargo version of the V.953 Vanguard was created by BEA in the late 1960s as a replacement for the Argosy. It was called the Merchantman and was without windows and had a large side cargo door. These ex-BEA Merchantman freighters were purchased by Air Bridge in the late 1970s.