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The Jet Age is a period of history defined by the social change brought about by the advent of large aircraft powered by turbine engines. These aircraft were able to fly much higher, faster, and further than older piston‑powered propliners, making transcontinental and inter-continental travel considerably faster and easier: for example, aircraft leaving North America and crossing the Atlantic Ocean (and later, the Pacific Ocean) could now fly to their destinations non-stop, making much of the world accessible within a single day's travel for the first time. Since large jetliners could also carry more passengers, air fares also declined (relative to inflation), so people from a greater range of social classes could afford to travel outside of their own countries. In many ways, these changes in mobility were similar to those brought about by railroads during the 19th century.1
The introduction of the Concorde supersonic transport (SST) airliner to regular service in 1976 was expected to bring similar social changes, but the aircraft never found commercial success. After several years of service, a fatal crash near Paris in July, 2000 and other factors eventually caused Concorde flights to be discontinued in 2003. This was the only loss of an SST in civilian service. McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed and Boeing were three US manufacturers that had originally planned to develop SSTs since the 1960s, but these projects were abandoned for various developmental problems, cost, and other practical reasons.
The de Havilland Comet was the first jet airliner to fly (1949), the first in service (1952), and the first to offer a regular jet-powered transatlantic service (1958). One hundred and fourteen of all versions were built but the Comet 1 had serious design problems, and out of nine original aircraft, four crashed (one at takeoff and three broke up in flight), which grounded the entire fleet. The Comet 4 solved these problems but the program was overtaken by the Boeing 707 on the trans-Atlantic run. The Comet 4 was developed into the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod which retired in June 2011.
The first Four jet airliners to fly were:
- The UK de Havilland Comet, 1949
- The Canadian Avro Jetliner, later in 1949
- The French Sud Aviation Caravelle, 1955
- The US Boeing 707, 1957
The first four in service were:
- The UK de Havilland Comet, 1952
- The US Boeing 707, 1958
- The French Sud Aviation Caravelle, 1959
- The US Douglas DC-8, 1959
(The Canadian Avro Jetliner never achieved commercial service)
The first western jet airliner with significant commercial success was the Boeing 707. It began service on the New York to London route in 1958, the first year that more trans-Atlantic passengers traveled by air than by ship. The Boeing 747, the 'Jumbo jet', was the first widebody aircraft, reducing the cost of flying and further accelerating the jet age.
The term "jet age" was first coined in the late 1940s, before the appearance of any jet airliners. At the time, the only jet-powered aircraft were military types, most of which were fighter designs. The expression reflects the recognition that the jet engine had affected, or would soon, a profound change in aeronautics and aviation. In the history of military aviation, the "jet age" began in 1944, during World War II, when the first jet fighters and bombers entered service whereas for commercial aviation the "jet age" began in the late 1950s.