The Comet Affair

Why the cold war forced the British government to choose between keeping a friend and arming an enemy.

Air & Space Magazine

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So too did America’s sense of security from aerial attack. In the midst of Moscow’s annual military parade before thousands packed into Red Square on May Day 1954, a large and imposing shape appeared suddenly in the sky. Soon it was followed by four more, then another flight. Then nearly a dozen of the new mammoth airplanes were circling high above, their four engines clearly visible to the eager crowd below. Concealed amid the masses were dozens of British and U.S. spies with hidden cameras.

Within days the film smuggled out of the Soviet Union revealed a chilling truth: Not only were the new aircraft’s engines axial flow, they also appeared to be far more powerful than the Comet 2’s Avon. Such engines could easily propel a bomb-laden airplane to the heartland of America. The Soviets had not needed British or U.S. engines to produce their own after all.

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