N LEE MACOMBER
CAPITAL AIRLINES PURCHASE COMETS' was the headline in the Enterprise magazine - the internal magazine of the de Havilland Company. It referred to a (then) recent joint announcement by Capital and de Havilland which disclosed an order for 14 Comet aircraft.
Thus it appeared that de Havilland had done what every other non-American manufacturer needed to do, broken into the United States airliner market in the face of home competition. The argument went: with a foot hold in the U.S. market many more 'knock on' sales could be hoped for. So the announcement was of very great significance.
The agreement specified that the Comets would be powered by Rolls-Royce engines, and including spares, the cost was put at some £19 million/USD 7 million (year 2000 = £263/43). Deliveries were to commence in late 1958 with four Comet Mk.4s and late in 1959 with ten of the special variant the Mk.4A.
J.H. "Slim" Carmichael, who was President of Capital Airlines, said of the deal, " The decision to purchase the Comet has been made after a most comprehensive and detailed study of all flight equipment either in production or projected, both in the United States and England. The economical and operating characteristics of the Comet 4A are ideally suited to the Capital system. The Comets will go into service on our major and most competitive routes."
Apparently the same basis for determining economic criteria were used when Capital purchased Viscounts. (ed note - The only financing Capital had available was through the Bank Of England and only for British built aircraft). Projections made before the Viscount purchase had proved accurate when it was introduced on Capital routes in 1955. The Comet order was placed because Capital now wanted a range of pure-jets to operate some 200 mph faster than anything else they then had in use. Capital was one of the biggest domestic carriers in the USA as was illustrated by figures for 1955 which showed that Capital carried 2½ million passengers over some 31 million miles!
Capital's Mk.4As were to be furnished to accommodate 74 passengers, " in the utmost luxury" by having 68 persons seated four abreast in two large cabins and six in a forward lounge. The expectation was that passengers would be carried in, "unprecedented smoothness and quietude, even surpassing the qualities of the earlier Comet models while the speed and economy also show a marked advance ". The 4A was to be assembled at Chester as well as Hatfield, England.
The Mk.4A was launched in June 1956 as a short range version of the Comet. The fuselage was stretched and the wing span was reduced. Maximum takeoff weight was reduced to 152.5Klb. The Mk.4A died, when the launch customer Capital Airlines cancelled the order. As a result no Mk 4A was ever built.
Unfortunately Capital suffered sudden financial difficulties, a period of uncertainty and numerous fatal incidents, it was forced to give up some of its routes to rival carriers and was absorbed into United Airlines. The foothold into the US market was lost and the Mk.4A was never produced.
CAPITAL AIRLINES was in talks with Convair Aircraft in 1957 to purchase nine 97 passenger Convair 880 pure jets, to be delivered from Sept. 1960 to Sept. 1961. In 1959 the order was decreased from 9 to 7, even after the aircraft in production, United Airlines took over Capital and cancelled the order.