The answer is simple: to keep that window from killing you.
Enter the jet age
To understand why, we need to take a trip back to the year 1954.
The early ’50s were an exciting time in the aviation industry. After being dedicated full-time to building warplanes for most of the 1940s, the end of World War II meant that manufacturers could get back to the everyday civilian business of building planes to haul people and cargo. And the pressures of the war had prompted an enormous wave of innovations in aviation technology, opening possibilities to make those planes faster, longer-ranged, and more comfortable than they had ever been before.
One who seized on these possibilities was a British aeronautical pioneer, Geoffrey de Havilland. By 1950, de Havilland was already a legend. He had designed many of the United Kingdom’s most successful aircraft during World War I, and then went on to found his own company, de Havilland Aircraft Company Limited, which built a reputation for innovative, high-performance design with such planes as the Moth and Mosquito.
With peace restored, de Havilland had turned his attention to the question of what civilian aviation would look like in the new postwar era. And his attention gravitated towards one of the many new technologies the war had spawned: the jet engine.
Ever since the Wright Brothers had first flown at Kitty Hawk, nearly all airplanes had been driven through the sky by the same type of mechanism they had used: engines fitted with propellers. Propellers had proven to be adaptable and reliable, and so they flourished; but as engines got bigger and planes got faster, propellers couldn’t keep up. Additionally, propeller engines were raucous beasts, their loud noise and vibrations making the plane’s ride less comfortable the bigger they got. That wasn’t an issue with warplanes, but for civilian air transport, where passenger comfort was a priority, it was a big issue.
De Havilland saw that the jet engine could solve both these problems at once. With all their moving parts contained inside their enclosure, jet engines didn’t suffer the aerodynamic penalties that propellers did, so they could propel planes through the sound barrier and beyond. And unlike propellers, jets were relatively quiet and still, which meant a jet airliner could whisk its passengers through the sky in quiet comfort.
A jet airliner, in other words, was an airliner that could revolutionize aviation — and that meant the first company to bring one to market stood to make an absolutely fantastic amount of money. So de Havilland set out to make sure that company was his company.
Riding a Comet
The result of that effort was unveiled to the world in 1949. It was called the de Havilland Comet.
The Comet was like nothing the world had ever seen. Sleek and streamlined, powered by four jet engines housed inside its wings, it looked like the future. Its cruising speed of 460 miles per hour beat its propeller-driven competitors, like the Douglas DC-6, by nearly fifty percent. And its pressurized cabin let it soar through the sky at 35,000 feet, high above storms and turbulence, giving passengers a smooth, comfortable ride.
For all its innovations, though, there was one thing about the Comet, as originally designed, that was utterly conventional.
It had square windows…[ ]