18/05/2012 03:55 BST | Updated 18/05/2012 04:07 BST

100 Years Of Innovation: The Jet Airliner

Air travel has come a long way since Wright brothers stunned the world with their plane in 1903.

Less than 60 years later, the Boeing 707 took off on its maiden flight in 1958, thus beginning 50 years of service. Now, jumbo jets can accommodate up to 850 people and the Boeing 747 fleet has flown 3.5 billion people, more than half of the world’s population.

The jet airliner was an industry revolution and transformed air travel from an exclusive adventure only available to the elite to a convenient and widely accessible method of transport for the middle classes.

Jet-engined aircraft could travel much faster and fly higher than the traditional piston-engined planes. How much faster? Well, when the 36-seat De Havilland Comet 1 – the world’s first commercial jet airliner - flew on its inaugural journey from London to Johannesburg, it was capable of flying an incredible 300mph faster than the equivalent piston-engined plane at 480mph. This wasn’t the only benefit the Comet had to offer either; it was much quieter and vibration-free.

However, a series of crashes attributed to metal fatigue stunted the Comet’s fledgling career and sales plummeted. Cue the Boeing 707 picking up the baton and going on to become the first commercially successful jet airliner, with up to 43 models reportedly still in service on military and cargo company fleets. John Travolta even owns an original 707, painted in the original Qantas livery it would have worn whilst in service.

Thanks to Sir Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine, we can now board a plane in London and touchdown in Sydney in less than a day. Compare that with the 14 hours plus it takes to drive one way from London to Land's End and it suddenly becomes an incredible feat of engineering.