Arguably the most prolific of British
aircraft manufacturers, the de Havilland Aircraft Company
Ltd is also recognised as one of the most innovative. From
one of the
most successful families of light aircraft in the inter-war
years through to research into guided weapons systems
in the 1960s, there are few nations in the world that haven't
been influenced by de Havilland in the field of aeronautics.
company's founder, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, knighted for
his services to British Aviation in 1944, was mechanically
minded and a keen engineer in his youth. In 1910, Geoffrey
constructed and flew his first successful airplane. Due
to its merits, this machine was purchased by the War Office
for £400 a year later. The money earned was used by
de Havilland to obtain Royal Aero Club Certificate No.53.
Employment by the government run H.M. Balloon Factory at
Farnborough, Hampshire, as designer/pilot soon followed,
along with a number of innovative aircraft built for the
military. After three years of inspiring work, the young
engineer became Chief Designer with the Aircraft Manufacturing
Company Ltd, or Airco in 1914, where he designed some of
the most significant warplanes used by the Allies over the
next four years. Successful designs included the outstanding
D.H.4 light bomber and derivative, the
D.H.9, both of which saw widespread use post-war as
civilian transports. It was a converted D.H.4 that flew
the world's first scheduled international passenger flight,
between Hounslow, England and Le Bourget, France in 1919.
After the end of the war, de Havilland established his
own manufacturing firm at Stag Lane, Edgware; by 1921 the
de Havilland Aircraft Company Ltd operated its own airplane
hire service and flying school. 1921 also saw employment
of designer R. E. Bishop, a talented engineer responsible
for several generations of fine de Havilland products.
By far the best-known de Havilland machines of the period
were the 'Moth' family;
the first to appear was the D.H.60
Moth in 1925. With the founder of the firm being a keen
lepidopterist, a generation of light planes was named after
species of moths; by far the most recognized was the D.H.82A
Tiger Moth primary trainer. By the end of the 1930s
there were few places in the world that had not been overflown
by a de Havilland Moth of one type or another.
The DH.60 and
its siblings were mostly powered by derivatives of the Gipsy
in-line motor, renowned the world over for its reliability.
Built by gifted engineer Frank Halford, formerly of the
Aircraft Disposal Company (Airdisco), Halford's work for
de Havilland saw him produce one of Britain's first gas
turbine engines, the Halford H.1, renamed the de Havilland
Goblin. This engine was the powerplant of Britain's second
jet fighter, the
D.H.100 Vampire, and the prototype of the first American
jet to see service, the Lockheed
P-80 Shooting Star.
However, when the rest of the world was turning to all
metal aircraft structures in the early 1930s, de Havilland's
innovative use of wood gained them respect. The 1934 MacRobertson
England-to-Australia air race won acclaim for the American
aircraft industry with the entry of two all-metal airliners;
Col. Roscoe Turner's Boeing 247 and the KLM Royal Dutch
Airlines DC-2 'Uiver'. The winner was a purpose built racing
plane of wooden construction, the sleek de Havilland D.H.88
Comet 'Grosvenor House'. These impressive machines failed
to sell in the commercial sector, but their wooden monocoque
construction went into the controversial, but successful,
D.H.98 Mosquito fighter-bomber.
Built in complete secrecy in 1940, the Mosquito was a maverick
in concept, and the establishment was initially adamant
about the machine's abilities. The 'high speed unarmed bomber'
concept eventually won supporters and the Mosquito was in
demand by all the air commands of the British armed forces.
R. E. Bishop's 'Wooden
Wonder' was eventually pressed into service carrying
out virtually every task expected of aircraft in wartime.
By mid 1943, the high-pitched whine of gas turbine spools
winding up was echoing through de Havilland test centers,
as by the end of September that year, the Spider Crab jet
fighter had flown for the first time. Renamed 'Vampire',
the introduction of the little machine into service in 1946
meant de Havilland became a major supplier of military equipment
to the world. The construction of the Vampire and Venom
relied on de Havilland's continuing use of wooden manufacturing
techniques, the forward fuselage ahead of the engine was
made of the same materials as those used in the Mosquito.
It was in the airline industry that de Havilland was generating
publicity, however. In 1949, the D.H.106
Comet heralded in the jet age as the first jet powered
passenger aircraft, thus securing the British industry as
world leaders. But disaster struck with a series of crashes
of British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Comet 1s,
from which the Comet and the British civil aircraft industry
never recovered. The effects of metal fatigue from high
pressurization rates in the fuselages of these pioneering
airliners were literally blowing them apart. In spite of
the negative effect on the company and the industry, the
Comet crashes brought new levels of crash investigation
and flight safety testing into the aircraft industry.
Behind closed doors, the de Havilland Propellers division
was carrying out research into rocketry and guided missiles,
which included building the first effective British infra-red,
heat seeking, air-to-air missile the Fire Streak. Based
on the Convair Atlas ICBM, de Havilland propellers were
also responsible for the Blue Streak rocket, Britain's own
nuclear missile. Although cancelled in 1960 as a weapon,
the technology went into providing Europe with an unsuccessful
indigenous satellite launcher. The Blue Streak, first stage
of the Europa rocket, performed flawlessly with every flight
and bears the distinction of being the only rocket to have
a 100% success rate in test firing.
With a realization that the British airspace industry fielded
too many independent companies for its needs, the government
instigated a merger of these firms and formed the British
Aircraft Corporation and Hawker Siddeley in 1960, the latter
incorporating de Havilland. Current de Havilland products
came under the Hawker Siddeley banner and the famous 'DH'
disappeared from the British aircraft manufacturing industry
Due to a worldwide interest in vintage and classic aircraft,
the de Havilland name still flies proudly in many countries
today. Hosts of better-than-new D.H.
Fox, Gipsy, Hornet, Leopard and Tiger Moths are pampered
by their owners and can be seen at fly-ins and air events
across the globe, evoking nostalgia from when 'DH' ruled
over the world of aviation.