The de Havilland Aircraft Company was formed in late 1920 and in short order became one of the more prolific and innovative aircraft companies in history.
Geoffrey de Havilland was born in 1882 and by his late teens had a strong interest in mechanical things, in particular flying machines. In 1909 Geoffrey designed his first aircraft, and with the help of his brother-in-law, constructed the first de Havilland craft. The first example broke a wing on takeoff, but the second version, completed in 1910, was successful. This aircraft was later bought for £400 by the War Office.
De Havilland's first job "in the industry" was as an aircraft designer at His Majesty's Balloon Factory, and produced a number of innovative aircraft for them. Only a month before the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, de Havilland left H.M. Balloon Factory for the Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Airco), where he became the Chief Designer. At Airco de Havilland produced his first major success: The DH-4, a two-seat light bomber that first flew in 1916. The DH-4 was agile and swift, out-running most fighters of its day at its top speed of 143 miles per hour (230 kmh). In 1917 when the United States entered the war, they purchased a licence to build the DH-4 and produced nearly 5,000 of them. After the war the US DH-4's carried mail, and some also ferried passengers. They remained in service right into the 1920's.
After the war, in 1918, war aircraft were no longer needed and this brought a sharp end to most production for Airco, taking the value of the company with it. Geoffrey de Havilland purchased Airco and renamed it the de Havilland Aircraft Company, incorporated in September 1920.
By 1921 de Havilland was operating its own flight school, and also overhauled existing aircraft, while slowly producing designs of its own.
Often the most recognised of de Havilland aircraft is its superb Moth
line, beginning in 1925 with the Gypsy Moth
. This aircraft was ushered in with the design of a new engine by de Havilland's most recent designer, Frank Halford
Halford's Gypsy engine
was simple, yet extremely robust, and proved to be one of the most reliable engines of its type for many years to come. The Moth line was a group of biplanes
all powered by Gypsy engines, renowned for, much like the engine, their simplicity and reliability. The line consisted of the Gypsy Moth
, Giant Moth
, Hawk Moth
, Puss Moth
, Swallow Moth
, Tiger Moth
, Fox Moth
, Leopard Moth
and Hornet Moth
. Without a doubt the most mass produced aircraft of the era, there are still many Tiger Moth
s flying by aviation enthusiasts
across the world.
As the rest of the world's aircraft manufacturers were turning to metal in the use of aircraft construction in the 1930s, de Havilland still focussed on wood. The 1934 MacRobertson England-to-Australia race was to prove that a wood based aircraft were hardly a figment of the past.
Such entries in the race included a Boeing 247 all-metal airliner, and a Douglas DC-2. De Havilland produced the DH88 Comet Racer, with a narrow streamlined fuselage, long eliptical wings and twin Gypsy Six engines. The Comet Racer was made entirely from plywood with a stressed fabric skin covering. The DH88, 'Grosvenor House', won by some 19 hours out of a field of 37 competitors.
As World War II was looming de Havilland used its experience in the streamlined wooden DH88 to produce the DH98 Mosquito light attack/bomber. Powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, and completely produced from wood, the Mosquito began its life being lambasted by de Havillands opponents, suggesting an all-wooden aircraft was truly a flying coffin. The Mosquito went on to have an extremely successful career as one of the fastest aircraft in the war.
The de Havilland Aircraft Company was a pioneer in the introduction of the jet also, producing the DH100 Vampire, and later DH112 Venom. Both aircraft were largely made of aluminium, with some wooden sections, powered by de Havilland Goblin axial turbine engines. Vampires and Venoms were delivered to military forces across the world, becoming the first mass-produced international jet fighters.
Again, in 1952, de Havilland was at the forefront of aircraft production with the DH106 Comet, named from its 1934 MacRobertson race winner. The Comet was an all aluminium streamlined airliner, powered by four de Havilland Ghost engines, the Comet flew at an unrivalled 480 mph, was extremely quiet compared to other airliners, and was looked upon as a very attractive aircraft. Test flown in 1949, the Comet entered service in 1952 as the worlds first jet airliner. Unfortunately being the first in its field, the Comet was to be the first to discover the stresses that high-speed, high-altitude long range flights produced. During 1954 two Comets broke up in mid-air, and the entire fleet was grounded. The de Havilland Comet was redesigned, larger and stronger, as the Comet 4 in 1958, but by this time it was too late - Boeing's 707 and Douglas' DC-8 had taken over the skies, and there was no place left for de Havilland.
De Havilland was merged, along with numerous other British aircaft manufacturers, into the British Aircraft Company (BAC) and Hawker Siddeley in 1960. No other aircraft was to carry the DH emblem again.
Geoffrey de Havilland died in 1965, once a true pioneer of the aviation sector, in the later years of his company he simply couldn't compete with the American aircraft industry.