Geoffrey De Havilland 

Name: Geoffrey De Havilland
Nationality: British
Date of Birth: July 27, 1882
Place of Birth: Buckingham, England
Date of Death: May 21, 1965

Geoffrey De Havilland constructed his first machine in 1909 without having seen an airplane in flight. He taught himself to fly through the process of trial and error. Since his early trials on the meadows at Seven Barrows, De Havilland designed more than fifty aircraft. Notable among these were the DH-2 fighter, and the DH-4 light bomber which saw worldwide service and played a major role in the establishment of the U.S. Air Mail.

When Geoffrey de Havilland began designing his own aircraft he was convinced that there was no suitable engine so he decided to design that too. He began to construct the aeroplane at a workshop in Bothwell Street , Fulham, while the engine was built by the Iris Car Company at its Willesden factory for £220.

During a visit to his family at Crux Easton, Hampshire, Geoffrey discovered that J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon (later Lord Brabazon of Tara), another aviation pioneer, had decided not to use two sheds three miles away at Seven Barrows on Lord Carnarvon’s estate. He inspected them in August 1909 and acquired them for £150. Lord Carnarvon, famous later for funding the Tutankhamun expedition, gave his permission to fly from his land.

The aeroplane was finished at Fulham by November 1909 and was transported to Seven Barrows. Problems prevented flying for some weeks and eventually, frustrated, Geoffrey forced the machine into the air, only for it to rise too quickly and collapse. Frank Hearle and Hereward de Havilland rushed to the wreckage and found Geoffrey unhurt. Undeterred they loaded the remains onto a lorry and returned to Fulham.

Only the engine was salvaged but by the summer of 1910 the team was back at Seven Barrows with a new aeroplane. After taxiing trials Geoffrey gradually coaxed the machine into the air. He had no experience of flight and so he had to learn very quickly “on the job”. Indeed de Havilland had only seen one aeroplane in flight when Claude Grahame-White, who later owned Hendon Aerodrome, competed for the £10,000 London to Manchester prize. Gradually, however, he acquired experience and confidence so that by November he considered himself an experienced pilot.

Although de Havilland had built an aeroplane neither he nor Frank Hearle, who was his brother-in-law and had helped to build it, had jobs. On the suggestion of a friend Geoffrey approached Mervyn O’Gorman, Superintendent of the Balloon Factory at Farnborough, with a view to selling his aeroplane to the Army. Just before Christmas the War Office agreed to the purchase and to employ de Havilland with Hearle as his mechanic.

The FE.1 was purchased by the War Office for £400. The Balloon Factory had a system of naming aircraft types after aviation pioneers; FE for Farman Experimental, BE for Bleriot and SE for Santos Dumont.

Geoffrey was soon at work, his role being that of both designer and test pilot. The first design he produced for the factory was the FE.2 which proved to be successful. The next was the SE.1, a canard (where the wings are at the back), but the design proved unstable and difficult to fly. Geoffrey de Havilland succeeded in flying it in June but realised that it was unsafe. In August 1911 it crashed, killing the pilot, Lt T J Ridge, who was the Assistant Superintendent of the factory.

The BE.1 was supposedly a reconstruction of a Voisin which had been given to the War Office by the Duke of Westminster but only the engine was reused. When that was replaced with a renault engine it acquired the nickname "the silent aeroplane".

The BE.1 used a Wolseley engine salvaged from a Voisin. The completed aeroplane first flew on 27 December and soon had made many flights with passengers, been equipped with wireless and had even flown at night. The original engine was replaced with an air-cooled Renault. On 11 March 1912 it was handed over to the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers and continued to be of use until 1916.

The BE.2 was the forerunner of one of the most famous aircraft of World War One. It first flew on 1 February 1912 and de Havilland quickly recognised it to be better than the BE.1. In March it was used for wireless experiments and in May flown as a floatplane from Fleet Pond. It was used later as a benchmark against which to judge other aircraft. The BE.3 and BE.4 were similar but with different engines. The BE.5 and BE.6 were built to the same design as BE.2.

The Airco factory from the west. Geoffrey de Havilland’s office was in the building on the left which still stands on Edgware Road opposite Colindale Avenue.

In order to encourage designers the Military Aeroplane Competition was announced in December 1911. Twenty one companies from Britain , France , Germany and Austria submitted a total of 32 aircraft. Not all competed in the trials held during August 1912, but those that did were judged against the BE.2 which was ineligible for any prizes. Only the Maurice Farman entry for the competition was put into quantity production for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) as the Farman Longhorn. During the trials Geoffrey de Havilland established a new British altitude record of 10,500 feet (3,199m).

The success of the BE.2 against its competitors led to it being put into production for the RFC. Its construction was put out to contract and it was built by many private companies stimulating the expansion of the British aircraft industry.

1913 was a year of consolidation and further experimentation. The year also saw de Havilland’s first “flying crash worthy of that name”. The BS.1, also known as the SE.2, first flew in March. It was fast for its time, achieving a speed of 91.7 mph (147.5 Kph), and was one of the first single-seat scouts. Unfortunately its rudder was too small and de Havilland crashed while trying to recover from a spin. The design was modified and flown again in October. After further modification it saw service with the RFC including wartime use in France , before being wrecked by bombs. Later in 1913 de Havilland designed another FE.2. This was supposed to be a rebuild of the earlier aircraft but had a new fuselage, wings, tail and engine. This aircraft crashed in 1914.

The results of research work at Farnborough were generously made available to aircraft manufacturers. Despite this the factory received criticism in the aviation press but in reality its work and results underpinned the growth of the British aircraft industry in the years leading to the First World War.

de Havilland’s role in the Factory changed in January 1914. A team of designers and engineers had been formed and additional pilots undertook test flying. He was moved to the Aeronautical Inspection Department as Inspector of Aeroplanes under the Chief Inspector, Major J.D.B. Fulton. His task was to examine and fly all new aircraft types to ensure their safety and suitability. This job was not to de Havilland’s liking as he wanted to continue designing aircraft.

The Aircraft Company was founded in 1911 to sell and maintain Farman aircraft at Hendon. It was later renamed The Aircraft Manufacturing Company. Its founder, George Holt Thomas, was a business man without engineering knowledge. He first met de Havilland at Farnborough when the latter was becoming dissatisfied with his job. Agreement was soon reached that Holt Thomas’ company should start manufacturing de Havilland-designed aircraft. In 1914 Geoffrey moved to Edgware and started work at the Airco factory at the Hyde, Hendon.

When World War One began in 1914 de Havilland was a Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps Reserve. He was called up but was fit only for home duties because of the effects of a flying accident. He served briefly at Montrose in Scotland , flying Bleriot monoplanes on anti-submarine patrols from Aberdeen to the Firth of Forth. The War Office realised, fortunately, that he was of more use designing aeroplanes so he was recalled to London and promoted to Captain.

Once back at Airco de Havilland started designing aircraft. They began to be called de Havillands and to carry type numbers prefixed by DH. No one remembers how the DH numbers came into being, but they stuck and everyone used them.

Designs included single and two-seat fighters, single and twin-engined bombers. de Havilland received a royalty for each one produced by Airco. Such was the size of the orders, however, that many were manufactured by other companies and were even built in the United States , Canada and Spain .

DH.9 bombers under construction in the Airco factory. It was intended that the type would replace the successful DH.4 but it had an inferior performance. Despite this the type saw extensive service with the RAF.

One of the most famous DH types of World War One was not actually designed by de Havilland. Airco was busy with other projects when it was decided to fit the Liberty engine to the DH. 9 so the work was given to Westland Aircraft at Yeovil, Somerset. With assistance from John Johnson of the Airco drawing office they produced the DH.9a. The type became the standard RAF day bomber and remained in service until 1931.

The DH.5 was designed to combine visibility and performance. The type was not as successful in combat as the DH.2 but gave valuable service in the ground-attack role and at training units.

The Armistice brought the cancellation of production contracts throughout the aircraft industry, but de Havilland had the foresight to look to civil aviation. A number of DH.4 and DH.9 aircraft were modified to carry passengers and freight. de Havilland also designed the DH.16 which was based on DH.9a components. These aircraft were supplied to the fledgling airline industry and also used to fly delegates to the peace conference at Versailles .

This amount of work, however, could not sustain a company of the size of Airco and eventually Holt Thomas sold it to Birmingham Small Arms (BSA). BSA only wanted the buildings, however, and were not interested in aircraft so de Havilland decided that his best course was to form his own company.

The DH.9a was used by the Royal Air Force and Auxiliary Air Force around the world. This example is shown serving with No. 47 Squadron in Iraq in 1926. Over 2000 were built by Airco, de Havilland and other contractors.

When Geoffrey de Havilland left Airco George Holt Thomas, his former employer, invested £10,000 towards the formation of a new company. de Havilland contributed £3,000 himself, found £1,000 elsewhere and registered the de Havilland Aircraft Company on 25 September 1920 . He leased the former London & Provincial Flying School site at Stag Lane , near Edgware, for his factory.

Many of de Havilland’s friends and colleagues joined him in the new company. Geoffrey looked after design with Frank Hearle as Works Manager. Charles Clement Walker was Chief of Aerodynamics & Stressing and Arthur Ernest Hagg was Head of the Drawing Office. Francis E.N. St Barbe was Business & Sales Manager and Wilfred E. Nixon was Company Secretary. The first task at Stag Lane was to complete work on the DH.18 airliner, a project which had begun at Airco.

It was decided that the company should concentrate on civil aircraft for the growing airline market. There was, as yet, no real market for privately owned aircraft. In 1921, however, the company was approached by Alan Samuel Butler who wanted a new aeroplane built for him. This was a turning point for de Havilland as Butler invested heavily in the company and by 1924 was its chairman.

While working at Farnborough de Havilland had not entered competitions but for the 1923 Lympne Aeroplane Trials he produced the DH.53 Humming Bird single-seat monoplane. It was the most practical aeroplane there, though its performance was restricted by the competition rules. It was later modified and became a practical tourer.

Alan Cobham used the second DH.50, shown here, to cover 62,000 miles (99,758 Km) on long-distance flights. He is seen with his mechanic (A.B. Elliott on right) at Hinaidi while taking Sir Sefton Brancker (left) to a conference in Rangoon, 1924.

de Havilland had produced a number of designs to meet Air Ministry requirements for the RAF, but in most cases he felt they were asking for the wrong type or requested modifications rendering the design ineffective. The same was true with light aircraft competitions which encouraged the production of underpowered aeroplanes.

At the same time as the Humming Bird was constructed the company built the DH.51 three-seat touring biplane. There were problems, however, with the modified RAF 1a engine. Frank Bernard Halford had designed the Airdisco Cirrus engine using World War One engine components. It was fitted in a compact two-seat biplane and the combination became the DH.60 Cirrus Moth. It was first flown by Geoffrey de Havilland on 22 February 1925 and was an instant success with private aviators and the Air Ministry alike. No other civil aircraft had a production run of similar size at that time. It was built in Australia and Finland and exported world-wide.

The Cirrus Moth was a victim of its own success as the supply of war surplus engine components for the Cirrus dried up. In 1926 Halford was requested to design a new engine which became the de Havilland Gipsy. A small monoplane, the de Havilland DH.71 Tiger Moth, was built to test it. The aircraft was first flown in 1927 by Hubert Broad and quickly started breaking records. In 1928 the Gipsy engine was installed in a DH.60 Moth and it quickly gained popularity; victory in the King’s Cup Air Race the same year helped publicity. The Gipsy Moth combined low price and practicality. It became one of the most famous aircraft of all time.

Numerous records were broken and many outstanding feats achieved. At the end of 1929 production was three per day with more being built in the USA and France . The original had a wooden structure but a later version was made of steel tube. This was nicknamed the Metal Moth and again was sold world-wide.

The Gipsy Moth was used widely by flying clubs. This is a typical scene at Brooklands in June 1933. Far more people could now afford to learn to fly and aviation became a popular hobby.

When the Gipsy engine was inverted to become the Gipsy III it was fitted in a modified wooden Gipsy Moth airframe. When the engine was improved to become the Gipsy Major this aircraft was named the Moth Major. The engine/fuselage combination continued to be produced during World War Two and formed part of the Queen Bee radio-controlled target aircraft.

The Gipsy Moth was re-designed in 1931 to meet an Air Ministry specification for a trainer for the RAF. The new aircraft combined several features from previous members of the Moth family and re-used the name of an earlier aircraft. It became one of the most famous aircraft of all time, the DH.82 Tiger Moth.

As de Havilland and his wife were getting tired of flying in aircraft with open cockpits he designed a range of touring aircraft with enclosed cockpits. These included the Puss Moth, Leopard Moth and Hornet Moth. They were not as cheap as the Gipsy Moth but provided a higher level of comfort.

The number of aircraft produced and encroachment by housing meant that the company could not continue at Stag Lane . In 1932 the factory moved to new premises at Hatfield, Hertfordshire. The Stag Lane airfield was officially closed in 1934 but the factory was retained for the production of engines.

The success of the Moth put too much pressure on the factory at Stag Lane . The area was becoming enclosed by the expanding London suburbs. A new site was needed and after careful searching land was purchased at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, in 1930. Farm land was also acquired to prevent encroachment by housing. By 1932 production had moved to the new factory. In January 1934 a Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) announced the closure of Stag Lane but it was not until 28 July that de Havilland took off in a Hornet Moth in the last flight from the airfield.

The DH.86 was designed for safety when flying over water. It was powered by four Gipsy Six engines, a six-cylinder development of the Gipsy Major. Jersey Airlines used them to fly from Jersey to Heston, where these passengers are boarding.

The company did not concentrate exclusively on private aircraft. The success of the Fox Moth single-engined airliner prompted requests for larger aircraft which developed into a series of multi-engined biplane passenger carriers. The first, the Dragon, was powered by two Gipsy Major engines. It was originally designed for the Iraqi Air Force but found popularity with airlines world wide. The four-engined DH.86 was used by Qantas, Imperial Airways and other airlines on routes over water. The Dragon Rapide, later known simply as the Rapide, was a smaller version of the DH.86. It was one of the most successful airliners and powered by two Gipsy Six engines. It made its maiden flight at Hatfield on 17 April 1934 , one of the first aircraft to do so, and remained in production until the end of World War Two. The last of the twin-engined biplanes, the Dragonfly, was designed for luxury touring and expected to appeal to the rich. It too, however, was adopted by airlines which appreciated its qualities and bought many examples.

As time passed de Havilland’s role within the company had changed. His age and the complexity of modern aircraft meant that he could no longer do as much test flying as he had and that aircraft design had to be handled by a large team.

Comet Racer

In 1934 the first Comet racer flew only six weeks before the start of the MacRobertson race from London to Australia . Arthur Hagg, the Chief Designer, had developed a new method of wooden construction which produced a strong, light aircraft. Three were entered in the race, one of which was the winner. Two more were built later; one as a high-speed mailplane and the other for record breaking.

The success of the American airliners in the MacRobertson race made de Havilland realise that the airline market was changing. He was able to get backing from the Air Ministry for the construction of two Albatross high-speed experimental transatlantic mailplanes. Halford designed the Gipsy Twelve engine and four were used in the new aircraft. Construction was similar to the Comet racer. The type first flew in 1937 and entered airline service in 1938. Few were built, but the sleek design represented the pinnacle of British wooden aircraft design to date.

For the Flamingo twin-engined airliner R.E. Bishop employed a type of construction, stressed metal skin, which de Havilland had never previously used. It was ordered by airlines and the RAF. It entered service with the RAF and British Overseas Airways Corporation during World War Two.

This Tiger Moth was built by de Havilland before production was transferred to Morris Motors. It also served at No.1 EFTS which had been the de Havilland School of Flying. Thousands of military and civil pilots gained their wings on this aircraft type.

At the start of the Second World War the de Havilland company was building Tiger Moths, Rapides and Airspeed Oxfords for the RAF. In addition all other aircraft completed were requisitioned for use as transports or training aircraft. In 1940 de Havilland acquired the Airspeed company and the design offices were merged.

Although none of de Havilland’s warplane designs of the 1920s and 1930s had been successful the company proposed a wooden, high-speed bomber, trading defensive armament for speed. The Air Ministry doubted the ability of the company to produce such a machine, but support came from Sir Wilfred Freeman, Air Council Member for Research, Development & Production.

The design group moved from Hatfield to Salisbury Hall, near St Albans , and began detailed work under the supervision of Bishop. The prototype was built in great secrecy and when completed taken to Hatfield for its maiden flight. The Mosquito was first flown by Geoffrey de Havilland junior on 25 November 1940 and entered RAF service in 1941.

The Merlin engines of a Mosquito being serviced. The Mosquito was one of the fastest piston-engined aircraft to serve with any air force during World War Two. It relied on speed instead of guns to avoid being attacked.

Its first use was for photographic reconnaissance but eventually it saw service as an airliner, day fighter, night fighter, intruder, anti-shipping fighter, bomber and target tug. It was one of the safest, fastest and most versatile aircraft of the war. Its production so dominated Hatfield that all other work was transferred to sub-contractors. Morris Motors produced Tiger Moths at its Cowley car factory near Oxford and Rapide production was transferred to Brush Coachworks at Loughborough, Leicestershire. Even so capacity at Hatfield was limited. A second Mosquito assembly line was established at Leavesden, Hertfordshire, with the first being delivered in May 1942. Mosquitos were also built by Standard Motors at Coventry , Percival Aircraft at Luton , Bedfordshire, and Airspeed at Christchurch , Hampshire.

Although the de Havilland company concentrated its efforts on the Mosquito, constantly improving it, new designs continued to be worked up. None, however, saw service until after 1945.

During World War Two the jet engine was developed in great secrecy by Frank Whittle. Geoffrey de Havilland and Frank Halford were among a select group invited to see the first aircraft to which it was fitted, the Gloster E.28/39, fly at RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire . The aircraft had been designed by a former DH designer, George Carter. Halford was enthusiastic about the new engine and began work on one for the de Havilland Engine Co while Bishop began work on a new aircraft.

A DH.103 Hornet in flight, June 1945. In July 1944 Geoffrey de Havilland junior flew the Hornet for the first time. It was designed for use in the Far East but it did not enter service before the end of the war.

The Rover Car Company had been given the contract to produce jet engines at Barnoldswick, Lancashire , for the Gloster Meteor. There were problems with these engines, however, and so the Meteor made its first flight on 5 March 1943 powered by two Halford H.1 jet engines. This engine was developed to form the Goblin.

On 29 September 1943 the DH.100, powered by the Goblin, was flown for the first time by Geoffrey de Havilland Jnr. It was originally known as the Spidercrab but was renamed Vampire. Production was contracted to English Electric at Preston , Lancashire , and the first production aircraft flew on 20 April 1945 . It did not enter service, however, until after the war.

In July 1944 Geoffrey de Havilland Jnr flew the Hornet for the first time. It was a small single-seat, twin-engined fighter of composite wood and metal construction for use in the Far East . Its performance was outstanding and production began late in 1944, but it did not enter service before the end of the war.

Military aircraft production continued after World War Two despite Tiger Moth production ending in 1945 and Rapide production in 1946. Some Mosquito orders were cancelled in 1945 but Hornet and Vampire orders replaced them. The Hornet was the fastest and last piston-engined fighter to enter RAF service. It was operated in the Far East against terrorists in Malaya . The Vampire also saw action in the Far East and undertook a number of notable flights, including the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a jet fighter in May 1948.

The Vampire, and its successor, the Venom, were major successes. They were exported and built under licence world wide. They served as day and night fighters, on land and from ships. Sea Venoms of the Royal Navy were used during the Suez campaign of 1956 to attack Egyptian airfields. Many of these aircraft were produced at the former Airspeed factory in Christchurch , Hampshire.

On 26 September 1951 the DH.110 was flown by John Cunningham on its maiden flight. In 1952 he exceeded Mach 1 in the type. Tragedy occurred, however, when the first prototype broke-up during the 1952 SBAC Show at Farnborough, Hampshire. John Derry and his observer, Tony Richards, were killed along with 28 spectators, 63 being injured by wreckage.

The second prototype DH.110 which first flew in July 1952. The type was not adopted by the RAF but eventually entered service with the Royal Navy in 1960 as the Sea Vixen.

The DH.110 was similar in layout to the earlier Vampire and Venom but had swept wings, was powered by two Rolls Royce Avon turbojets and had a crew of two. It was originally designed as an all-weather fighter for the RAF but the Gloster Javelin was put into production instead. The DH.110 was modified and entered service with the Royal Navy as the Sea Vixen, replacing the Sea Venom, with a performance far in excess of its predecessor.

In 1946 the Canadian subsidiary of de Havilland designed and built a replacement for the Tiger Moth. The Chipmunk was an all-metal monoplane and was chosen by the RAF in 1948 as its basic trainer. Over 1000 were built at Hatfield and Hawarden, near Chester , for the RAF and overseas users.

The third DH.108. John Derry proved the capabilities of this aircraft by exceeding Mach 1 in a dive from 40,000 feet (12,187 metres) on 9 September 1948. The aircraft was later transferred to the Royal Aircraft Establishment.

The DH.108 was a small tailless jet aircraft based on a Vampire fuselage with a single fin and swept wings. It was used for research and provided valuable information for the Comet airliner and DH.110. Three different aircraft were built. The first was designed to test the performance of the swept wing configuration at low speed. The designers built in a number of safety features as a precautionary measure, but the aircraft performed as expected and was used in mock dogfights with Mosquito aircraft. The second was intended for high-speed research but broke up in flight near Gravesend , Kent , killing Geoffrey de Havilland Jnr. The third aircraft flew faster than the speed of sound and thus was the first British aircraft to do so.

The de Havilland company did not concentrate solely on military aircraft. In 1944 a committee, chaired by Lord Brabazon of Tara , proposed airliner types for post-war production. Two of de Havilland’s most famous designs were built to the Committee’s specifications.

The Dove was designed as a replacement for the Rapide. It quickly gained popularity with airlines, so much so that production was moved from Hatfield to Hawarden to devote more space to it. It was also used as a business aircraft to move company executives or high value parts around Britain and Europe , independent of airline schedules. The RAF version was called the Devon .

The prototype Comet in the markings of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. It made its maiden flight on 27 July 1949 with John Cunningham at the controls.

The de Havilland design for a transatlantic mailplane was far more advanced than planned by the Brabazon Committee. The Comet was the first airliner powered by four turbojet engines. It was delivered to British Overseas Airways Corporation and began passenger services on 2 May 1952 between London and Johannesburg in South Africa . It was in advance of anything available to other airlines but its lead was short-lived. There were two fatal accidents in 1953 and another in January 1954. The whole fleet was grounded until the results of the investigations were known. The crash investigation tests provided much valuable information which was incorporated into later designs.

The Comet 2 was operated by BOAC and the RAF, providing rapid transport to all parts of the British Commonwealth . The Comet 4 was the main version to enter airline service and was employed on the first turbojet airline service across the Atlantic between London and New York . They were also operated by the RAF. The Comet never regained its lead in the jet transport market. Delays in production and its tarnished reputation led to orders being placed with American companies.

The company built a larger version of the Dove, the Heron, for use by airlines. It had four Gipsy Queen engines and was ruggedly constructed. It was a post-war equivalent of the DH.86 and saw widespread service with airlines and as a luxury private aircraft, a role in which it served with the Queen’s Flight RAF and the Royal Navy.

In due course a replacement was sought for the Dove and design work started on the Jet Dragon. It was not completed before de Havilland was absorbed into the Hawker Siddeley Group. A mock-up was made in 1961 and an initial production batch started using the type number, DH.125.

In 1956 British European Airways issued a specification for a shorthaul turbojet and the D.H.121 was designed to meet this specification. It was ordered into production in 1959. Design work had been undertaken by a consortium of de Havilland, Fairey and Hunting under the old name of Airco. In 1960, however, the take-over by Hawker Siddeley saw the disbandment of the Airco team and the type eventually emerged as the Hawker Siddeley Trident.

Although the de Havilland company was one of the most successful, the British aircraft industry had to compete world wide against a background of rising development costs. The British government was also seeking a consolidation of the aircraft industry into a smaller number of large companies.

The Hawker Siddeley Group, founded by Sir Thomas Sopwith, was successful in bidding for the de Havilland Group and acquired it in January 1960. A re-organisation came into effect on 1 July 1963 and the company became the de Havilland Division of Hawker Siddeley Aviation Ltd.