The story

De Havilland Builds Plane - History

In 1909 Geoffrey De Havilland built his first aircraft. The plane was a single seater with two pusher propellers. It was powered by a 45 hp engine also designed by De Havilland.

How The De Havilland Comet Kickstarted The Jet Age

Next year will mark seven decades of commercial jet travel. The de Havilland DH.106 Comet entered service with BOAC on May 2nd, 1952, and went on to revolutionize the whole aviation market. There were great expectations with the plane, and even though the program wouldn’t last so long, it helped pave the way for a new age in the aviation industry.

De Havilland Builds Plane - History

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 58 seconds.

One minute after midnight on June 1, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. officially emerged as the operator of the Dash 8 turboprop program, marking an historic moment in Canadian aviation history.

On July 26, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited and Ethiopian Airlines celebrated the delivery of the 600th Dash 8-400 aircraft produced at the Toronto facility. The aircraft type was formerly known as the Bombardier Q400. Andy Cline Photo

Victoria-based Longview Aviation Capital Corp., through an affiliate, announced last November that it would be acquiring the Dash 8 program from Montreal-based Bombardier Inc.

Longview’s affiliate subsequently disclosed its trade name: De Havilland. While the historic brand has a lower-case “d,” the relaunch went with an upper-case “D” – attention to detail that Toronto-based De Havilland wants to showcase as part of its broader efforts to promote Dash 8s.

What had been called the Bombardier Q400 is now known as the Dash 8-400, said Todd Young, De Havilland’s chief operating officer and former general manager of Bombardier’s regional Q Series program.

“Our prime focus right now is business continuity and stabilization because 1,200 people have been transferred from Bombardier to De Havilland,” said Young in an interview from his office at the production facility for the Dash 8-400 at the Downsview site in Toronto.

The transaction resulted in gross proceeds of $300 million for Bombardier.

Boeing Co. bought the original de Havilland in 1986 from the Canadian government. Boeing then sold it to Bombardier in 1992.

The new De Havilland is now providing after-market support for hundreds of Dash 8 turboprops still flying.

“We transferred employees at 12:01 a.m. on June 1, and we started supporting our worldwide customers. We ensured the transition was seamless to our customers and of course to our suppliers and employees,” said Young after he returned to Canada from promoting De Havilland at the Paris Air Show in June.

About 1,100 workers are based at the Downsview plant while roughly 100 employees are spread across five offices worldwide.

In Paris, Young posed for a photo with Longview chairman David Curtis and federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau to commemorate the occasion of De Havilland formally receiving the type certificates for the Dash 8 program.

“The type certificates identify who has the authority on the configuration and continuing airworthiness of that aircraft type,” said Young. “We went through an exhaustive process with Transport Canada and demonstrated that we have the skills and capability to manage the continuing airworthiness of the aircraft type. There are still in the order of 1,200 aircraft flying each and every day.”

De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited formally received the type certificates for the entire Dash 8 aircraft program, including the 100, 200 and 300 series and the in-production 400, at the 2019 Paris Air Show. From left to right are David Curtis, chairman of Longview Aviation Capital, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada’s parent company Marc Garneau, transport minister and Todd Young, chief operating officer, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited. De Havilland Aircraft Photo

No decision has been made yet about whether to revive production of the 100, 200 and 300 series, but “it is on our radar,” he said.

More than 670 of the 100, 200 and 300 series were built, starting with the 100 in 1984. Production ceased for the 100 in 2005, while the 200 and 300 ended their run in 2009.

Six hundred Dash 8-400s have been built over the past two decades, and about 50 of the planes are on the order book. The Dash 8-400, the largest plane in the series, typically ranges from 74 to 90 seats in a regional setup.

On July 26, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited and Ethiopian Airlines celebrated the delivery of a milestone Dash 8-400 aircraft. It is the 600th Dash 8-400 aircraft produced at the Toronto facility and also the 25th Dash 8-400 aircraft delivered to Ethiopian Airlines.

The current Dash 8-400 order book is enough to keep the Downsview assembly plant busy until mid-2020. Young expects to secure more orders on a regular basis to ensure the site is active until the sub-lease runs out in 2023.

Industry observers say that eventually, the sprawling Downsview property would likely be redeveloped for residential and business use.

In the meantime, talks continue with the new landlord, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, which bought the Downsview site from Bombardier in 2018.

“We would love to stay here,” said Young. “It would be fantastic to stay because there is so much history at this site, but we recognize and understand that we’re not the owners of the land.”

De Havilland has extensive contingency plans in place, in case there is a need to relocate to a different location in the Toronto region in 2023 or beyond, he said.

Longview, the parent of Viking Air Ltd., has an interesting background. Besides serving as Longview chairman, Curtis is also Viking’s president and chief executive officer.

Viking is best known for reviving production of the fabled Twin Otter in 2010. Boeing shut down manufacturing of the Twin Otter in 1988, but the rebirth captured the imagination of the aviation community. Preassembly of the Twin Otter takes place in the Victoria area, while final assembly is in Calgary.

Curtis said he is pleased help re-energize the De Havilland name as Longview envisages a healthy Dash 8 program over the long term, including in-service support.

Longview is owned by the family of Sherry Brydson, niece of the late billionaire Ken Thomson. In a news release from the Paris Air Show, De Havilland praised the vision and determination of Brydson and her husband, Rob McDonald.

Young, who worked at the original de Havilland early in his career, said he is looking forward to the years ahead.

“We’re really happy about the De Havilland brand. Our focus is to build a long and vibrant business for Longview,” he said.

9 Things You Didn’t Know about the De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver

Three DeHavilland DCH-2 Beaver floatplanes warm up at the dock.

The De Havilland Beaver has a rich history around the world. Of course, now it is a great part of Alaska’s aviation heritage. The Beaver has been a cornerstone of the sport fishing community in Bristol Bay since the first lodges and fishing outfits began in the 1950’s. We at Crystal Creek Lodge own and operate 4 De Havilland Beavers, 3 on floats, and one on bush wheels. We operate these airplanes for the Crystal Creek Lodge fly out fishing and adventure program. The DHC-2 Beaver is perfectly suited for the Alaska bush environment. The airplane boasts a design that allows for short take-offs and landings (STOL performance) as well as versatility in utility for carrying both passengers and cargo. The Beaver was designed to operate in all seasons and the majority of weather conditions, and it possesses great performance characteristics for a floatplane. Additionally, the Beaver enjoys a cult-like fan following of pilots and passengers alike. Here are 9 things that you may have not already known about the history of the DHC-2 Beaver aircraft:

Dragging a Crystal Creek Lodge Beaver floatplane up to the beach.

1. August 16th, 1947 marked the maiden flight of what would be known as the DHC-2 Beaver aircraft.

2. Nine (9) DHC-2 Beavers are still in service with the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary for search and rescue efforts.

3. A Royal New Zealand Air Force Beaver supported Sir Edmund Hillary’s expedition to the South Pole in the year 1958.

4. The DHC-2 Beaver was named one of the top ten Canadian engineering achievements of the 20th century by the Canadian Engineering Centennial Board.

5. Following the end of World War II, de Havilland’s sales director Punch Dickins conducted a research effort by interviewing and collecting feedback from active pilots to understand what they wanted in a new aircraft. For the first time in history, the origins of an aircraft would be based on information from pilots rather than fiscal data or aerodynamic research. The result was unbeatable STOL performance for an aircraft of its size.

6. The Beaver was deployed by the British Army Air Corps during the Troubles at least until 1979 for photo-reconnaissance missions. One of them was hit seven times by machine gun fire in South County Armagh, near the border with the Republic of Ireland in November 1979, while taking valuable photos of an IRA checkpoint.

7. American actor Harrison Ford has his own privately owned DHC-2 Beaver he is known for referring to it as being his favourite among his entire fleet of private aircraft

8. The US Army ordered a total of 970 DHC-2 Beavers, more than half of the overall production run for the type.

9. Despite the fact that production ceased in 1967, hundreds of Beavers are still flying—many of them heavily modified to adapt to changes in technology and needs.

Tragic accidents

Within just a year of entering service, three Comet aircraft suffered tragic accidents. The most dramatic of these saw one of the airliners break-up in mid-flight. Metal fatigue was recognized as being the cause of the issue a concept that was not fully understood at this time.

Following the accidents, the de Havilland Comet was understandably withdrawn from service, while engineers and technicians worked on its structural issues. Issues including inadequate riveting were identified, and this led to a major redesign of the aircraft.

Aircraft of Canada

Throughout an impressive 75-year history of producing various models of aircraft in Canada and for the world, has always proudly been known for its adaptability and dependability. Being responsible for creating some 3,500 aircraft—including the most advanced turboprop in the air today—our experience and expertise constructing the highest performing planes in the industry is second-to-none. Our aircraft are all manufactured in Canada at our state-of-the-art facility in Ontario and are a proud symbol of Canadian innovation and achievement.

The de Havilland Mosquito: Britain’s Super-Plane of WW2

On March 15, 1939, German ambitions and lies combined with lack of British resolve pushed Europe to the brink of war when Germany occupied what was left of Czechoslovakia. After this duplicitous move, Britain and France could no longer stand by and allow Germany to encroach on any more territory. Whereas Germany had been ominously building up its armed forces, Britain and France had done nothing, but now they were forced to scramble to design and build appropriate arms for the coming conflict.

Digging Deeper

Events unfolded too fast for France to develop any wonder weapons to rank among the best of the war, but the British aircraft industry was well on its way to supplying the Royal Air Force (RAF) with Hurricanes and Spitfires to fight off the Luftwaffe and would soon finish development of the mighty Lancaster and Halifax bombers to take the war to Germany. The titanic struggle that was World War II demanded of the best and brightest engineers that they create weapons that could be assembled easily and cheaply with available materials and yet capable of defeating the enemy. This was quite a task.

British airplane designers at the de Haviland company were given the assignment of coming up with a twin-engine, high-speed light bomber that could outfly German fighters, thus needing no escort or even defensive armament. Their solution was the Mosquito, one of the greatest and most versatile aircraft of World War II, first flown in 1940 and fielded in 1941.

Constructed of wood because supplies of aluminum and other metals were tight, the Mosquito was also equipped with the wonderful Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, the same motors that powered the Spitfire, Hurricane and Mustang (American P-51) fighters. When fitted as a bomber, the Mosquito could reach top speeds of 415 mph and thus was able to outrun German fighters. When fitted as a fighter, it could reach speeds of 366 mph and was used mainly at night against German bombers. Stripped-down versions with cameras but no guns were flown on reconnaissance missions and were the fastest planes in the sky until the Germans fielded jet aircraft.

The bomber version could carry as much as 4,000 pounds of bombs or could be outfitted with rails to fire ground attack rockets. Fitted with 4 x 20mm cannons and 4 x .303 caliber machine guns (one of the heaviest gun loads of any fighter WWII), the fighter version was well armed for blasting bombers or strafing. Some versions were made with modified engines and turbochargers to allow a service ceiling altitude of at least 37,000 feet, about 8,000 feet above the standard version. Even naval attack versions were built.

German aviators were so impressed, mighty efforts were made in Germany to copy the Mosquito, but German scientists never developed the glues necessary to create adequate plywood and keep wooden parts together. As far as glue and keeping things together were concerned, problems were experienced with Mosquitoes that had been sent to the Far East, where apparently the heat and moisture from monsoons caused the wood to delaminate.

In combat, the Mosquito proved extremely effective, with analysis showing that from a cost perspective, Mosquito bombing missions were almost 5 times as effective as those conducted in Lancasters. In other words, Mosquitoes could accomplish the same results as Lancasters at a fifth the cost. That is what we call a “Superplane!”

Nearly 8,000 Mosquitoes were built, including over 1,000 in Canada and over 200 in Australia. The RAF retired their Mosquitoes in 1950, but some other countries, such as South Africa and Israel, flew them longer. Only 2 are airworthy today.

The next time you hear people discuss the “best” airplanes of World War II, do not be surprised if you hear many nominate the Mosquito as the best all-around plane of the war.

Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite plane from World War II? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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De Havilland History

Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, founder of the de Havilland World Enterprise, one of the first global manufacturing companies, was one of Britain’s aviation pioneers. Geoffrey and his colleague, Frank Hearle had designed and built their first aircraft, powered by an engine designed by Geoffrey, and neither of them had even seen an aircraft before. The first example crashed on the initial attempt at flight in December 1909, due to instability and lack of experience by the novice pilot. The engine was salvaged and the wreck taken back to the workshop in Fulham where a more successful aircraft was constructed and flown by Geoffrey on 10 September 1910 at the remote site of Seven Barrows near Newbury. With funds nearly depleted, Geoffrey was able to sell the aeroplane to the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough for £400, at the same time gaining work for himself and Frank.

At the Royal Aircraft Factory Geoffrey was responsible for the design and test flying of his own aircraft, the most significant being the BE.2, which he flew to a height record of 10,560 feet with a passenger on 12 August 1912. With the outbreak of WWI, Geoffrey and Frank joined the Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Airco) at Hendon where the D.H series of designs was started with the DH.1, the most successful type being the DH.4 two seat day bomber, which was faster than many of the contemporary fighters. During WWI, Airco also produced fighters, trainers and the DH.10 twin engine bomber, all designed by Geoffrey de Havilland.

With the end of WWI, the expected boom in aviation was not realised, and Airco was sold to BSA, with Geoffrey forming the de Havilland Aircraft Company at Stag Lane Aerodrome in Edgware on 15 September 1920, employing around 60 personnel from Airco. Business was maintained by overhaul and spares support of surplus DH.4s and DH.9s and the operation of the Aeroplane Hire Service. It was the development of the DH.60 Moth, first flown by Geoffrey on 22 February 1925, which commenced the highly successful series of light touring and training aircraft throughout the 1930s, including the DH.82 Tiger Moth, which became the standard RAF elementary trainer during WWII. The Moth types lead to what became known as the de Havilland World Enterprise, one of the first global manufacturing organisations, with factories set up in Canada and Australia, as well as assembly in India, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA, and representation for sales and support world-wide. De Havilland Canada was formed in March 1928, followed by the Australian company, both of which contributed to Mosquito production during WWII.

With the congestion at Stag Lane Aerodrome, due to production and development test flying, private Moth owners and training, a move was made to a new site at Hatfield on farm land, where flying training started in June 1930. Stag Lane Aerodrome closed to flying in 1934 to allow development of the site for building, raising funds for the construction of a new factory on the Hatfield Aerodrome site. In 1934 another significant aircraft was designed for the MacRobertson Air Race from London (Mildenhall) to Melbourne, three DH.88 Comet Racers being entered for the event. Apart from one Comet winning the race, the significance was the semi-monocoque stressed wooden construction with exceptional aerodynamic cleanliness, which was later developed for the Mosquito. This was the first de Havilland aircraft with a retractable undercarriage, and the specially developed Gipsy racing engines drove de Havilland developed variable pitch propellers.

From the Moth series of light aircraft, the logical development was a series of small local service airliners, starting with the DH.84 Dragon, a biplane with an enclosed cabin, capable of carrying up to eight passengers and powered by two Gipsy Major engines, similar to used to power the Tiger Moth. From this was developed the improved and more powerful Dragon Rapide and four engine DH.86. These airliners used the traditional wooden structure with fabric covering, but the DH.90 Dragonfly used the stressed skin semi-monocoque structure in a biplane layout with low drag and a very smooth finish. This was followed by the much larger four engine DH.91 Albatross airliner, the fuselage of which was stressed skin wooden monocoque structure consisting of inner and outer layers of preformed birch ply, with a balsa wood stabilising sandwich in between. This form of construction is similar to the modern composite structures, although de Havilland used natural material. The Albatross featured a one piece wing, the fuselage being lowered on to it in assembly, giving a low drag smooth finish, the entire surface of this very graceful airliner being covered with a light fabric doped on to resist damp, and finally painted.

For the DH.95 Flamingo, a twin engine high wing airliner, de Havilland introduced metal overall construction for the first time, giving greater structural resilience to climatic effects, but production of both the Flamingo and Albatross were cut short prematurely by the outbreak of WWII. De Havilland ceased production and development of civil aircraft, but Hatfield was kept busy with Tiger Moth production, which had been adopted by the RAF as the standard basic trainer. Many battle damaged Hurricanes were brought to Hatfield for repair and return to service and 150 Oxford twin engine trainers were produced on behalf of Airspeed during 1939, but the de Havilland Board were keen to make a more positive contribution to the war effort.

The design office needed a project to keep the factory busy, the main thoughts being around a high speed unarmed bomber. The design team moved to the isolated Salisbury Hall near London Colney on 5 October 1939, and began work on the concept of a four engine metal structure armed bomber as a starting point. The team led by Ronald Bishop reasoned that the defensive armament was only effective against hostile fighters, but not ground fire, and the weight and drag of the guns, turrets, armour plating and extra crew could be saved. This resulted in a smaller twin Rolls-Royce Merlin powered aircraft, with two crew and fast enough to outrun the hostile fighters. Wooden construction would use non-strategic materials and labour, providing lower drag and more efficient smooth finish. The airframe would be more resilient to damage and easier to repair.

With the help and enthusiasm of Sir Wilfred Freeman, Director of Research an initial contract was received for 50 unarmed bombers on 1 March 1940, design having commenced in October 1939. Even with this contract, the government was concentrating all capacity on existing aircraft, even though many were already obsolete and ineffective. As a result de Havilland was unable to obtain much needed materials. By arguing that the project was occupying very little manpower, and demands for special materials were very small, the project was reinstated in July, providing it did not interfere with the work in hand.

Preparations were made for production at Hatfield despite delays caused by bombing in the area when time was lost by employees going in shelters when an air warning sounded. Bombs fell within a mile of the Hatfield factory one day in every five, but there was only one direct hit on 3 October 1940 when a low flying Ju.88 dropped four bombs on the old 94 Shop, killing 21 people and injuring a further 70. An anti-aircraft gun on the administration building roof damaged the aircraft sufficiently for it to crash land at Hertingfordbury, the crew being taken prisoner. Amongst the wreckage was eighty percent of Mosquito work in progress, and as a result all Mosquito work was widely dispersed to avoid further disruption due to enemy attack. Amongst the sub contractors were major members of the furniture and coach building industry who would not otherwise have been able to contribute to the war effort. Production lines were set up at Hatfield mainly for bomber assembly and a new factory at Leavesden for fighter versions.

The yellow prototype Mosquito was completed at Salisbury Hall in a barn like hangar on the other side of the moat, and moved to Hatfield on 3 November 1940 where it was reassembled in a remote hangar, emerging on 19 November for engine runs, ready for Geoffrey de Havilland Jnr, the chief test pilot, with John Walker, the engine installation designer to make the maiden flight on 25 November 1940, only eleven months from the start of detailed design. The prototype soon proved itself during flight testing and on 20 April 1941 was demonstrated to Lord Beaverbrook – Minister of Aircraft Production, and General Arnold, Head of the U S Army Air Force, resulting in additional production lines being set up in Canada and later Australia.

Meanwhile at Salisbury Hall the fighter prototype was complete and ready to fly. To save a month of dismantling the aircraft, transporting it to Hatfield and reassembly, it was decided to fly it out of an adjacent field at Salisbury Hall on 15 May 1941 by Geoffrey de Havilland Jnr, followed later by two more Mosquitos built at Salisbury Hall.

The first deliveries were made to the RAF in July 1941and as the demand grew for this outstanding combat aircraft, a whole range of variants were produced in addition to unarmed bombers, including night fighters, intruders, ship-busting, ground attack, unarmed photo reconnaissance, courier for urgent freight and eventually naval strike and target towing. Bomber development included the carriage of a 4,000 lb bomb in a bulged bomb-bay, which was equivalent to the load carried by the USAAF B-17 Flying Fortress. A total of 4,444 Mosquitos were built at Hatfield and Leavesden up to 15 August 1945, with other British production at Standard Motors at Coventry, Percival at Luton and Airspeed at Christchurch building over 1,000 more.

Although the Hatfield design department was busy on progressive development of the Mosquito, mainly with the installation of more powerful Merlins, the major developments were the DH.103 Hornet twin Merlin long range fighter for service in Asia and the Vampire, the first de Havilland jet fighter. The Hornet made its first flight on 28 July 1944, and construction was based on the Mosquito, but the wings were a composite of wooden structure with ply skins on the top surface and aluminium for the lower skin. The aircraft entered service with both the RAF and FAA as a day fighter and all weather fighter.

Development of the Vampire was continuing in parallel with the de Havilland Goblin jet engine developed by Major Frank Halford and his team, the aircraft being flown for the first time by Geoffrey de Havilland Jnr on 20 September 1943, 16 months after the go-ahead, achieving 500 mph in 1944, although by the time production was established, the war was over. The Vampire featured a twin fuselage boom layout with the tail across the rear, to allow a more efficient short jet pipe, maintaining as much thrust as possible.

As early as 1943 preparations were being made towards the requirements for commercial aviation after the end of the war. The Brabazon Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Lord Brabazon to define the best range of civil aircraft to be developed, in particular avoiding direct competition with the already advanced American airliner developments. Amongst the proposed projects was the Type 5B specification for a light transport capable of carrying up to eight passengers. This fitted neatly into the class of local service airliners produced by the company in the 1930s, resulting in work starting on what was to become the Dove in late 1944. The Dove was an all metal low wing design powered by two Gipsy Queen piston engines, suitable as a feederliner, air ambulance, air taxi, executive transport, survey and aircrew trainer. This was the first all metal aircraft to use Redux bonding to join metal, saving weight, and the hand built prototype was first flown on 25 September 1945, the 25 th anniversary of the formation of the de Havilland Aircraft Company. Initial production of the Dove, Vampires and Canadian designed Chipmunks was at Hatfield, but all were moved to the major factory at Broughton, near Chester, where Vickers Armstrong had produced Wellington bombers in WW2. A scaled up version of the Dove was the 14 seat, four engine Heron with a range of up to 1,500 miles, the prototype making its first flight on 10 May 1950. A total of 544 Doves and 149 Herons were built at Hatfield and Broughton.

The de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Chipmunk was the first original design from then Canadian company and was an all metal two seat basic trainer to replace the biplane Tiger Moth.. 217 were built in Canada, with a first flight on 22 May 1946 and a further 1,000 were built at Hatfield and Broughton for the RAF and overseas air forces.

The Vampire was progressively developed, not only for the RAF, but for export widely, over 1,500 being built mainly be English Electric at Preston and de Havilland at Broughton. As well as British production, Vampires were built under license in Switzerland, Italy, India, France and Australia. A Vampire was the first jet aircraft to land on an aircraft carrier, when Lt Cdr Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown landed and took off from HMS Ocean on 3 December 1945.

Hatfield’s major development of the Vampire, was the two-seat Night Fighter, which first flew on 28 August 1949, and like all Vampires and the later Venoms, had a wooden fuselage pod with similar construction to the Mosquito, with the remainder of the structure aluminium. The Vampire Night Fighter was produced as an inexpensive aircraft for export and was initially ordered by Egypt. Unfortunately, the British Government imposed an arms embargo on Egypt at about this time, and the majority of the production served with the RAF as an interim night fighter, replacing Mosquitos. The other development was the two-seat side-by-side advanced jet trainer, with design and production at the old Airspeed factory at Christchurch. The Government ordered 610 for service with the RAF and FAA, with a further 412 exported.

The major development of the Vampire was the Venom family, which had a similar overall layout and construction, but was fitted with the more powerful DH Ghost engine developing 5,300lb thrust. It had a thinner wing with swept back leading edges and removal wing tip fuel tanks. The Venom flew from Hatfield for the first time in its single seat ground attack configuration on 2 September 1949, and the development followed similar lines to the Vampire, with a two-seat AI radar equipped Night Fighter which first flew on 22 August 1950 and a two-seat all weather naval fighter for the Fleet Air Arm, featuring folding wings and an arrester hook.

One of the major challenges of the early jet age was the penetration of the Sound Barrier, or exceeding Mach 1, the speed of sound. The de Havilland challenge to this phenomena was the DH.108, with three experimental prototypes built of this swept wing tailless aircraft using the wooden Vampire fuselage nacelle as a basis. The purpose was to test the layout for a proposed jet airliner, and Geoffrey de Havilland Jnr made the first flight of the low speed prototype from the long runway at RAF Woodbridge on15 May 1946. The high speed second prototype had the potential of breaking the existing absolute world speed record of 616 mph achieved in a Gloster Meteor. During practice flights, Geoffrey reached 637 mph at 9,000 feet, but during a low level practice on 26 September 1946, tragedy struck and the aircraft broke up over the Thames Estuary, killing the elder son of the founder. The third prototype was also designed for high speed, and on the power of 3,750lb thrust Goblin engine, became the first aircraft outside America to exceed the speed of sound in a dive on 6 September 1948 flown by John Derry.

With the loss of Geoffrey de Havilland, John Cunningham, the WW2 night fighter ace was appointed as chief test pilot, and made the first flight of the DH.110 prototype on 26 September 1951, this experimental aircraft later being developed into the Sea Vixen, all weather naval fighter. Sea Vixen development and initial production was at the old Airspeed site at Christchurch and was a complete redesign from the original DH.110 and powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Avon 208 jet engines. The long delayed production order was placed in January 1955 for an initial batch of 78 Sea Vixens, including 21 pre-production aircraft to be used for the development programme of what was in effect a weapons system. The airframe was about 80 percent redesigned from the DH.110, and it featured hydraulically folding wings, a new offset to port cockpit canopy, arrester hook and the latest A.I radar under a pointed nose radome. The Sea Vixen was the first British jet fighter not armed with guns, the armament being Firestreak guided missiles. In addition 28 2in rocket projectiles were carried in a retractable ventral pack, with more carried under the wings.

The first production Sea Vixen made its maiden flight on 20 March 1957 from Hurn Airport, which had a longer runway than at Christchurch, the aircraft being towed on the road to the flight test centre and was later used for the initial deck trials on HMS Ark Royal. Following intensive service trials with 700Y Squadron at Yeovilton, the unit was commissioned as 892 NAS on 2 July 1959 as the first FAA squadron. Two aircraft were taken off the Christchurch production and converted into the FAW.2 configuration at Hatfield, and production was transferred from Christchurch to Broughton after 118 had been produced. One FAW.1 was built there, before converting to FAW.2 standard when a further 29 were produced, the last one flying on 3 February 1966. Many of the serving FAW.1s were also converted to the FAW.2 standard both a Broughton and Sydenham. The departure of the Sea Vixen from FAA service commenced with the disbandment of 892 NAS in October 1968 with the final 899 NAS disbanding on 23 January 1972.

In addition to aircraft, the de Havilland World Enterprise produced aero engines, propellers, guided missiles and space rockets. From the 1930s de Havilland had diversified within the aerospace industry, initially producing piston engines, and then developed variable pitch propellers for its own designs. This diversification allowed many other aircraft manufacturers who had a need for these engines and propellers, creating a worldwide market for aerospace equipment and systems. Also by being in control of their own engine production, difficulties were avoided with the supply of other manufacturers engines, and their continued support.

In the early weeks of 1941, the decision was made to begin jet propulsion development with Government financial support. The first drawings of what was to become the Goblin were issued to the workshops in August 1941 and 248 days later, on 13 April 1942, the prototype of this revolutionary form of power was started up in great secrecy in the special test chamber within the Halford Laboratory at Hatfield. Within two months the engine was running at full power and by 25 September, when nearly 200 hours of bench testing had been completed, type approval was granted for 25 hours flight.

While piston engine development and production continued, the Goblin was the power plant for the Vampires and a more powerful development was the Ghost which in its military form powered the Venoms, and as the world’s first commercial jet engine was the power plant for the Comet airliner, with civil approval achieved on 28 June 1948. The de Havilland Engine Company led by Major Frank Halford went on to develop the more efficient Gyron turbo jet, which did not enter production, but from it was developed the Gyron Junior two of which powered the Blackburn Buccaneer S.1 low level naval strike aircraft. In parallel with jet engine development, the Engine Company also designed rocket engines, initially the Sprite as a booster for heavily loaded bombers, which ran at Hatfield for the first time in November 1949. The Spectre variable power rocket was designed for mixed power plant fighters as a defence against high flying hostile nuclear bombers, giving the fighter an instant rapid climb to combat altitude, leaving the Gyron engine to continue with the cruise. With the detection of high flying bombers by radar, they came down to low level to stay below radar coverage, and the mixed power plant concept was abandoned.

With the start of research into early missile systems towards the end of the war, de Havilland began to look at the possibilities of future air launched missiles. In 1951 the work commenced with government contracts for turbo alternators and development of an infra-red heat seeking missile seeker system. The following year the Propeller Company received a contract to develop the infra-red heat seeking Firestreak, Britain’s first air-to-air missile, which was used to arm the early marks of Lightning and Sea Vixen FAW.1s. The Firestreak was followed into service by the all-aspect higher performance Red Top, used to arm the later Lightning F.6s and Sea Vixen FAW.2s.

In the mid 1950s de Havilland commenced development of an intercontinental ballistic missile to give Britain an independent nuclear deterrent. Known initially as ‘Project 3000’ the stainless steel spot welded structure was fabricated in a secure building, known as the 3000 store. On completion, each structure was pressurised to retain its strength, and lifted into the vertical position for functions and tests in an adjacent tower. In the late 1950s a special test tower was erected on the Manor Road site where ground launch systems separation was developed, the local residents believing the rocket was being fired up, when it was only surplus fuel being burnt creating a glow in the sky. The development of the intercontinental missile were cancelled by the Government in 1960, but Blue Streak, as it had been named, formed the basis of the first stage for a satellite launcher, the total system being called Europa, with the upper two stages supplied by France and Germany. Blue Streak made successful launches from Woomera in Australia and later Kourou in French Guiana, but the programme suffered a number of setbacks with failures of the upper stages, and was cancelled in 1972. The experience gained continues in the Ariane European Space programme, which is supported by Airbus Space and Defence in Stevenage, where the payloads are produced.

The de Havilland factory at Hatfield had a rich heritage of jet airliner pioneer development, commencing with the Comet. The Comet was conceived to meet the Brabazon Type IV Specification for a high speed transatlantic mail plane. The Ministry of Supply placed an order for two all metal prototypes with four engines in a modestly swept back low wing in March 1945, which by then had become a 36 premium level comfort passengers over the Commonwealth routes. There were many challenges to be overcome, including pressurisation and air conditioning the cabin at over 30,000ft, coping with navigation at much higher speeds and having docile flying characteristics for approach and landing. The Comet was as much a technical challenge as the supersonic Concorde two decades later, but at much less cost. During the design and development, considerable research was done on structures, insulation and the new jet engines, the two prototypes being hand built in the Hatfield Experimental department. John Cunningham took the Comet on its maiden flight on 27 July 1949, and following a comprehensive flight development programme, the first of eight Comet 1s for BOAC made its inaugural jet passenger service from Heathrow to Johannesburg on 2 May 1952.

This gave Britain a lead of four to five years in the commercial jet airliner market, export orders soon received from Canada and France. The Comet 1 was very much an interim solution to gain operational experience, until the more powerful and efficient Rolls-Royce Avon was available for the improved Comet 2. BOAC and a number of overseas airliners placed orders for Comet 2s, followed by the stretched Comet 3 with greater range and capacity. There were two accidents where Comet 1s stalled on the ground on take-off, and one broke up after take-off from Calcutta in a violent storm, leading to the development of weather radar. Then came the major blow to the Comet programme when two disintegrated over the Mediterranean after take-off from Rome, the first one falling off Elba on 10 January 1954, and after precautionary modifications G-ALYY feel off Stromboli on 8 April. As a result of a detailed inquiry, with much of the wreckage recovered from the sea bed, it was found that the Comets suffered from metal fatigue in the cabin, particularly caused by overstressing in the corners of the square windows.

With the knowledge gained, the Comet 3 was developed into the Comet 4 with 19 being ordered by BOAC, the first of which was flown by John Cunningham from Hatfield on 27 April 1958. Comet 4s were sold world-wide, and served with the RAF, later being developed into the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.

In 1956 de Havilland formed a consortium with Hunting and Fairey to produce the DH.121, later to be known as the Trident, the first second generation airliner. The Trident was ordered by BEA, but it was delayed when the airline requested a reduction in size due to a modest passenger reduction forecast. Government policy at the time was that there should be mergers of the diverse manufacturers and at the end of 1959, de Havilland became part of Hawker Siddeley Aviation. Trident design and development continued with John Cunningham making the maiden flight on 9 January 1962, this advanced airliner being the fastest in service with a cruising speed of 600 mph and triplicated systems for improved safety and allowing it to become the first airliner to be capable of fully automatic landings in all weathers. Trident Series 1s were also sold to Middle East airlines and significant numbers of the developed Trident 2s and 3s to CAAC of China, the last being delivered on 13 September 1978.

Following the Trident was a mini jet airliner designated the DH.125 business jet, with the main production linen at Broughton. The DH.125 was first flown by Chris Capper on 13 August 1962, and probably some 1,000 have been built, both in the UK and USA, although it is no longer in production.

The final airliner from Hatfield was under the control of British Aerospace, which was formed when the British aerospace industry was nationalised by the Government in March 1977, allowing the BAe.146 to go ahead in July 1978. The BAe.146 was a high wing feeder jet powered by four ALF 502 jet engines which was first flown from Hatfield by Mike Goodfellow on 3 September 1981. The BAe.146 was built in three versions, the 70-seat -100, the 85-seat 146-200 and the stretched 146-300 which could carry 100 passengers. Assembly lines for the BAe.146 were set up at Hatfield and later Woodford, to where all assembly was transferred on 12 February 1992. As a result, it was announced on 23 September 1992 that all design and production at Hatfield would cease at the end of 1993, with the airfield and site closed in the spring of 1994, and developers taking over.

The de Havilland World Enterprise included the de Havilland Engine Company and de Havilland Propeller Company. The Engine Company, led by Major Frank Halford, a gifted engineer who led the design of the Gipsy series of engines, pioneered jet turbine development and produced rocket engines. The Propeller Company developed variable pitch propellers, many of which were fitted to Hurricanes and Spitfires, and other combat aircraft in WWII, as well as post war development of air-to-air guided missiles. The de Havilland companies therefore produced aircraft from basic trainers to jet airliners and supersonic fighters: piston, jet and rocket engines propellers, missiles and space rockets. This was an achievement unequalled by any other aerospace manufacturer world-wide.

Philip Birtles, President of the de Havilland Aircraft Museum – January 2016

4 Operation Jericho - Mosquitos Deadly Bombing Accuracy

There can be no better example of low-level precision bombing than the RAF raid on Amiens Prison, a role the Mosquito with its high-speed and superb handling was well suited to.

In early 1944, Amiens prison under German occupation housed large numbers of French resistance fighters. With Germany losing grip on France, many were scheduled for execution. In all, 18 Mosquitos took part in the raid, tasked with breaching the outer walls, allowing French prisoners to escape. Deemed a huge success with over 100 escapees, Operation Jericho demonstrated just how deadly and accurate Mosquitos could be.

WW2 Treasure Hunters

World War Two was about many things: defeating the toxic political ideology of Fascism, resisting the spread of tyranny across the world, learning to feed a family of four on two parsnips and a teaspoon of tree bark a week. All very noble and heroic. But what about that other key strategic aim? You know the one. The strategic aim of winding up top-ranking Nazis so much that they gnashed their teeth, shook their fists and threw massive strops, like the ridiculous cartoon baddies they really were.

This aim was efficiently achieved by a specific British aircraft called the Mosquito. 'It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito… I turn green and yellow with envy,' Hermann Goring barked.

'The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased yet again. What do you make of that? They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops!' he added, sounding exactly like an angry Nazi on Allo Allo. 'After the war is over I'm going to buy a British radio set – then at least I'll own something that has always worked!' In episode 6 of WW2 Treasure Hunters, Suggs and Stephen visit Little Staughton in Cambridgeshire looking for evidence of these amazing 'wooden wonders' at a former Pathfinders Force airbase.

The Pathfinders were elite pilots who flew ahead of the bombers to scope and mark out targets with flares, boosting the accuracy of attacks on enemy sites. The agile, wily Mosquito was a perfect fit for this kind of mission, but – as it turns out – it also came in handy in all kinds of capacities. Indeed, it was the Swiss Army Knife of RAF aircraft, being repurposed to serve as a day bomber, night bomber, fighter, reconnaissance plane, Royal Navy torpedo bomber… The thing was practically a real-life Transformer. And, incredibly, it was made of wood.

The 'Wooden Wonder', as it became known, was created by the de Havilland Aircraft Company, a trailblazing firm set up by one of the cleverest, bravest, most important Englishmen you’ve never heard of: Captain Sir Geoffrey de Havilland. Born in 1882, he was an engineering prodigy, cobbling together his own motorbikes and cars as if that was a totally normal thing for a man in his 20s to do.

He eventually turned his focus to planes. He didn’t have any flying experience, because it was the year 1909 and practically nobody did apart from the actual Wright Brothers. But that was a mere trifle to the intrepid de Havilland, who decided to learn to fly by building his own plane and, well, flying it.

He crashed in seconds, got out and decided to build another plane and this time not crash it. That was a good move, and just a few years later, with the outbreak of WW1, he became an active participant in the Royal Flying Corps, while also designing the planes being used to battle the enemy. So not only was he a dashing pilot in the fledgling RAF, but he was also the genius creating the very things he was flying in.

After the war, de Havilland’s own company came up with the Albatross, a plane made of balsa and plywood, kind of like a model aeroplane, only massive and brilliant. The design principles of the Albatross were later adopted for the creation of the Mosquito, with Geoffrey de Havilland cleverly realising that supplies of metal would run low during another world war. By using 'non-strategic materials' like wood, they could churn out the planes easily using the skills of the civilian carpenters and piano-makers who so riled up Hermann Goring.

The Mosquito aroused some scoffing and cynicism even among the Allies at first. One US aviation firm dismissed it as having 'sacrificed serviceability, structural strength, ease of construction and flying characteristics in an attempt to use construction material that is not suitable for the manufacture of efficient airplanes.'

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