The de Havilland Aircraft
Association of South Africa
A brief history of the de Havilland Aircraft Company
The de Havilland Aircraft Company was established in September 1920 by Geoffrey de Havilland. Geoffrey had been chief designer at AIRCO. Initially the company set up at Stag Lane Aerodrome in Edgware, near London and later moved to Hatfield in Hertfordshire.
In the early years de Havilland built single and two-seater biplanes, basically similar to the aircraft manufactured by Airco, but powered by de Havilland's own Gipsy engines.
de Havilland produced the famous line of Moth aircraft, starting in 1925 with the DH.60 Cirrus Moth, designed for club and private owner use, the DH.82 Tiger Moth, the more refined and enclosed Hornet Moth and the Moth Minor.
Many an airman learnt to fly on one of the Moth Series of aircraft during the 1920s and 1930s. The Tiger Moth was the backbone of Commonwealth flying training during the Second World War. Over 8,000 Tiger Moths were produced, with many war surplus examples being used in flying clubs that were re-established after World War Two.
The Gipsy and Tiger Moth aircraft set many aviation records, many flown by Geoffrey. The famous aviatrix, Amy Johnson, flew solo from England to Australia in a Gipsy Moth registered G-AAAH and named Jason. She left Croydon, south of London, on the 5th of May 1930 and landed in Darwin, Australia on the 24th of May having flown 11,000 miles (18,000 km). Amy's Gipsy Moth is preserved in the Science Museum in London.
On the 4th of March 1932, Jim Mollison, husband of Amy Johnson, departed from Lympne in Kent, England and began a record-breaking attempt to fly to South Africa. Jim took 4 days, 17 hours, and 19 minutes flying in a DH. 80A Puss Moth, registered G-ABKG which had been modified as a long-range single seater. In November 1932, flying in a de Havilland Puss Moth, registered G-ACAB, Amy set a solo record flying from London to Cape Town beating her husband, Jim Mollison's record set a few months earlier.
de Havilland set up shop in Australia in 1927, later relocating to Sydney in 1930, and this acted as an agency for the UK company. The facility provided assembly, repair and support for de Havilland aircraft, namely the very popular sport and airliner types.
de Havilland Canada was formed in 1928. Its purpose was to build Moth aircraft as well as train Canadian airmen. After World War Two DHC continued and built its own designs being more suitable to the Canadian environment.
In 1933/4, de Havilland produced the four-engine DH.86 Express, essentially a scaled-up version of the twin-engine DH.84 Dragon, to meet an order by the Australian airline, QANTAS, for an aircraft to be used on the Australia to Singapore run. The DH.86 first flew on 14 January 1934 and was powered by four Gipsy Six, six cylinder in-line engines and could carry ten passengers. Sixty-two of the type were built and operated by QANTAS and Imperial Airways.
A better known and more successful aircraft than the DH.86 was the DH.89 Dragon Rapide. The prototype aircraft first flew at Hatfield on 17 April 1934. This was basically a scaled-down version of the DH.86. It had two Gipsy Six engines and carried up to eight passengers with a single pilot. de Havilland built 728 Rapides, the type being used for airline and charter operations and they even saw service with the Royal Air Force.
The high-performance designs and wooden construction methods used by de Havilland produced what is considered by many to be the most famous of de Havilland's aircraft, the Mosquito fighter-bomber, built mainly of wood due to the shortage of aluminium during the Second World War.
de Havilland was known for pursuing cutting-edge designs and technology for both civil and military aircraft. Unfortunately along with the desire to produce better aircraft came tragedy. Geoffrey de Havilland Jr, the founder of de Havilland's son, was killed in the experimental tailless jet-powered DH.108 Swallow, the name Swallow being allocated by the Ministry of Supply, when it crashed into the Thames Estuary on 27 September 1946.
After World War Two de Havilland continued with their leading-edge designs for the military. These included the DH.100 Vampire, one of the Royal Air Force's first jet aircraft and the DH.110 Sea Vixen for the Royal Navy.
In 1952 the DH.110 prototype broke-up in flight at the Farnborough Air Show, killing 29 members of the public, test pilot and record breaker John Derry and Anthony Richards, the test flight observer.
de Havilland made its biggest impact with civilian aircraft when John Cunningham, de Havilland Test Pilot, flew the DH.106 Comet for the first time in July 1949. The Comet was a four-engined all metal jet aircraft and entered service with BOAC in 1952, becoming the world’s first commercial jet airliner.
Disaster was to beset the company again, when structural problems caused three of the de Havilland DH.106 Comets to crash. The remaining Comets were withdrawn from service, and de Havilland went on to produce the Comet 4, a larger and stronger aircraft returning to service in 1958. Unfortunately by then the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 were in operation and orders for the Comet came to a halt.
de Havilland re-entered the jetliner market in 1962 with the three-engined DH.121 Trident, of all-metal construction with a T-tail, but this was not popular and only 117 were built. Its main rival was the Boeing 727 of which over 1,800 were sold. The Trident's maiden flight occurred on the 9th of January 1962 from Hatfield Aerodrome and the aircraft entered service on the 1st of April 1964. The Trident had pioneering avionics and it was the first airliner to make a fully automatic approach and landing whilst in revenue service.
de Havilland also got involved in long-range missiles and produced the liquid fuelled Blue Streak. It did not enter military service, being used instead as the first stage of the launch vehicle, Europa. Unfortunately after several failures the project was cancelled in 1973.
The designs of Geoffrey de Havilland and the company he formed in 1920 have had a profound effect on aviation.
The de Havilland name lives on and as at 2011 several hundred Moths, of various types, as well as numerous other de Havilland aircraft are still flying all over the world.