Geoffrey de Havilland (1882 - 1965)

dehavilland_portrait_200.jpg Geoffrey de Havilland (1882 - 1965)

British aircraft designer who designed and whose company produced the Moth biplane, the Mosquito fighter-bomber of World War II, and in 1949 the Comet, the world's first jet-driven airliner to enter commercial service.

After designing a fighter and a bomber for use in World War I, he founded the de Havilland Aircraft Company 1920. This was eventually absorbed into the Hawker Siddeley conglomerate.

De Havilland was born near High Wycombe, and as a youth designed and built steam cars and motorcycles. In 1908-09, he constructed his first aeroplane. De Havilland's design had a better aerodynamic shape than earlier biplanes. However, he had never flown before (indeed, he had only ever seen one aircraft flying in the distance), and his first flight ended in the aircraft being wrecked.

In the 1920s and 1930s the de Havilland Company produced a series of light transport aircraft and the Moth series of private planes, starting with the Cirrus Moth 1925.

The all-wood Mosquito was at first rejected by the Air Ministry, but went into squadron service in Sept 1941. Faster than the Spitfire, it could out-fly virtually anything in the air.

After World War II the de Havilland company put a range of jet-powered aircraft into production, many of which used the company's own engines.

Geoffrey de Havilland

Geoffrey de Havilland, the son of a clergyman, was born in High Wycombe in 1882. As a young man he designed and built steam cars and motorcycles. With a £1,000 gift from his grandfather, de Havilland began work on his first plane in 1908. Completed in early 1910, its only flight took place at Crux Easton. With de Havilland at the controls, the plane crashed after flying only 100 feet. De Havilland continued with the project and his second aircraft, the FE-1, was purchased by the British War Office.

In 1911 de Havilland worked on a new plane for the Royal Aircraft Factory. The BE-2 flew for the first time in January, 1912. Soon afterwards, the BE-2 set a new British one-passenger altitude record of 10,560 feet (3,912 m). On the outbreak of the First World War, the BE-2 was the standard military aircraft employed by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The design of the plane was constantly being revised and during the war there were five different versions.

De Havilland's next aircraft was the Airco DH-2. Despite a lack of speed and an unreliable engine, the DH-2 was more manageable than German Fokker E- types and helped to establish allied air supremacy over Germany during the Battle of the Somme.

De Havilland designed the Airco DH-4 in 1916 as a single-engined bomber and was so impressive in trials that it went into immediate production. The first of these aircraft were delivered to the Royal Flying Corps in March 1917. The pilot sat beneath the centre of the wing, with the gunner behind. The Airco DH-4 was easy to fly, could travel at over 100 mph and had a high ceiling of 23,500 feet (7,163 m) and was considered the best single-engineered bomber of the First World War.

In 1920 he established the de Havilland Aircraft Company and produced a series of light transport aircraft and the Moth series of private planes, including the highly successful Tiger Moth. In 1934 de Havilland's Comet won the England to Australia air race.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, de Havilland the Mosquito fighter-bomber. The all-wood Mosquito was at first rejected by the Air Ministry, but went into service in September, 1941. Faster than the Spitfire, the Mosquito could out-fly virtually anything in the air.

Knighted in 1944, de Havilland designed and built the Comet in 1949, the world's first jet-driven airliner to enter commercial service. In 1961 de Havilland's company became part of the Hawker-Siddeley organisation. Geoffrey de Havilland died in 1965.

The de Havilland Story

On a crisp December day in 1909 a 27 year old motor engineer sat amidst the spars, struts and piano-wire braces of a strange twin-prop biplane he had designed and built. In the plane, that was perched on top of a hill on the Hampshire downs, sat the pilot dressed in a neat high-breasted suit and a tall white collar. Suddenly the engine sprang to life and the two propellers mounted behind the wings thrashed into the air.

Then an associate at the rear began pushing and the apparatus, looking more like a box kite than a plane, began to move. It trundled, downhill for forty yards and leaped into the air. With the pilot struggling with the control stick and the man on the ground holding his breath it climbed steeply for thirty-five yards. Then it crashed. The pilot hauled himself out unhurt, except for bruises and scratches, and began salvaging the motor from the wreck.

Thus the aircraft's pilot, Geoffrey de Havilland, one of the great pioneers of aviation, received his first flying lesson. In a lifetime of hair-raising aviation pioneering, Geoffrey de Havilland's career spanned the whole history of flying, from box kites to the complete missiles of today.

A shy, gaunt genius, de Havilland drove and hustled his way to mastery of the air. Born in 1882, the son of a country parson, Geoffrey de Havilland was always mechanically minded. In his late teens he scorned the usual university education with emphasis on the arts and went off to an engineering school.

In the backyard of his home he built himself a handmade motor cycle that was so efficient it won him a job in a motor works designing buses. Then came the first flights of the Wright brothers and the French aerial pioneers. Young Geoffrey de Havilland became a man possessed with aviation fever. He married in 1907 and soon infected his wife, Louie,with his enthusiasm.

In the summer of 1908, he went to Oxford and persuaded his grandfather to give him 1000 to build a flying machine. It was money he would have received as a legacy on the old man's death. Back in London, de Havilland threw in his job, and with a young mechanic, Frank Hearle, set about building a plane out of wire, wood and linen. It was powered by a 45 h.p. engine.

Even Mrs. de Havilland took a part in the construction for she was given the job of stitching every seam in the stiff linen cover for the wings. The plane was finished late in 1909 and de Havilland and Hearle took it to the Hampshire downs. There, for days on end, they battled to get it airborne.

Each time the motor roared into life, Hearle heaved from behind then threw himself on the ground as it sped forward to see if there was a crack of light between the wheels and the grass. Finally, came the December day when they took the dangerous step of sending the 800 lb craft running down a steep hill.

This time it took off and flew, even if it was a wreck thirty-five yards farther on. But, that did not deter de Havilland who immediately began rebuilding. His new machine was stronger and simpler with only one propeller. Six months later, back at the same fateful spot on the Hampshire downs, de Havilland and his second plane learned to fly together.

But by this time, his grandfather's 1000 had gone and there seemed no commercial prospects in plane building. So, de Havilland took a job at the Army Balloon Establishment at Farnborough as a pilot-designer. Hearle went with him as a mechanic. Later when the army decided to turn from balloons to aeroplanes, de Havilland and Hearle produced some of Britain's first military machines.

Their first effort was the DH2 (his own machine had been DH1) and was a primitive affair with no windscreen, no brakes and no proper throttle. Nevertheless, when World War I broke out hundreds of the DH2 model operated over the Western front.

They could climb to 14,000 feet, had a top speed of 93 m.p.h., fought vicious early aerial battles and survived the most violent manoeuvring without breaking up. Later, de Havilland produced numerous improved machines, notably the DH4 and DH9 which were the work horses of the Allied air forces.

Altogether 33 per cent of Allied air strength and 95 per cent of all American wartime production were planes designed by de Havilland. Always, de Havilland's approach to design was simple and direct. "I like a thing to look right," he once said. "If it does not, although I may not be able to prove it wrong scientifically, I have often found out later that it is". ...more


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