de Havilland

For other uses, see De Havilland (disambiguation).

De Havilland Aircraft Company Limited
Industry Aerospace
Fate Incorporated into Hawker Siddeley
Founded 1920
Defunct 1964
Headquarters Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England
Key people
Geoffrey de Havilland, founder and aircraft designer
Products Civil and military aircraft, aero-engines, guided weapons
Parent Hawker Siddeley (from 1959)
Subsidiaries de Havilland Canada (1928)
de Havilland Australia (1927)
Airspeed Ltd. (1940–1951)
De Havilland Propellers (1935–1961)
de Havilland Engine Company (1944–1961)

De Havilland Aircraft Company Limited /dəˈhævlənd/ was a British aviation manufacturer established in late 1920 by Geoffrey de Havilland at Stag Lane Aerodrome Edgware on the outskirts of north London. Operations were later moved to Hatfield in Hertfordshire.

Known for its innovation, de Havilland were responsible for a number of important aircraft, including the Moth biplane which revolutionised general aviation in the 1920s, the 1930s Fox Moth, the first commercial transport able to operate without government subsidy, the wooden World War II Mosquito light bomber, and the passenger jet service pioneering Comet.

The De Havilland company became a member of the Hawker Siddeley group in 1960, but lost its separate identity in 1963. Today it is part of BAE Systems plc, the British aerospace and defence business.


In January 1920 Geoffrey de Havilland was working for Airco as technical director and chief designer. BSA bought Airco on 20 January 1920 from George Holt Thomas on the say-so of one BSA director, Percy Martin, having done inadequate due diligence. Within days BSA discovered Airco's true circumstances and shut it down. The resulting losses were so great BSA was unable to pay a dividend for the next four years.[1]

With Thomas's help de Havilland took modest premises at the nearby Stag Lane Aerodrome and formed a limited liability company, De Havilland Aircraft Company Limited, incorporated 26 September 1920. The directors were de Havilland, Arthur E. Turner and chief engineer Charles Clement Walker. Nominal capital £50,000.[2]

The real capital was from[3] Geoffrey de Havilland (£3,000) and George Holt Thomas (£10,000), with various others adding a further £1,000. Banking on an order worth about £2,500 originally intended for Airco[4] de Havilland brought in friends Charles Clement Walker (aerodynamics and stressing), Wilfred E. Nixon (company secretary), Francis E. N. St.Barbe (business and sales) and Frank Hearle (works manager).[5] Hugh Burroughes went to the Gloster Aircraft Company. The fledgling enterprise was lucky to be approached the next year by a man wanting a new aeroplane built for him, Alan Samuel Butler. He invested heavily in the business.[3] The first year's turnover was £32,782 and net profit £2,387 and in early 1922 they bought Stag Lane aerodrome for £20,000.[4] They survived until 1925 when de Havilland's own design, the Moth (first flown 22 February 1925) proved to be just what the flying world was waiting for.[5] In 1928 de Havilland Aircraft Company Limited went public.[6]

Initially De Havilland concentrated on single and two-seat biplanes, continuing the DH line of aircraft built by Airco but adapting them for airline use, but then they introduced a series of smaller aircraft powered by de Havilland's own Gipsy engines. These included the Gipsy Moth and Tiger Moth. These aircraft set many aviation records, many piloted by de Havilland himself. Amy Johnson flew solo from England to Australia in a Gipsy Moth in 1930.

The Moth series of aeroplanes continued with the more refined Hornet Moth, with enclosed accommodation, and the Moth Minor, a low-wing monoplane constructed of wood. One of de Havilland's trademarks was that the name of the aircraft type was painted on using a particularly elegant Roman typeface, all in capital letters. When there was a strike at the plant, the artisans who painted the name on the planes used the same typeface to make the workers' protest signs.

The DH 84 Dragon was the first aeroplane purchased by Aer Lingus in 1936; they later operated the DH 86B Dragon Express and the DH 89 Dragon Rapide. De Havilland continued to produce high-performance aircraft including the twin-piston-engine DH 88 Comet racer, one of which became famous as the winner of the MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia in 1934.

Building Mosquito aircraft at the de Havilland factory in Hatfield, 1943

The high-performance designs and wooden construction methods culminated in the Mosquito, constructed primarily of wood which avoided use of strategic materials such as aluminium during the Second World War. The company followed this with the even higher-performing Hornet fighter, which was one of the pioneers of the use of metal-wood and metal-metal bonding techniques.

The first de Havilland DH106 Comet prototype at Hatfield in 1949

After the Second World War de Havilland continued with advanced designs in both the military and civil fields, but several public disasters doomed the company as an independent entity. The experimental tailless jet-powered de Havilland DH 108 Swallow crashed in the Thames Estuary, killing Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr., son of the company's founder. A large additional aircraft factory was acquired in 1948 at Hawarden Airport at Broughton near Chester, where production supplemented the Hatfield output. The De Havilland Comet was put into service in 1952 as the eagerly-anticipated first commercial jet airliner, twice as fast as previous alternatives and a source of British national pride. The Comet suffered three high-profile crashes in two years. Equally disastrous was the in-flight break-up of the DH 110 prototype during the 1952 Farnborough Airshow, which also killed members of the public.

Because of the structural problems of the Comet, in 1954 all remaining examples were withdrawn from service, with de Havilland launching a major effort to build a new version that would be both larger and stronger. This, the Comet 4, enabled the de Havilland airliner to return to the skies in 1958. By then the United States had its Boeing 707 jet and the Douglas DC-8, both of which were faster and more economical to operate. Orders for the Comet dried up.

Hawker Siddeley bought De Havilland in 1960 but kept it as a separate company until 1963. In that year it became the de Havilland Division of Hawker Siddeley Aviation[7] and all types in production or development changed their designations from "DH' to "HS" (see Hawker Siddeley Trident and BAe 125). The famous "DH" and the de Havilland name live on, with several hundred Moths of various types and substantial numbers of many of the company's other designs still flying all over the world.[8]

De Havilland returned to the airline world in 1962 with a three-engine jetliner, the DH 121 Trident. However, the design was modified to be smaller to fit the needs of one airline—British European Airways. Other airlines found it unattractive and turned to a rival tri-jet: the Boeing 727 which was much the same size as the initial DH 121 design. de Havilland built only 117 Tridents, while Boeing went on to sell over 1,800 727s.

De Havilland also entered the field of long-range missiles,[9] developing the liquid-fuelled Blue Streak. It did not enter military service but became the first stage of Europa, a launch vehicle for use in space flight. In flight tests, the Blue Streak performed well—but the upper stages, built in France and Germany, repeatedly failed. In 1973, the Europa programme was cancelled, with Blue Streak dying as well. The last of them wound up in the hands of a farmer who used its fuel tanks to house his chickens.[10]



The de Havilland Biplane No. 2 or F.E.1 in flight, circa 1911
A de Havilland Airco DH9 on display at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in 2008
A de Havilland DH 83 Fox Moth at Kemble Airport in 2003
1936 de Havilland DH87B Hornet Moth taking off at Kemble Air Day, Wiltshire, in 2008
A DH.89 Dragon Rapide of the Army Parachute Association at RAF Netheravon in 1968
ex RAAF DH.94 Moth Minor at Benalla Aviation Museum in June 2012
de Havilland Mosquito B 35 (reconfigured to a FB Mk.VI, on display at the Alberta Aviation Museum)
A de Havilland DH.104 Dove at Kemble in 2003
The de Havilland designed HS.121 Trident 3 of British Airways at Manchester Airport in 1975
de Havilland Sea Vixen (G-CVIX) at an air show at Kemble in 2005


Weapon systems

A Blue Streak missile at the Deutsches Museum at Schleissheim, Munich


de Havilland Canada

C-FGYN Adlair Aviation Ltd. de Havilland Beaver (DHC2) Mk I on floats
Bombardier (de Havilland Canada) Dash 8 of Flybe
de Havilland Australia DHA.3 Drover 3B at Sydney (Bankstown) in 1970, where it was originally built
Main article: de Havilland Canada

de Havilland Canada Aircraft of Canada Ltd. was formed in 1928[11] to build Moth aircraft for the training of Canadian airmen and continued after the war to build its own designs suited to the harsh Canadian environment. The DHC-2 to DHC-7 aircraft were all STOL designs. DHC spent a stint as a Canadian Crown Corporation, then as a subsidiary of Boeing, then back as a Crown Corporation. de Havilland (Canada) was eventually incorporated into the Bombardier group of companies and the Dash Eight remains in production with a particular emphasis being placed on its quiet operation in comparison to other aircraft of a similar size. In May 2005, Bombardier sold the rights to the out-of-production aircraft (DHC-1 through DHC-7) to Viking Air Ltd. of Sidney, British Columbia.

de Havilland Australia

The first overseas subsidiary was set up in Australia in March 1927 as de Havilland Aircraft Pty. Ltd. The company moved from Melbourne to Sydney during 1930 where it acted as an agency for the parent company, with assembly, repair and spares facilities for the company's popular sporting and airliner types. Aircraft design and full manufacture by de Havilland Australia (DHA) did not take place until the Second World War, when the company began production of the DH 82 Tiger Moth primary trainer at Bankstown, NSW.

During the Second World War, DHA designed a small troop-carrying glider to be used if Australia was invaded by Japan. The DH-G1 emerged in mid-1942 and used the DH 84 Dragon forward fuselage, 87 of which were in production at the same factory as navigational trainers. The two built served as prototypes for the definitive DH-G2 produced the following year but the need had passed by this time and only six DH-G2s were built. The company also began to manufacture the Mosquito, with deliveries to the RAAF being first made in 1944. A total of 212 Mosquitos were built at Bankstown between 1943 and 1948. Some of these aircraft continued in RAAF service until 1953.

Licensed production of the de Havilland Vampire began in 1948, with the first of 190 built flying in 1949.

Another DHA design, the de Havilland Australia DHA-3 Drover, was manufactured between 1948 and 1953. Only 20 were produced, mostly for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), Trans Australia Airlines and Qantas. The DHA-3 Drover was a 3-engined light transport derived from the DH 104 Dove, capable of carrying six-eight passengers. It was designed as a replacement for the DH 84 Dragon, which was common in Australia due to its wartime production by DHA. The engine chosen for the new design was the de Havilland Gipsy Major Mk-10 4s. Several Drovers were later re-engined with more powerful Lycoming O-360 horizontally-opposed engines to improve performance.

In 1959 a boat building division known as de Havilland Marine was established at the Bankstown factory.

The de Havilland Australia concern is now owned by Boeing Australia and is known as Hawker de Havilland Aerospace. On 6 February 2009, Boeing announced that Hawker de Havilland changes its name to Boeing Aerostructures Australia.

de Havilland New Zealand

The interior of de Havilland New Zealand's aircraft factory at Rongotai, Wellington, in 1939 or 1940

To meet the demand for Tiger Moth trainers for the Royal New Zealand Air Force and potentially for RAF training to be conducted in New Zealand, the de Havilland (New Zealand) Company Ltd was established in March 1939, and work commenced on New Zealand's first aircraft factory at Rongotai.[12] After World War II, the company undertook maintenance and refurbishment work until taken over by Hawker Siddeley International NZ Ltd in 1964.[13][14] The site of the factory is now part of Wellington International Airport.

de Havilland Engines

As well as a prolific aircraft builder, de Havilland was also a significant producer of aero engines. This went against usual practice: usually engines are designed and produced by a dedicated company though in the UK the Bristol Aeroplane Company had a substantial engine business and Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft was part of the same business as Armstrong Siddeley[15] The successful "Gipsy" and the later developments such as the Gipsy Major were successful and popular power units, being used in nearly all of de Havilland's light designs and several aircraft from other manufacturers. Gipsy engines were relatively unusual by the 1930s/40s because they were in-line engines, at a time when radial or opposed-action engine layouts were more popular. The de Havilland company was also a competitor to Rolls-Royce and Metrovick in the early years of jet engine development. Employing the services of Frank Halford then buying out his company they produced the de Havilland Goblin and de Havilland Ghost engines for first their jet fighters then the Comet.

de Havilland Propellers

A company set up in 1935 for the manufacture of Hamilton Standard propellers under licence, and which later produced guided and other missiles such as the Firestreak and Blue Streak.

Key aircraft designers and engineers

Test pilots


The de Havilland company donated a site to Hertfordshire County Council for educational use: the site was then developed as Hatfield Technical College, which is now the College Lane Campus. de Havilland was purchased by Hawker Siddeley in 1960 and merged into British Aerospace in 1978. The BAE site then closed in 1993, and the University of Hertfordshire purchased part of the site for the de Havilland Campus. Hatfield’s aerospace history is recorded today in the names of local streets, such as Comet Way and Bishops Rise.[16]

In September 2003 the former British aerospace site became the de Havilland campus of University of Hertfordshire.[17]

See also



  1. Davenport-Hines 2002, p. 216.
  2. Flight Magazine, 7 October 1920, p. 1070.
  3. 1 2 "The De Havilland Aircraft Company." RAF Museum website. Retrieved: 3 April 2014.
  4. 1 2 Flight Magazine, 20 September 1940. p. 254.
  5. 1 2 "Obituary: Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, O.M." The Times, Issue 56328, Saturday, 22 May 1965, p. 10.
  6. Flight Magazine, 20 September 1940, p. 255.
  7. "de Havilland History." RAF Museum, Retrieved: 12 August 2007.
  8. "Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK & US Civil Aircraft Register databases." Retrieved: 12 August 2007.
  9. de Havilland propellers
  10. T. A. Heppenheimer (2002). "The Expanding World of the Shuttle". History of the Space Shuttle, Volume Two: Development of the Space Shuttle, 1972–1981. Smithsonian. p. 92. ISBN 978-1-58834-441-0. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  11. "de Havilland Canada." Retrieved: 14 April 2015.
  12. Ewing 1986, p. 120.
  13. White's Air Directory and Who's Who in New Zealand aviation, 1964, p. 7.
  14. "de Havilland Rongotai info sought." Wings Over New Zealand Aviation Forum, 7 September 2011. Retrieved: 27 September 2014.
  15. After 1935, both part of the Hawker group.
  16. "UH 2020 Estates Vision". University of Hertfordshire. Retrieved: 1 October 2014.
  17. "Our history." University of Hertfordshire. Retrieved: 30 September 2014.


  • Bain, Gordon. de Havilland: A Pictorial Tribute. London: AirLife, 1992. ISBN 1-85648-243-X.
  • Bransom, Alan. The Tiger Moth Story, Fifth Edition. Manchester, UK: Crécy Publishing Ltd., 2005. ISBN 0-85979-103-3.
  • Davenport-Hines, R. P. T. Dudley Docker: The Life and Times of a Trade Warrior. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-521-89400-X.
  • Ewing, Ross. The History of New Zealand Aviation. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1986. ISBN 978-0-8686-3409-8.
  • Hotson, Fred. The de Havilland Canada Story. Toronto: CANAV Books, 1983. ISBN 0-9690703-2-2.
  • Jackson, A. J. de Havilland Aircraft since 1909. Putnam, 1987. ISBN 0-85177-802-X
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