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de HAVILLAND, Geoffrey

(1882—1965) aircraft and aero-engine designer and manufacturer


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(1882–1965)

British aircraft designer, the creator of the Moth, Mosquito, and Comet. He was knighted in 1944 and appointed to the OM in 1962.

The son of a clergyman, De Havilland was educated at St Edward's School, Oxford, and the Crystal Palace Engineering School. He worked in industry for a few years before setting up in 1908, with an inheritance of £1000, as an aircraft designer. Although he smashed his first aircraft, his second plane was sold to the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough for £400. During World War I De Havilland, working for the Aircraft Manufacturing Company in Hendon, designed a number of bombers and fighters. In 1919, however, this company collapsed and De Havilland, who was by then one of the world's most experienced aviation engineers, set up the De Havilland Aircraft Company in Hendon with a working capital of £1875.

De Havilland's greatest achievement in the inter-war years was his introduction in 1925 of the Moth range of light aircraft. In its first twelve years 2500 models (mostly Gipsy Moths) were produced, while during World War II a further 8300 were built. It was also in the inter-war years that De Havilland designed the Mosquito, a revolutionary all-wood fighter-bomber. Although the Air Ministry showed no initial interest in the plane, it became one of the fastest and most versatile planes of its day and over 7000 Mosquitoes were built during the war. After the war De Havilland's Comet of 1949, the world's first commercial jet liner, started as a triumph of British enterprise. Unfortunately the disastrous crashes of 1954 from metal fatigue led to the need to redesign the plane. In 1959, as the Comet-4, it became the first jet in transatlantic service. There were also problems arising from De Havilland's pioneering work on supersonic planes. His son, Geoffrey, died testing a new plane in 1946, and the DH 110 crashed at Farnborough in 1952, killing many spectators while breaking the sound barrier. Although De Havilland himself continued to work on the design and development of aircraft until his death, the company and his name disappeared in 1959 when, in the process of rationalization demanded by the government, De Havilland's was taken over by Hawker Siddeley.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Industrial and Commercial Art.



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