24 January 2022

The De Havilland Aircraft Museum - Highlights


Situated at Salisbury Hall, just outside St. Albans, it claims to be Britain’s oldest aviation museum.

This was the birthplace of the DH.98, better known as the Mosquito. Unsurprisingly the collection revolves around it’s piece de resistance, the prototype DH.98.

Vintage photo of the actual prototype.

Nicknamed the ‘Wooden wonder’ as it was made mostly out of layered plywood, the Mosquito would vastly outperform the Air Ministry’s requirements of the design. By 1938 a new war with Germany seemed imminent, so Geoffrey De Havilland’s idea, of making the plane out of wood, rather than scarce aluminium alloys, gained a lot of traction.

The DH.98 was designed as a two-seater fighter-bomber, but during the war it would fill a great many roles, thus paving the way for today’s multi-role aircraft. None of the versions built had any defensive armament. To get out of trouble the Mosquito relied on raw speed. Powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines it was among the fastest aircraft of the war, with most variants reaching a top speed of over 400 miles per hour.

The Museum has not one, but three Mosquitos under one roof.

Experts in wood working, De Havilland would also build gliders to carry troops across the channel.

Stock photo. The museum has an incomplete fuselage.

Now… onto some other things De Havilland made, like the Hornet Moth. Designed originally as a trainer aircraft, it failed to win any government contracts, so it was sold on the civilian market instead.

Vintage photo of the actual plane on display.

The only autogyro De Havilland ever made. It’s a De Havilland fuselage mated to a Cierva rotor-wing, Cierva being the man who invented the autogyro.

Vintage photo of the only Cierva C24 in existence.

DH.88 Comet Racer replica, a wooden aircraft designed specifically to compete in an air-race from England to Australia. It did it in 70 hours and 55 minutes, setting a new record.

Stock photo. The museum has a replica on display.

One of the most successful planes de Havilland ever made, the DH.82 Tiger Moth. Between 1932 and 1959, the Tiger Moth was the RAF’s primary trainer aircraft. All new pilots cut their flying teeth in one of these.

Vintage photo of actual Tiger Moth on Display.

Out of the war effort, a new type of propulsion system emerged, the jet engine. The DH.100 Vampire features an unconventional twin-boom tail section, which makes it instantly recognisable. Powered by a single De Havilland Goblin turbine, the Vampire would give the Mosquito a serious run for its money. It enjoyed a relatively short service life in the RAF, yet it remains one of the most photogenic aircraft of the era.

Stock photo. The plane on display is ex-Swiss Air Force.

Jet technology would not go amiss in the civilian sector. In 1949 the DH.106 Comet would take to the skies, becoming the world’s first jet airliner. Powered by four De Havilland Ghost engines, it would, on average, halve travel time on most routes.

Stock photo. The one on display is an incomplete fuselage.

Being the first, however, did have its drawbacks. New concepts like metal fatigue and airframe overstress would enter the world of aviation. After a number of spectacular crashes, the Comet fleet would be grounded and De Havilland’s name forever tarnished. Competitors like Boeing would quickly learn how not to do things and emerge victorious in the market.

While the Comet drama was playing out, De Havilland tried its hand at a new jet fighter, the Vixen. An evolution of the Vampire design, the Vixen was larger and much faster, powered by two Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet engines. Adopted by the Royal Navy, it was duly rechristened as the Sea Vixen.

Stock photo. The FAW 2 on display is an unrestored survivor.

But it was not to be, by the time the Sea Vixen entered service the negative publicity generated by the Comet’s failings, would bring forth De Havilland’s ultimate fate. In 1960 it’s merged into the Hawker-Siddeley Group and by 1963 the De Havilland name is retired from all existing products and designs. An inglorious end to a once triumphant name.

* These are some of the planes in the collection that caught my eye. There are few more that I did not film, mostly newer that bear the Hawker-Siddeley name. The photos above are placeholders, for the actual aircrafts on display see the video at the top of the page.