Geoffrey de Havilland
Captain Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, OM, CBE, AFC, RDI, FRAeS, (27 July 1882 – 21 May 1965) was a British aviation pioneer and aircraft engineer. His Mosquito has been considered the most versatile warplane ever built.
Born on 27 July 1882 at Magdala House, Terriers, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, de Havilland was the second son of the Revd Charles de Havilland and his first wife, Alice Jeannette (née Saunders). He was educated at Nuneaton Grammar School, St Edward's School, Oxford and the Crystal Palace School of Engineering (from 1900 to 1903).
After engineering school, his first interest was in automotive engineering, building cars and motorcycles. He took an apprenticeship with engine manufacturers Willans & Robinson of Rugby, after which he worked as a draughtsman for the Wolseley Motor Company in Birmingham, a job from which he resigned after only a year. He subsequently spent two years working in the design office of an omnibus company in Walthamstow.
He married in 1909 and almost immediately embarked on the career of designing, building and flying aircraft to which he devoted the rest of his life.
Built with money borrowed from his maternal grandfather,, de Havilland's first aircraft took two years to build and he crashed it during its first very short flight near Litchfield, Hampshire. A memorial today marks the event. Subsequent designs were more successful: in 1912 he established a new British altitude record of 10,500 feet (3.2 km) in an aircraft of his design.
In December 1910, de Havilland joined HM Balloon Factory at Farnborough, which was to become the Royal Aircraft Factory. He sold his second aeroplane (which he had used to teach himself to fly) to his new employer for 400 pounds - it became the F.E.1 - the first aircraft to bear an official Royal Aircraft Factory designation. For the next three years de Havilland designed, or participated in the design of, a number of experimental types at the "Factory".
In January 1914, he was appointed an inspector of aircraft in the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate. Unhappy at leaving design work, in May he was recruited to become the Chief Designer at Airco, in Hendon. He designed many aircraft for Airco all designated using his initials DH. Large numbers of de Havilland designed aircraft were used during the First World War flown by the Royal Flying Corps and later the Royal Air Force.
Airco was bought by the BSA Company but BSA were only interested in using the company factories for car production. De Havilland raised £20,000, bought the relevant assets he needed and in 1920 formed the de Havilland Aircraft Company at Stag Lane Aerodrome, Edgware where de Havilland and his company designed and built a large number of aircraft including the Moth family of aircraft. In 1933 the company moved to Hatfield Aerodrome, in Hertfordshire. One of his roles was as test pilot for the company's aircraft, in all of which he liked to fly.
The company's aircraft, particularly the Mosquito played a formidable role in World War II and de Havilland was knighted in 1944.
He controlled the company until it was bought by the Hawker Siddeley Company in 1960.
Retirement and death
In 1955, de Havilland retired from active involvement in his company , though remaining as president. He continued flying up to the age of seventy. He died aged 82, of a cerebral haemorrhage, on 21 May 1965 at Watford Peace Memorial Hospital, Middlesex.
In 1918, de Havilland was made an OBE and CBE in 1934. He received the Air Force Cross in 1919, in recognition of his service in the First World War, and was knighted in 1944. He was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1962. He received numerous national and international gold and silver medals and honorary fellowships of learned and engineering societies.
In 1909, de Havilland married Louise Thomas, who had formerly been governess to de Havilland's sisters. They had three sons together.
Two of de Havilland's sons died as test pilots in de Havilland aircraft. One of these (also named Geoffrey) carried out the first flights of the Mosquito and Vampire and was killed flying the DH 108 Swallow while diving at or near the speed of sound. His youngest son, John died in an air collision in 1943. Louise suffered a nervous breakdown following these deaths and died in 1949.
In 1951, de Havilland remarried, to Joan Mary Frith, herself a divorcée.
In 1979, de Havilland's autobiography, Sky Fever was published by Peter and Anne de Havilland.
- de Havilland, Geoffrey. Sky Fever: The Autobiography of Sir Geoffrey De Havilland. Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire, UK: Crowood Press Ltd., 1999. ISBN 1-84037-148-X .
- Smith, Ron. British Built Aircraft - Greater London. Stroud, UK: Tempus Publishing, 2002. ISBN 0-7524-2770-9.
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