As a young man of twenty-seven, Geoffrey de Havilland had a good job with a firm of automobile engineers. Reputable automobile engineers, the record is careful to state, a rare institution then and not a common one now. Fortyfive shillings a week, he made-say, $11-almost a fortune, but it was not enough for de Havilland, who burned with the dream of building his own airplane. He knew nothing of aerodynamics and little of structures, but in those days few people did. Young de Havilland had a grandfather who must have had a stronger faith in the inheritability of talent than most grandfathers, for he lent his young grandson £500 for his project. De Havilland resigned his job, found a room that was spare near Bedford Square, took on his friend Frank Hearle as assistant, and was in business.
The plane the two lads built followed the classic layout of the Wright brothers: biplane wings, twin pusher propellers, a forward elevator, and a rear rudder. By midwinter it was ready. For taxiing tests they chose a site on Salisbury Plain, every bit as windy and as shivery as the Wright's own Kitty Hawk, and they huddled over a coke-burning brazier to fight the chill. The tests began; on one, feeling himself almost airborne, de Havilland heaved back on the elevator, bounced briefly into the air, and then collapsed in a tangle of white pine and oiled silk. It was the end of the D.H. 1. De Havilland, as if to reassure the little knot of spectators already running toward the wreckage, but perhaps more to convince himself he was still breathing, thrust an arm up from the jumbled wreckage, only to collect a sound clout on the wrist from the still whirling propeller- fortunately his only injury.
No job, no money, no airplane, and one arm in a sling: what next? It seems de Havilland must have enjoyed tempting providence, for at this juncture in his life he chose to get married. Once more that splendid grandparent came to his aid. Announcing that he had intended leaving Geoffrey another £500 anyway, he said the lad might as well have it now. When the war came, de Havilland was briefly with the Royal Flying Corps, then was seconded to the Aircraft Manufacturing Co., just north of London, again as designer. Here he toiled for the duration of hostilities, with no mean success, for his designs flew strongly (when the engines allowed) and were built in enormous numbers. Even the U. S. Army Air Corps flew de Havillands. Almost five thousand D.H. 4's were built under license in the United States.
By war's end, de Havilland had made his name with the public and was able to raise £20,000 to start his own company. Not much work came along at first, but one wealthy sportsman ordered a large private touring airplane, and when it was delivered casually inquired if de Havilland would like any additional financing. He would, and with it he bought the aerodrome at Stag Lane, where his factory was.
In 1923 the famous Lympne trials were organized by the Air Ministry to encourage the development of light airplanes suitable for private ownership. De Havilland came up with a tiny low-wing monoplane, a singleseater powered by a two-cylinder motorcycle engine, named the D.H. 53 Hummingbird. The Air Ministry ordered a few for the RAF, and one was used in experiments in air-launching small airplanes from a dirigible. One RAF test pilot evolved what he felt was a splendid game with the D.H. 53. He would cruise the wideopen spaces of Salisbury Plain till he found a motorcyclist on a lonely road. He then descended till he was flying just behind the cyclist, who hearing the motorcycle engine in his ear would think it was another motorcyclist seeking to overtake and would wave the pilot on. At which the RAF man opened the throttle and sailed right on by.
The Lympne trials had been based on the erroneous premise that a successful light airplane, when it was achieved, would be as low-powered as the automobiles of its day, and entries had been limited to power plants of no more than 1,150 cc, which meant flew at all, let alone was a rotten airplane, and the finalindignity was when, in completing a demonstration flight across the English Channel, one was overtaken by a Belgian goods train of the slowest kind. In retrospect, it was a lucky thing that the D.H. 53 was so poor, for it set de Havilland thinking that this ultralight approach to aviation for everyman was unsound. His next design was the D.H. 51, which employed a 90-hp war-surplus engine that de Havilland bought in bulk for less than a pound each, but there were grave certification problems with this engine, so de Havilland went to a big 120-hp power plant built by his old wartime employers, and which was licensed. But it was far too expensive. So he thought again.
Engine problems had plagued his work throughout the war. Engines were never available when promised and couldn't be relied on to work when they were eventually delivered. One of the few good ones had been the Airdisco in his D.H. 5 l's, a V-8 developed from a French Renault engine by de Havilland's friend Frank Halford. Halford was now following the uncertain profession of free-lance engine designer, so de Havilland stripped down an Airdisco and invited Halford to look at it. Could he make a four-cylinder engine of 60-hp out of one bank of the Airdisco's eight cylinders? The idea must have seemed somewhat harebrained to Halford, whose mind was in any case busy on a new engine for Aston Martin cars, but he reluctantly agreed to try. They would use Airdisco (Renault) pistons, cylinders, and valves in a new crankcase, with automotive carburetors and magnetos to keep costs down. It was a wispy, tenuous kind of beginning, so they called the new engine the Cirrus. With a suitable engine on its way, on the design of D.H. 60. For all the de Havilland, a glutton for work, started greatness it was to achieve, the D.H. 60 was in appearance just another de Havilland biplane, deriving from a pattern that went back to D.H. 4. It had straight, squarish wings set one above the other, wood-strutted and wirebraced, and attached to an all-wooden fuselage of simple square section with a curved top decking. The fin and rudder were shaped by two curves coming to a point, a feature that was to mark just about every de Havilland airplane until they began to enter the transonic speed range in the late 1940's. D.H. 60 boasted an airfoil-shaped fuel tank (capacity fifteen imperial gallons) amidships on the top wing, and an undercarriage that used rubber in compression, rather than the then-usual arrangement of stretched rubber cords. The two occupants sat in open cockpits, one behind the other. Almost the only novelty in No. 60's design was the ailerons. Captain de Havilland's patent ailerons were an attempt, only pardy successful, to eliminate adverse yaw by limiting the travel of the downgoing aileron. Unfortunately, the downgoing aileron not only provides most of the yaw, but much of the roll movement, too, and the Captain's patent ailerons have a sloppy feel that has endured. This lack of aileron effectiveness was not helped by their installation on the lower wing only.