DH Comet 1 prototype

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Airco DH.16

Airco DH.16

Sir Geoffrey de Havilland was chief designer at Airco, giving the initials borne by many of the Hendon company’s WW1 types. His DH9, a single-engined light bomber had proved one of his few design disappointments. Its Beardmore-Halford-Pullinger Adriatic engine had promised much but delivered little, proving desperately unreliable and low on power. The new machine performed worse than the aircraft it was intended to replace, and losses were unacceptably heavy.

Confident that his essential design was sound, de Havilland set about a development using an engine that could deliver on the promise of his airframe. First choice was the well-proven Rolls-Royce Eagle, but this was in such widespread use that RR was unlikely to be able to provide a reliable supply. The excellent Liberty L-12 was eventually selected. Designed in just five days, it delivered 300kw (400hp) in a narrow, easily streamlined package weighing just 383kg (845lb).

Geoffrey de Havilland

Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, 1882-1065

Few aviators have left such a profound mark on aircraft development as Geoffrey de Havilland. In a career that spanned from the dawn of aviation to the jet age, he moved from designing his first aero engine in 1908 to creating aviation icons like the outstanding Mosquito and the world-changing Comet.

Born in Buckinghamshire in July 1882, de Havilland attended schools in Nuneaton and Oxford before...


The updated machine, the DH.9A was a vast improvement on the original. Capable of more than 120mph in level flight, and with an endurance in excess of five hours, it could carry a 740lb bomb load.

When hostilities ended, de Havilland saw peacetime potential in his bomber, and set to work to design a passenger variant. He widened the fuselage, enclosing the rear section to provide seating for four people. The pilot’s position remained open, forward of the passenger cabin and under the top wing. At last able to obtain de Havilland’s first choice of engine, Airco chose the Rolls Royce Eagle for the new type, later switching to the even more powerful, albeit heavier Napier Lion W12. The DH.16 flew for the first time at Hendon Aerodrome in March of 1919. Nine were built, of which eight were purchased by Airco’s subsidiary, Air Transport and Travel or AT&T (Not to be confused with American Telephone & Telegraph, also known as AT&T).

AT&T initially used the DH.16 for pleasure flights, but they soon introduced a regular air service from Hounslow Heath to Le Bourget, becoming the world’s first daily international air transporter. Flying time was roughly 2½ hours and cost a little over £20 – about the same cost as a budget flight today, though considerably more expensive in 1919!

One of the AT&T machines was destroyed on 18th March 1920, when it made a forced landing in the English Channel off Beachy Head. The pilot, Harold Game, was unhurt and rescued from the floating wreck by S.S. Selarus.

The ninth DH.16 was bought by the Argentine River Plate Aviation Company, who set up a service between Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

The British airlines faced overwhelming competition from French companies. Always more air-minded than other countries, France provided government support to its airlines, making it virtually impossible for British operations to compete. AT&T closed in December 1920, and its seven remaining DH.16s were mothballed. Airco, which had been purchased by BSA in March of that year, was liquidated as bankrupt within a month.

Five of the stored DH.16s were scrapped in 1922, while the remaining two saw brief service as newspaper carriers. A fatal crash on 10 January 1923 brought this service to an end, and the single remaining DH.16 was scrapped.

DH.16 by numbers
First Flight:March 1919
Capacity:4 passengers
Powerplant:1 × Napier Lion 12-cylinder water-cooled W-block engine of 336kW (450hp)
Range:684km (425mi)
Maximum Speed:219km/h (136mph)
Ceiling:6,400m (21,000ft)
Length:9.68m (31ft 9in)
Wingspan:14.17m (46ft 6in)
Height:3.45m (11ft 4 in)
Weight:1,431kg (3,155lb)


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