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Geoffrey de Havilland

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Title: Geoffrey de Havilland  
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Subject: Airco, De Havilland Iris, De Havilland Biplane No. 1, Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.1, Airco DH.1
Collection: 1882 Births, 1965 Deaths, Cardiovascular Disease Deaths in England, Commanders of the Order of the British Empire, De Havilland, Deaths from Cerebral Hemorrhage, English Aerospace Engineers, English Aviators, English Businesspeople, Fellows of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Harmon Trophy Winners, Knights Bachelor, Members of the Order of Merit, Neurological Disease Deaths in the United Kingdom, People Educated at St Edward's School, Oxford, People from High Wycombe, People from Watford, Recipients of the Air Force Cross (United Kingdom), Royal Aeronautical Society Gold Medal Winners, Royal Flying Corps Officers
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Geoffrey de Havilland

Sir Geoffrey de Havilland
Geoffrey de Havilland at Perth, Western Australia, after winning the fastest overall time prize in the 1929 Centenary Air Race
Born (1882-07-27)27 July 1882
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England
Died 21 May 1965(1965-05-21) (aged 82)
Watford, Hertfordshire, England, UK
Cause of death Cerebral haemorrhage
Nationality British
Education Oxford
Occupation Aircraft engineer
Known for Aircraft designer
Spouse(s) Louise Thomas (1909–1949)
ended with her death
Joan Mary Firth (1951–1965)
ended with his death
Children 3 sons, Geoffrey Jr., Peter and John
Parent(s) Charles de Havilland (father)
Jeanette "Nettie" Saunders (mother)
Relatives Olivia de Havilland (cousin)
Joan Fontaine (cousin)

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.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Aviation career 2
  • Retirement and death 3
  • Honours 4
  • Family 5
  • Posthumous 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Born at Magdala House, Terriers, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, de Havilland was the second son of The Reverend Charles de Havilland and his first wife, Alice Jeannette (née Saunders).[1] He was educated at Nuneaton Grammar School, St Edward's School, Oxford and the Crystal Palace School of Engineering (from 1900 to 1903).

Upon graduating from engineering training, de Havilland pursued a career 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 Tool and Motor Car Company Limited in Birmingham, a job from which he resigned after a year.[1] He then spent two years working in the design office of Motor Omnibus Construction Company Limited in Walthamstow. While there he designed his first aero engine and had the first prototype made by Iris Motor Company of Willesden.

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.

Aviation career

Blue plaque, 32 Baron's Court Road, Barons Court, London

Built with money borrowed from his maternal grandfather,[1] de Havilland's first aircraft took two years to build before he crashed it during its first very short flight at Seven Barrows near Litchfield, Hampshire in December 1909.[2] He built a fresh biplane aircraft, making his first flight in it from a meadow near Newbury in September 1910.[3] A memorial plaque presently marks the event. Subsequent designs were even more successful: in 1912 he established a new British altitude record of 10,500 feet (3.2 km) in an aircraft of his design, the B.E.2. Geoffrey was the designer and his brother Hereward was the test pilot.

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. 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, de Havilland 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 by 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 was only interested in using the company factories for car production. Raising £20,000, de Havilland bought the relevant assets and in 1920 formed the de Havilland Aircraft Company at Stag Lane Aerodrome, Edgware, where he and his company designed and built a large number of aircraft, including the Moth family. In 1933 the company moved to Hatfield Aerodrome, in Hertfordshire. One of his roles was as test pilot for the company's aircraft. He was believed to have said "we could have had jets" in reference to the ignoring of jet engine possibilities prior to the start of the 1939–45 world war. His company's aircraft, particularly the Mosquito, played a formidable role in that war. In 1944 he bought out his friend and engine designer Frank Halfords engine design consultancy company, forming the de Havilland Engine Company with Halford as head. Halford had previously designed a number of engines for de Havilland, including the de Havilland Gipsy and de Havilland Gipsy Major. Halford's first gas turbine design entered production as the de Havilland Goblin powering de Havilland's first jet, the Vampire.

Until it was bought by the Hawker Siddeley Company in 1960, de Havilland controlled the company.

Retirement and death

de Havilland retired from active involvement in his company in 1955, though remaining as president. He continued flying up to the age of 70.[1] He died aged 82, of a cerebral haemorrhage, on 21 May 1965 at Watford Peace Memorial Hospital, Hertfordshire.


In 1918, de Havilland was made an OBE, and was honoured with a CBE in 1934. He received the Air Force Cross in 1919,[4] 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.

A statue of de Havilland was erected in July 1997 near the entrance to the College Lane campus of the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield. He was in effect a benefactor of the university, as in 1951 the de Havilland company had given land adjoining the A1 to Hertfordshire County Council for educational use in perpetuity; the Hatfield Technical College then founded was a precursor of today's university. The statue was unveiled by His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh.


De Havilland Memorial Stone near Seven Barrows Field and Beacon Hill from A34

Actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine are de Havilland's cousins; his father, Charles, and their father, Walter, were half-brothers.

In 1909, Geoffrey de Havilland married Louise Thomas, who had formerly been governess to de Havilland's sisters. They had three sons, Peter, Geoffrey and John. Two of the sons died as test pilots in de Havilland aircraft. His youngest son, John, died in an air collision involving two Mosquitoes in 1943. Geoffrey Jr carried out the first flights of the Mosquito and Vampire and was killed in 1946 flying the jet-powered DH 108 Swallow while diving at or near the speed of sound. Louise suffered a nervous breakdown following these deaths and died in 1949. de Havilland remarried in 1951, to Joan Mary Frith (1900-1974), a divorcée. They remained married until his death.


In 1979, de Havilland's autobiography, Sky Fever, was published by Peter and Anne de Havilland.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Davenport-Hines, Richard. "Havilland, Sir Geoffrey de (1882–1965)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Oxford University.
  2. ^ Roots In The Sky - A History of British Aerospace Aircraft, Oliver Tapper (1980), ISBN 061700323 8; pp. 7/8. "de Davilland first became airborne in December 1909 but his biplane broke up as soon as it left the ground and crashed immediately, the only salvable item being the engine which itself had been designed and built by de Havilland."
  3. ^ Roots In The Sky, p. 8
  4. ^ "Award of AFC". Supplement to the London Gazette (31098). 1 January 1919. p. 97. 
  • 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

External links

  • Sir Geoffrey De Havilland (1882-1965), Aircraft designer and manufacturer: Sitter in 11 portraits

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