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Airco DH2

"... the de Havilland machine has unquestionably proved itself superior to the Fokker in speed, manoeuverability, climbing and general fighting efficiency."
Sir Henry Rawlinson - 23rd May 1916
Airco DH2 on ground Airco DH2 in 1915
The single-seat DH2 was designed as a result of lessons learned in early aerial combat.  This was Geoffery de Havilland's 2nd pusher design for Airco and probably one of the most significant.
 
It was derived from the Airco DH1 two-seater and retained the biplane pusher layout.  This afforded the pilot the maximum possible field of view from the forward-most tub. Significantly smaller and lighter than its predecessor, the DH2 emphasised manoeuvrability as a primary design aim and it was soon adopted into RFC service.
 
The type was unusual in adopting a fixed forward-firing .303 Lewis machine gun fitted in the nose of the aircraft which made it a significant leap forward in dog-fighting capability. The gun could be positioned in mid-air on either of the 3 flexible mounts although most pilots chose the forward-facing central position and opted for aiming the aircraft at the enemy rather than the gun.  
 
Airco DH2 overhead This view clearly shows the superior pilots position and gun mounting
The prototype (4372) was first flown in July 1915 and entered RFC service in February 1916 and the vast majority of the production aircraft were fitted with a Gnôme Monosoupape 100 hp rotary engine. 
 
During WW1 the DH2 was flown by a number of notable pilots including Major Lance Hawker VC who claimed 7 victories as Commander of No 24 Squadron RFC (Hawker was later shot down by ‘Red Baron’ Manfred von Richthofen). Squadron Leader Lionel Rees won the Victoria Cross in A DH2 for single handedly attacking a formation of 10 German aircraft on 1st July 1916.
 
The type saw major service on the Western Front and was heavily engaged during the Battle of the Somme with No.24 Squadron RFC who destroyed 44 enemy machines during the conflict.
 
Airco DH2 Four single-seat aircraft on Beauval Aerodrome at the Fourth Army Aircraft Park in 1916 Airco DH2 Four single-seat aircraft on Beauval Aerodrome at the Fourth Army Aircraft Park in 1916
Despite being very manouverable and easy to fly, a number of accident occurred during pilot training although this was attributed to the poor standard or airmen rather than any deficiencies in the aircraft. 
 
In total some 453 DH2’s were built, all by Airco at their works in Hendon although it was very quickly outclassed by the new German tractor biplane such as the Halberstad D.II and Albatross D.I which appeared in the skies over France in 1916. 
 
The introduction of reliable interrupter gear allowing firing through the propeller disc resulted in the DH2 and similar types being superseded in the RFC by British tractor biplanes such as the Sopwith Camel and RAF SE5A and in 1917 No.24 Squadron had their DH2’s replaced with DH5’s.
 
A few aircraft remained active as trainers into 1918 but by the Armistice on 11th November there were no DH2's left in service with what by then had become the RAF.

Specification (DH.2) 

Powerplant
100hp Gnôme rotary engine
Span
28 ft 3 in
Maximum Weight
1,441 lb
Capacity & Armament
Single pilot and one forward-firing 0.303 Lewis machine gun
Maximum Speed
93 mph
Endurance
2.75 hours

Number built

453  1 Prototype / 452 Production aircraft

Survivors

There are no known original survivors alhough a number of flying replicas have been built.

More information

Via email to BAE Systems Heritage (Brough) via Heritage@baesystems.com

Please note that the information shown is based on that available at the time of the creation of this web page - If you have any additions or corrections please contact: Heritage@baesystems.com