Front three quarter view of the prototype DH5
The prototype DH5 showing its flat fuselage sides and aerodynamically balanced rudder.
The Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Airco) DH5 was a World War I single-seat fighter designed specifically to replace the Airco DH2. Designed by Captain Geoffrey de Havilland, it was a ‘tractor’ type aircraft which offered the performance of a tractor type aircraft.
The prototype Airco DH5 (A5172) flew for the first time in August 1916 and was distinguished by its flat fuselage sides (rounded in the production aircraft) and aerodynamically balanced rudder. It featured a forward-firing .303 (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun, fixed either at an angle or mounted on an adjustable fixing.
To balance the aircraft, the pilot was seated forward of the main centre of gravity with the overhead fuel tank behind the cockpit.

The DH5 is one of very few biplanes to feature back-stagger (that is with the top wing further aft than the lower wing). This configuration was adopted to improve the field of view from the pilot’s cockpit. The type was the first British fighter to use the new sophisticated Constantinesco Colley (CC) synchronisation gear to allow a forward-firing machine gun to fire through the rotating propeller arc.

The type offered good manoeuvrability but its performance, particularly at altitude, was generally inferior to the Sopwith Pup (already in service), Sopwith Camel and Royal Aircraft Factory SE5A, which entered service shortly after the Airco DH5.
Production DH5 C9363 side view
Side view of C9363 a production DH5 'Hong Kong No8'.
The unusual configuration of the type was viewed with some scepticism and it is reported that its control effectiveness was markedly reduced at low speeds. Featuring a single machine gun resulted in the aircraft also being criticised as ‘under-armed’, especially when compared to its twin gun competitors. Despite this however, it was ordered in great quantities.

At least 550 Airco DH5 aircraft were built, with construction being split between Airco (200), Darracq Motor Engineering Co. Ltd (200), Marsh, Jones & Cribb (at least 38 from an order for 100) and The British Caudron Co. Ltd (50).

In service, the unconventional appearance of the aircraft led to rumours (largely unfounded) concerning its handling performance, although it was true that it dropped off rapidly at altitudes above 10,000 feet.

The Airco DH5 was the initial equipment supplied to the newly formed No.2 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps, the first Australian fighter unit.

Although effective in aerial battles due to its unobstructed forward view, this also led to it being used operationally for trench strafing.

The last Airco DH5 Squadron operating saw their aircraft replaced with the S.E.5a, in January 1918. Although used in training roles, the unpopularity of the aircraft saw it finally disappear from RFC service later that year.
DH5 A9474 in enemy hands
DH5 A9474 photographed after being captured by German forces.


Powerplant One 110 hp Le Rhône rotary engine                                 
Span 25 ft 8 in
Maximum Weight 1,492 lb
Capacity & Armament Pilot; one 0.303 Vickers machine gun
Maximum Speed 109 mph
Endurance 2.75 hr


Number built

At least 550  200 by Airco, remainder by contract manufacturers                                



There are no known original survivors. A flying full-scale replica is displayed by the Aviation Heritage Centre, Omaka Aerodrome, New Zealand.



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