Front three quarter view of one of the two DH6 prototypes
Front three quarter view of one of the two DH6 prototypes.
The Airco DH6 was a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) Training aircraft designed by Geoffrey de Havilland for the Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Airco) shortly after the outbreak of World War One.
It was what is now described as an angular tractor biplane with a resolutely rectangular wing plan-form allowing the individual wing panels to be interchangeable. As a result, the 1919 edition of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft unfairly conferred the following description: ‘it has rather the appearance of having been built by the mile and cut off to order’. Performance was limited by the low power and the high drag of the rather crude engine installation.
Most aircraft used the Royal Aircraft Factory 1A engine but these were in short supply and so the 90hp Curtiss OX-5 and 80hp Renault engine were used in some production batches.
It first flew at Hendon in late 1916 with Geoffrey de Havilland at the controls.
The two prototypes (A5175 and A5176) were fitted with fins and rudders of the archetypal de Havilland shape, whereas production machines featured a more angular rudder, without an aerodynamic balance.
Side view of one of the DH6 prototypes showing the highly cambered wing leading edge
Side view of one of the DH6 prototypes showing the highly cambered wing leading edge.
The type also featured a heavily cambered wing leading edge to ensure benign stalling characteristics. This (and possibly the low performance) led to the type acquiring the soubriquet ‘Clutching Hand’ although many also considered this appropriate due to its forgiving nature when flown by inexperienced pilots. Other nicknames included ‘skyhook’ and ‘flying coffin’ (the latter not on account of its safety record, but rather because of the shape of the cockpit opening).  In fact, some maverick instructors actually claimed it to be useless as a trainer because it was too easy to fly.
At least 2,282 Airco DH6 were built, including those sub-contracted to the following companies: The Gloucestershire Aircraft Co. Ltd; The Grahame-White Aviation Co. Ltd; Harland & Wolff; Kingsbury Aviation Co. Ltd; Morgan & Co. Ltd; Ransomes, Sims & Jeffries Ltd; and Savages Ltd.
In 1917, the training role within the RFC was revamped with the aim of making flight instructors into specially trained pilots.   After initial use of the Airco DH6, it was replaced with the much larger Avro 504K with surplus aircraft being transferred to the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and utilised as anti-submarine patrol aircraft.  It was in this role that the Airco DH6 found another surprising accolade when it was found that in the unfortunate occurrence of an enforced 'ditching', the aircraft remained afloat for up to 10 hours.  
However, it was severely underpowered which resulted in the majority of convoy escorts being flown solo, a complicated arrangement, especially considering most air-to-ship communication was via an Aldis lamp. 
By the end of the conflict over 1,000 aircraft were still in active service, albeit in second-line roles.
The type found use post-war as a relatively affordable private aircraft and the first aircraft to bear British civil markings was an Airco DH6 (K100). This was one of fifty two aircraft to be British registered, with a further 14 examples or so being exported, mainly to Australia.
Giro Aviation used a fleet of aircraft modified as three-seaters for 'joy-riding', operating from 1921 until 1933 from the extensive sands at Southport. A further 60 modified DH6 aircraft were licence-built at Guadalajara, Spain from 1921 onwards.
Three production DH6 aircraft at a desert airfield
Three production Airco DH6 aircraft at a desert airfield.


Powerplant                       One 90 hp RAF 1A engine (90 hp Curtiss OX-5 and 80 hp Renault also fitted)
Span 35 ft 11 in
Maximum Weight 2,000 lb (three seat 2,380 lb)
Range / Endurance 2.75 hr
Maximum Speed 66 mph


Number built

At least 2,282  2 Prototype / 2,280 Production aircraft                                                      



Airco DH6                         Standard production machine
Airco DH6A Modification to improve stability with 10 inches back stagger, reduced wing chord with less camber and smaller chord rudder and elevators.






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