De Havilland DH103 Hornet PX217
De Havilland DH103 Hornet PX217


The De Havilland Aircraft Company DH103 Hornet in many ways represents the peak of piston-engine fighter design. With its slim fuselage, clean lines and tightly cowled engines, great attention was paid from the outset on maximising performance.

The prototype DH103 (RR915) was built on a private venture basis and flew for the first time on 28th July 1944.


Designed around the successful wooden construction principals of the De Havilland DH98 Mosquito, the DH103 Hornet was powered by a pair of 2,070 hp Merlin engines driving opposite-handed propellers. At Boscombe Down the trials revealed an astonishing maximum speed of 485 mph at 22,000 ft. The type was also reported to possess 'superb handling characteristics', particularly in respect of its high rate of roll.


Initially conceived for operations in the Pacific Theatre against the Japanese, the conflict had ended before the aircraft reached operational status.


Two main marks saw service with the RAF Fighter Command in the the DH103 F Mk 1 and then the DH103 F Mk 3, with the latter having increased fuel capacity and a large dorsal fin. Armament was four 20mm cannon and wing hard points with either eight ground attack rockets, or a pair of 1,000 lb bombs. Alternatively, two 200 gallon drop tanks could be fitted.


The DH103 Hornet saw active service in the Far East as a Strike Fighter during the Malayan Emergency during 1951, replacing Bristol Beaufighters and Vickers Supermarine Spitfires.


The DH103 Hornet also saw service with the Royal Navy, initially as a single seat fighter (Sea Hornet F 20).


During its production life, the main modifications were wing-folding and the fitment of an arrester hook. Provision was also made for an oblique reconnaissance camera, mounted in the rear of the fuselage.


Subsequently, the type was adapted as a two seat night fighter (NF.21) with a radome in the nose and a seat for the observer in the rear fuselage.


DH103 Sea Hornet landing on HMS Indomitable in 1950
De Havilland DH103 Sea Hornet landing on HMS Indomitable in 1950


The final naval variant was an unarmed reconnaissance version, the DH103 Sea Hornet PR.22.


Production comprised 5 prototypes and the variants listed in the table below.



Hornet F.1
60 built
Fighter version                                                       
Hornet PR.2
5 built
Photo-reconnaissance version
Hornet F.3
132 built
Fighter version
Hornet FR.4
12 built
Fighter-reconnaissance version
Sea Hornet F.20
79 built
A navalised version for service on British aircraft carriers
Sea Hornet NF.21
72 built
Fleet Air Arm night fighter powered by Merlin 133/134 engines
Sea Hornet PR.22
23 built
Photo-reconnaissance version



  DH103 Hornet F.3 DH103 Sea Hornet NF.21
Powerplant Two 2,070 hp RR Merlin 130/131  Two 2,030 hp RR Merlin 133/134       
Span 45 ft 0 in 45 ft 0 in
Maximum Weight 20,900 lb 19,530 lb
Capacity Pilot. Four 20mm Hispano cannon plus provision for two 1,000 lb bombs or eight 60 lb rockets Pilot and observer
Maximum Speed 472 mph at 22,000 ft 430 mph at 22,000 ft
Range 2,600 miles 1,500 miles



No known survivors


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