Three De Havilland Aircraft Company
DH108 'Swallow' research aircraft were constructed to Air Ministry Specification E1/45 and E11/45 to investigate the low and high-speed characteristics of tail-less, swept wing aircraft. The first of these (TG283) made its first flight at RAF Woodbridge, Suffolk on 15th
Designed by John Carver Meadows Frost (who went on to design the Avro-Canada
CF-100), the layout of the DH108 resembled the configuration and layout of the Messerschmitt ME163 Komet, a rocket-powered interceptor designed during World War II.
De Havilland DH108 Swallow TG283 photographed with wing fences in November 1947.
The first development aircraft was exclusively used for the investigation of low-speed flight characteristics and it tested a range of leading edge slots, wing fences and other aerodynamic devices to determine their effects on stalling and low-speed handling.
Air to air photograph of De Havilland DH108 Swallow TG306 on 25th September 1946.
The second experimental aircraft (TG306) had flown on 24th July 1946 and was used for the high-speed flight trials. It featured a 45 degree swept wing, modified leading edge slats as well as being fitted with a De Havilland Goblin 3 engine.
Tragically, on 27th September 1946, the aircraft broke up in the air at high-speed, killing the pilot (and son of Company Founder) Geoffrey R de Havilland. Geoffrey 'Junior' was over Egypt Bay in the Thames Estuary, carrying out trials into handling characteristics when the aircraft suffered a catastrophic structural failure as it dived from 10,000ft at Mach 0.9.
The De Havilland Company, and of course the family, were devastated by the loss which was especially heartbreaking given that this followed the death of Geoffrey's younger brother John, who was killed in a mid-air collision some 3 years earlier. However, whilst many found it very difficult to continue, they forged ahead with a third and final prototype (VW120).
This variant, is instantly recognisable by its 'cleaned up', more streamlined nose and cockpit canopy, made its maiden flight on 24th July 1947 with John 'Cats Eyes' Cunningham at the controls.
On 12th April 1948, the aircraft gained a world-speed record for a 100 km closed circuit flight at 605.23 mph. De Havilland Chief Test Pilot John Derry then went on to exceed Mach 1 in the aircraft on 6th September 1948, this being the first British-designed aircraft to ‘break the sound barrier’.
In 1949, the aircraft appeared at the SBAC Farnborough Air Show, before being handed over to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough. Sadly, VW120 was also to end in tragedy when it too crashed, following structural failure in flight on 15th February 1950 over Buckinghamshire, claiming the life of RAE Test Pilot Squadron Leader Stuart Muller-Rowland.
The final chapter in the DH108 story was when the first aircraft (TG283) was lost in a crash at Hartley Wintney on 1st May 1950, and in which Squadron Leader Eric Genders was killed whilst attempting to abandon the aircraft.
Over 480 test flights were carried out by the 3 experimental DH108 aircraft and they were instrumental in the development of modern jet aircraft of both military and civil design.
They were the very epitome of an era when great advances were made through those brave men who were 'pushing the envelope' and the only way to prove a theory was to try it!