Airco DH4

One of the best single engine bombers of the First World War that also played a role in the development of commercial air services.
Airco DH4 prototype 3696 at Hendon in August 1916 Airco DH4 prototype 3696 at Hendon in August 1916.
 
The Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Airco) DH4 (No3696) was a two-seat biplane day bomber of the first World War.  It first flew at Hendon in August 1916, with its designer Geoffery de Havilland at the controls.  After testing trials at Upavon and later at Martlesham Heath, it entered Royal Flying Corps (RFC) service on 6th March 1917, with No. 55 Squadron based in France.
 
The Airco DH4 had open cockpits, with the crew being separated by the fuel tank installed between them in the fuselage, which meant that a speaking tube was required for communications.
 
It was the first Day-Bomber to have defensive armament, with a forward firing Vickers 0.303 mm machine gun for use by the pilot, plus a 0.303 Lewis gun (sometime 2 guns) fitted on a Scarff ring for the observer. Two 230lb or four 112lb bombs could also be carried.
 
Early production Airco DH4 with short undercarriage Early production Airco DH4 with short undercarriage legs.
 
Early aircraft featured fairly short undercarriage legs, which resulted in a low propeller clearance on take-off, together with creating difficulties when operating from rough ground. The undercarriage struts were therefore lengthened on all later production aircraft.
 
Power was initially provided in the prototype by the 230hp BHP engine, although several other engine types such as the Siddeley Puma, Fiat and RAF 3A were later fitted. Of these alternative engines, the 375hp Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII is regarded as being the most successful.  Unfortunately, Rolls-Royce Eagle engines were in short supply and so production units built U.S. aircraft were powered by the 400 hp Liberty L-12 engine (which was later adopted for the Airco DH9A model) which was also used in American automobiles.
 
A later US-built derivative, the DH4M featured a fabric-covered steel tube fuselage.
 
Airco DH4 with Rolls-Royce Eagle engine Airco DH4 with Rolls-Royce Eagle engine.
 
The Airco DH4 proved very popular in service, not least for its speed and climb performance, manoeuvrability and pleasant flying characteristics.
 
1,449 Airco DH4 aircraft were built in the UK, some 915 of which were constructed at the Aircraft Manufacturing Works at the Hyde in Hendon. 
 
A further substantial number (4,846 from planned orders of up to 9,500) were built in the USA by Boeing, Dayton-Wright, Fisher Body Company and Standard Aircraft. Rather strangely however, 15 aircraft were also made by Sociétés Anonyme Belge de Constructions Aéronautiques (SABCA) in Belgium during 1926, long after the aircraft retired from military service.
 
In USA, the type was designated Airco DH4A and Airco DH4B, with a wide range of designations applied to various mainly experimental developments. In the Airco DH4B version, the pilot’s cockpit was moved to the rear to be adjacent to that of the gunner.
 
Airco DH-4B AS23-669 Airco DH-4B AS23-669 showing revised cockpit layout. This aircraft is fitted with wings from a Loening COA-1 amphibian.
 
British sub-contract orders were also placed with F.W. Berwick, Glendower Aircraft, Palladium Autocars Ltd and Vulcan Motor & Engineering, as well as Westland Aircraft Works. It was also proposed that a factory be set up in Russia to build Airco DH4s although the Russian Revolution of October 1917 resulted in these plans being abandoned.
 
Many Airco DH4s were used for experimental flying, such as in engine test work, both in the UK and the USA. Post-war, a single seat racing variant with cropped lower wings (Airco DH4R) won the 1919 Aerial Derby air race. 
 
Airco DH4R Racer K-141 The one-off Airco DH4R Racer K-141 set a closed circuit speed record of 129.3 mph.
 
The Airco DH4 was employed in a large number of roles, with variants that included crop-duster, ambulance and target-tug adaptations, as well as numerous training and commercial developments.
 
After the war, the type, and its derivatives, played an important role in initiating commercial passenger and Air Mail services in the UK and Australia as well as being particularly important to the US Postal Department. The majority of the US Mail aircraft were actually converted to single seaters, with the mail carried in a watertight compartment in the space previously occupied by the front cockpit.
 
RAF Airco DH4A on ground One of seven DH4s converted to DH4A configuration for RAF use in 1919.
 
The Airco DH4A commercial variant had a small glazed cabin in the rear fuselage in which two passengers could be seated. Operators included AT & T Ltd, who operated the service between Hounslow Heath Aerodrome and Paris Le Bourget. Other aircraft were operated by SNETA (Belgium), Handley Page Ltd and Instone Air Lines. In the southern hemisphere, the emerging Australian concern Qantas used the Airco DH4A for its first airmail service in 1922.
 
The DH4 eventually formed the basis for the Airco DH9 and Airco DH9A, of which a further total of more than 6,000 aircraft were built.

 

Specification


Powerplant One 375 hp Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII
Span 42 ft 4.6 in
Maximum Weight 3,472 lb
Capacity and armament Pilot and observer. Forward firing Vickers gun and one or two Lewis guns on a Scarff mounting. Typical bomb load 450 lb (four 112 lb or two 230 lb bombs)
Maximum Speed 143 mph at sea level
Endurance 3.75 hr 

 

Number built


Total 6310 1,449 in UK, 4,846 in USA and 15 built in 1926 by SABCA in Belgium

 

Variants


UK Variants
Airco DH4                         Two-seat day bomber 
Airco DH4A Civil version. Two passengers in cabin behind pilot
Airco DH4R Single seat racing version with 450 hp Napier Lion engine.
US Variants
Airco DH4  Two-seat day bomber 
Airco DH4A  Civil version
Airco DH4B  Liberty powered Airco DH4 for U.S. Air Service. Pilot's cockpit moved to rear of fuel tank 
Airco DH4B-1  Increased fuel capacity (110 US gal)
Airco DH4B-2  Trainer version.
Airco DH4B-3  Fitted with 135 US gal fuel tank
Airco DH4B-4  Civil version
Airco DH4B-5  Experimental civil conversion with enclosed cabin.
Airco DH4BD  Crop-dusting version of Airco DH4B
Airco DH4BG  Fitted with smoke generators
Airco DH4BK  Night flying version
Airco DH4BM Single seat version for communications 
Airco DH4BM-1  Dual control version of BM
Airco DH4BM-2  Dual control version of BM
Airco DH4-BP  Experimental photo reconnaissance version 
Airco DH4-BP-1  BP converted for survey work
Airco DH4BS  Testbed for supercharged Liberty engine
Airco DH4BT  Dual control trainer
Airco DH4BW  Testbed for Wright H engine
Airco DH4C  300 hp (220 kW) Packard engine
Airco DH4L  Civil version
Airco DH4M  Rebuilt version of Airco DH4 with steel tube fuselage.
Airco DH4Amb  Ambulance conversion
Airco DH4M-1 Postwar version by Boeing (Model 16) with new fuselage, Navy O2B-1 
Airco DH4M-1T Dual control trainer conversion of Airco DH4M
Airco DH4M-1K Target tug conversion
O2B-2 Cross-country and night flying conversion for Navy
Airco DH4M-2 Postwar version by Atlantic
XCO-7  (Boeing 42) Two-seat observation version with Boeing designed wings, enlarged tailplane and divided landing gear.
XCO-8 One Atlantic DH.4M-2 fitted with Loening COA-1 wings and a Liberty 12A engine

Survivors

Airco DH4                        
(21959)          
 National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC
Airco DH4B National Postal Museum in Washington, DC
Airco DH4
National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia
Airco DH4B Under restoration for the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, Washington www.nps.gov/fova/learn/historyculture/pearson.htm
Airco DH4B National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio

www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/

Airco DH4B
Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida
Airco DH4M-1 Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon

www.evergreenmuseum.org/

Airco DH4M-2A Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum in Maryland Heights, Missouri www.historicaircraftrestorationmuseum.org/
Airco DH4
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim, New Zealand
Airco DH4 
Museo del Aire in Madrid, Spain