The Airco DH5 was a World War One single seat fighter designed specifically to replace the Airco DH2. Designed by Captain Geoffrey de Havilland, it was a ‘pusher’ type aircraft which offered the performance of a tractor type aircraft.
The prototype 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 in this case to improve the field of view from the pilot’s cockpit. The type was the first British fighter to use interrupter gear to allow a forward-firing machine gun to fire through the 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 DH5.
The type’s unusual configuration 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 being described as ‘under-armed’ compared to its twin gun competitors although despite this it was ordered in great quantities.
At least 550 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 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 DH5 was the initial equipment of the new No.2 Squadron of the Australian flying core, the first Australian fighter unit.
Although effective in aerial battles due to the unobstructed forward view, this also led to it being used operationally for trench strafing.
The last DH5 Squadron saw their aircraft replaced with S.E.5a’s in January 1918 and with the unpopularity of the aircraft in training roles it finally disappeared from RFC service later that year.
|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|
|At least 550||200 by Airco, remainder by contract manufacturers|
SurvivorsThere are no known original survivors. A flying full-scale replica is displayed by the Aviation Heritage Centre, Omaka Aerodrome, New Zealand.