Three DH108 'Swallow' research aircraft were constructed to Air Ministry Specification E1/45 and E11/45 to investigate the low and high-speed characteristics of tailess, swept wing aircraft. The first of these (TG283) made its first flight at Woodbridge on 15th May 1946.
Designed by John Carver Meadows Frost (who went on to design the Avro-Canada CF-100), the layout of the 108 resembled the configuration 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.
This first aircraft was exclusively used for the investigation of low-speed flight characteristics and tested a range of leading edge slots, wing fences and other 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 aircraft (TG306) flew 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 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. The De Havilland Company and of course the family were devastated by the loss and whilst many found it difficult to continue, they forged ahead with the 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 RAE at Farnborough. Sadly, VW120 was also to crash 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 aircaraft (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.
The DH108 was instrumental in the development of modern jet aircraft of both military and civil design and was the epitome of an era when great advances were made through those brave men who were 'pushing the envelope'.