WW1 Planes
An encyclopediae of 1914-18 aircraft types

flag AIRCO

The Aircraft Manufacturing Company Limited

Rather than being named according to the relevant acronym, AMCL, Airco abbreviated as "aircraft company" was perhaps the shortest-lived aircraft manufacturer (1912 to 1920), but produced thousands of planes only for the British military in the span of WW1. If Airco disappeared, it was not the case of all its assets, starting with its famous chief designer, Geoffrey de Havilland. Together with a part of his former team would later form De Havilland, one of the greatest names in British aviation history.

Airco was funded in 1912 by George Holt Thomas in Hendon (north London), which also became one of the first great British dedicated airfields. In 1914, he convinced Geoffrey de Havilland which worked at the Royal Aircraft Factory (Farnborough) to join in as chief designer of the new company. From then on, De Havilland's would be credited for around 30% of all planes used by the UK and US during the great war. Therefore all Airco models carried the initials "DH". Also in 1914 William Taylor Birchenough became the company's celebrated test pilot for the duration of the war.

In 1918 it promoted itself as the largest aircraft company in the world. The end of the war forced the company to convert to civil trasportation, and the company established the first airline in the UK called Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited. However despite of these numerous surplus aircrafts, there was little interest of the public, and no support of the government. The company was soon unprofitable and was sold in 1920 to the Birmingham Small Arms Company, its assets sold and liquidated soon after. However during the short span of WW1, Airco engineered some of the finest British planes ever put into service.
Airco DH.9A
The DH.9A, a development of the Airco DH.9 with Liberty engine which first flown in March 1918 was only retired from service in 1931...

Airco production

Airco DH.11
The DH.11, last bomber of the company (1918). It was to use the failed ABC Dragonfly radial engine.

The first great success of Airco was the DH.2 pusher which in 1916 helped to put an end to the domination of the Fokker Eindecker. Other famous models were the prolific DH.6 trainer, and the reliable DH.4/DH.9 light bombers. The DH.9A had a particularly long career postwar and was chosen as the first de Havilland airliners, later developed as the larger DH.16 and DH.18 operated by Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited owned by George Holt Thomas as a subsidiary before ceasing activities in 28 February 1921. The company record were staggering. Not only they claimed to produce 30% of British aircraft production, but they also produced their own engines as well as licensed copies of the Gnome and Le Rhone rotary engines. Airco also built Airships and seaplanes, and had a workforce in 1918 of about 7-8,000 personal spread into the factories, a metal-workshop and machining, materials testing laboratory, and a wind tunnel.

In addition to the wartime models below, Airco also produced DH.9C (1921), a passenger plane, tested the DH.11 Oxford (1919) a radial engine version of the DH.10, as well as the Airco DH.15 Gazelle (1919) an engine testing DH.9A, the DH.16 (1919) a cabin DH.9A four-seats airliner and the DH.18 (1920) a single-engine with an eight seats cabin.

Airco DH.18
The DH.18, last plane of the company. A 8-seats passenger plane, far away ancestor of the De Havilland Dragon.

  • Airco DH.1:(1915) pusher fighter 100 +70 DH.1A
  • Airco DH.2 (1915) pusher fighter 453
  • Airco DH.3 (1916) 2 pusher bomber prototypes (1 DH.3A)
  • Airco DH.4 (1916) tractor bomber 6,295 (4,846 USA)
  • Airco DH.5 (1916) tractor fighter 552
  • Airco DH.6 (1916) tractor trainer 2,280
  • Airco DH.9 (1917) light bomber 4,091 +DH.9A 1,997
  • Airco DH.10 Amiens (1918) light bomber twin engines 258

Airco DH.1 (1915)

Airco DH.1A
The Airco DH.1A was the first production model of the company, a sturdy pusher that helped claiming back the sky for the entente

The first production aircraft from Airco was somewhat inspired by the "Farman" flown by Britain's RFC in ww1 but the powerplant which propelled it was anemic at its beginning, and when it was improved to the point of giving the needed speed, the concept was already obsolete. It helped nevertheless to cope with the Fokker scourge, but soon after was reverse to the Middle East or served as a trainer and the Home Defence. Geoffrey de Havilland's first design was reminiscent of the F.E.2 from his prvious assignment at the Royal Aircraft Factory. The DH.1 was a pusher, with the pilot and observer in tandem cockpits in the nose while the propeller was behind. The observer was stepped down and had a machine gun with a clear field of fire, one great advantage of the pusher formula. The wings were fabric-covered, two-bay structure unstaggered and unswept of equal span. The stabiliser and rudder ended a long pair of open-framework booms. Like the F.E.2b, the Airco DH.1 was designed for the water-cooled Beardmore 120 hp (89 kW) inline engine but since those Beardmore engines were already in high demand and short supply (F.E.2b and R.E.5) the mush smaller air-cooled Renault 70 hp (52 kW) V8 engine was installed in its place.

DH.1A 3 views plan

The DH.1 prototype was given aerofoils placed each side of the nacelle that cold be rotated to act as air brakes. That proved not the most practical idea and they soon removed. The fixed conventional landing gear in V-struts, used coil springs with oil suspension. Geoffrey de Havilland piloted himseld the DH.1 prototype in January 1915 at Hendon seeing the Renault engine underpowered, but performance was not yet appealing and production was authorized, with a first order 49 planes. The DH.1 production was the shifted from Airco, already engaged on a more promising model, to the Savages Limited Factory, King's Lynn, a previous fairground equipment manufacturer. The final production planes had a simplified rubber cord suspension, and a revised cockpit coaming. But production was so slow slow that only five were delivered to the RFC by the end of 1915. After this initial batch, which was soon reverse to training, the later production at last received the Beardmore engine and was redesignated DH.1A. despite its performannces equal to the F.E.2b both planes were slated for replacement by tractor types. A 50 DH.1As was placed but by June 1915 at Airco the first single-seat D.H.2 had already flown and became one of the best British fighters for the few month. In all 70 1A were delivered total, which added to the Renault propelled DH.1. made about 99 (100 with the prototype) by Savages factory, but on Airco design.

DH.1 of the Bundesarchiv

The DH.1 was sent to the less risky Middle East theatre, but only Beardmore DH.1As in July 1916, used by No. 14 Squadron of the RFC as B.E.2 escort. They claimed an Aviatik in August 1916 and on 5 March 1917, there was a loss during a bombing raid on Tel el Sheria. The Squadron later converted to R.E.8 in November 1917. Already in 1916 the bulk of the production was used for training. 43 were also reported in service with Home Defence fighter units, and 24 aircraft more before 1918. Apparently the model was also used by the Australian Flying Corps, as No. 1 Squadron operated a single aircraft (no. 4620) from June to July 1916.
Dimensions: 8.83 x 12.50 x 3.46 m (28 ft 11⅝ in x 41 ft 0 in x 11 ft 4 in) Wing area: 426 sq ft (39.6 m²)
Weight: 1,356 lb (616 kg) emtpy, 2,044 lb (927 kg) loaded
Enngine: Renault Type W, 70 hp (50 kW) 80 mph (70 kn, 130 km/h) climb at 350 ft/min (1.7 m/s)
Armament: 0.303 in (7.70 mm) Lewis machine gun (observer)

Airco DH.2 (1915)

Airco DH.2
The Airco DH.2, side view

The second pushed designed by De Havilland was perhaps better remembered, first as a proper fighter to reach true mass-production, and second to have helped squash the "Fokker scourge". It was effectively a one-seat version of the previous DH.1 two-seater. Smaller dimensions and weight, helped to reach better performances with the licence-built Gnôme Monosoupape rotary engine rated a 100 hp (75 kW). The need for this plane was naturally the situation in the air over the western front, which urged the need for a single-seat fighter. Before any synchonized system was available, only a forward-firing armament could do the job, therefore pushers became the first fighters. The DH.2 first flew in July 1915 and was armed with a single .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun in the nose. Originally this machine-gun was to be positioned on one of three flexible mountings in the cockpit after transfer in flight. But this system was soon dropped as pilots realized it was much more practical to to aim the aircraft rather than the gun. Higher authorities at first ban the weapon relocation, until a clip allowing it to be released was approved, designed by Major Lanoe Hawker which also devised a gunsight with a ring sight and model helping the gunner in his aiming. The bulk of the large production (by that time) of 430+ planes was taken by the 100 hp (75 kW) Gnôme rotary engine versions, but late production shifted towards 110 hp (82 kW) Le Rhône 9J. models although according to some sources it was only experimental. The nine-cylinder, air-cooled rotary Gnome 100 hp apparently had a tendency for shedding cylinders in midair.

Airco DH.2 blueprint
The Airco DH.2 blueprint

On 22 June 1915 the prototype DH.2 passe all tests and went in France for operational trials with No.5 RFC Squadron. It was shot down and later repaired by the Germans which also evaluated it. production planes soon arrived in No. 24 Squadron RFC, the first entirely equipped with single-seat fighters in France. It was starting operations in February 1916 and was the first of seven squadrons to use the Airco DH.2 on the Western Front. This model proved to be often superior to the Fokker Eindecker, and showed it especially during the Battle of the Somme. No. 24 Squadron alone revendicated 44 kills. The DH.2 had sensitive controls however, which combined with short training traduced in a high accident rate to the point of being called "The Spinning Incinerator". As time went by though its qualities of agility were recoignised, the inherent instability being also the result of mounting this kind of rear-mounted rotary engine incidentally helped agility as all good fighter pilot knows. However the advantage it had no longer held when facing newly arrived Halberstadt D.II and Albatros D.I in September 1916. In time, No. 24 and No. 32 Squadron RFC swapped on the Airco DH.5s in June 1917. The last DH.2 remaining in service were then on the quieter Macedonian front, and in Palestine until the fall of 1917. It was afterwards still used as an advanced trainer until the end of the war.

The Airco DH.2 helped creating the first British aces. Lionel Rees, James McCudden and 13 more aces distinguished themselves and flew the DH.2. Namely Patrick Anthony Langan-Byrne (10 victories), Alan Wilkinson (10), Selden Long (9), Arthur Gerald Knight (8), Eric C. Pashley (8), John Oliver Andrews (7), Sidney Cowan (7), Hubert Jones (7), William Curphey (6), Stanley Cockerell (5). Tactician Oswald Boelcke was killed because of a collision with Erwin Böhme during a dogfight against DH.2s.
Dimensions: 7.69 x8.61 x2.91 m (25 ft 2½ in x28 ft 3 in x9 ft 6½ in) Wing area: 249 ft² (23.13 m²)
Weight: 942 lb (428 kg) empty, 1,441 lb (654 kg) loaded
Engine: Gnôme Monosoupape rotary engine, 100 hp (75 kW), 93 mph (150 km/h) at sea level
Performances: 250 mi (400 km) (2¾ hours) range, 14,000 ft (4,265 m) service ceiling reached at 545 ft/min (166 m/min)
Armament: .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun with 47-round drum magazines

Airco DH.3 (1916)

Airco DH.3
The Airco DH.3 prototype on 19 January 1919 apparently

The Airco DH.3 was the first bomber of the company. Designed in 1916 as a long-range day bomber by Geoffrey de Havilland, it was a quite large twin-engine pusher biplane with three-bay wings but a relatively slender fuselage and curved rudder. The two 120 hp (89 kW) Beardmore were not mounted as in tractor configuration but between the wings as pushers, like previous planes. There were sturdy tailskid landing gears under the wings, and two additional wheels placed beneath the nose to prevent bumping when landing. Three prototypes flew, the first in January or February 1916 as photographic evidence suggests but didn't get a War Ministry serial number performances were not good enough for the war office. A second prototype designated DH.3A, flew with 160 hp/119 kW Beardmore engines, and was showcased to the war office, with performances good enough this time to trigger an order for 50 soon after. It was cancelled however because strategic bombing was not a priority and twin-engined bombers were thought to be not effective, therefore the two prototypes were mothballed in 1917. In fact, the DH.3 was a victim of Royal Aircraft Factory internal debate early 1916 with British private aircraft manufacturers squabbling over undue ordered planes from the R.A.F. even if their private competitors proved superior in any ways. There was a growing hostility at the War Office to private sector which combined with the belief of large twin-engined aircrafts being impractical, as shown by the poor F.E.4, strategic bombing being dropped as a tactic, but resurrected over time, due to the German bombing campaign over Britain and the D.H.10 appeared. It was a direct development of the DH.3 (March 1918) but arrived too late in production to see any service. Civilian planes based on its cell would be built after the war.

Blueprint Airco DH.3
DH.3 blueprint, airwar.ru
Dimensions: 11.23 x 18.54 x 4.42 m (36 ft 10 in x 60 ft 10 in x 14 ft 6 in) Wing area: 793 ft2 (73.67 m2)
Weight: 3,980 lb (1,805 kg) empty, 5,810 lb (2,635 kg) loaded
Engines: Two Beardmore 120 hp (160 hp DH.3A) inline piston engines.
Performance: Top speed: 95 mph (153 km/h), range: 700 miles (1,130 km), Endurance: 8 hours, climb at 550 ft/min (2.8 m/s)
Armament: Two flexibly mounted .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns, 680 lb (308 kg) bomb load.

Airco DH.4 (1916)

An American DH.4.

Designed by Geoffrey de Havilland it was a light two-seat tractor biplane, for aerial reconnaissance and light day bombing. it was to be powered by the the brand new Beardmore Halford Pullinger (BHP) engine, rated for 160 hp. It first flew in August 1916, powered by a prototype of the BHP engine that reached 230 hp (170 kW). Tests shown its favourable handling and performance and the Central Flying School (CFS) own evaluations ended with the writing of a very favorable report, praised for its excellent stability, moderately light flying controls good crew positions. it was noted to reach the best climbing rate ever recorded however it also appeared that the BHP engine had flaws that required redesign prior to launching production. This went as far as not planning any schedule for the BHP engine while there was an already available water-cooled Rolls-Royce Eagle, an excellent in-line engine at the end of its development process and offering the same performances and general figures as the BHP. Therefore, in the summer of 1916, the second prototype flew successfully with this Rolls-Royce engine, and this decided the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) to place an order in late 1916 while the Royal Navy interest materialized into an order for two prototypes, configured to its own requirements for evaluation. Equally successful trials bring additional orders for the Royal Naval Air Service.

DH.4 in the sky of France
DH.4 in the sky of France

The DH.4 was a two bay biplane tractor of all-wooden construction, traditional materials but treated plywood for the fuselage a 3mm skin, which made it both strong and lightweight? Therefore cross-bracing owas limited to the rear cockpit area. However the nose cowling designed for the rather long Beardmore Halford Pullinger (BHP) proved roomy for the Rolls-Royce Eagle. In addition to both engines, the American Liberty was used, but also depending of the manufacturer, the RAF3A, Siddeley Puma and even Fiat engine. In all cased, the propeller was four-bladed while Cooling depended of an oval-shaped frontal intake and port-mounted exhaust manifold above the upper wing. The inversion of the engine was also carried out in some production models for the tall Richardo-Halford-Armstrong (RHA) supercharged engine in order to clear the pilot's view. The observer was separated from the pilot by as space between which the fuel tank was positioned. This large gap caused in-flight communication problems and speaking tube fitted later proved useless in most situations. American-built planes had the pilot's and observer's seating and fuel tank swapped which improved communication and the pilot chances of survival in a crash.

Civilian DH.4B in flight in the 1920s

The armament consisted in a single pilot's forward-firing synchronised Vickers machine gun and one or a twin mount with a lighter and handier .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns on the scarff ring around the observer cockpit. The bomb load was about 460 lb (210 kg) on external racks. Some time later, an additional Vickers gun was tried, as well as a COW 37 mm guns a few days before the end of the war. The numerous DH.4 available after the war made the delight of private owners and regional airlines. The DH.4 was also modified as a seaplane for the navy, fitted with two large floats, and prototypes tested at Felixstowe before the end of the war.

DH.4 of early production
DH.4 of early production

In late 1916, the first batch of fifty with their 250 hp (186 kW) Eagle III engines were accepted by RFC, with a single synchronized 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun for the pilot, and a Scarff ring mounted 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun for the observer. Airco soon received more orders and couldn't cope with these. Therefore, production was passed on F.W. Berwick and Co, Glendower Aircraft Company, Palladium Autocars, Vulcan Motor and Engineering, Westland Aircraft Workand a total of 1,449 aircraft were delivered at V-day out of the total 1,700 aircraft ordered, in UK alone for the RFC and RNAS. Indeed, SABCA of Belgium produced 15 more in 1926, but USA also did their share. As the Bolling Commission investigated for readily-available planes for the expeditionary force, the DH.4 impressed the board and was chosen, for direct use and production licence and tooling in the United States. The other ones picked by the commission were the Bristol F.2 Fighter, Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5, and French SPAD S.XIII. If a DH.4 was evaluated from the summer of 1917, it was not until 1918 that the first American DH-4s leaved the factory floor from several manufacturers, Boeing, Dayton-Wright, Fisher Body Corporation, and Standard Aircraft Corporation. Over 1,000 modifications were incorporated into the design compared to the original. So much so that a grand total of 9,500 DH-4s were delivered of which 1,885 reached France in time for operations. The Liberty engine was adopted for this version and would also eventually propelled the DH.9A in UL as well. After the war, American-built DH.4s in surplus would be modified by Boeing up to the DH-4B standard (Boeing Model 16), with 111 delivered in 1920, half being refurbished later and in 1923, another Boeing version with a fabric-covered steel tube fuselage designated DH-4M-1 and Atlantic Aircraft's DH-4M-2 were produced while some DH-4M-1s were converted into dual-control trainers (DH-4M-1T), target tugs (DH-4M-1K) while the USMC took delivery of modified O2B-1s and night O2B-2 which until the crash of wall street.

Wright-radial DH-4B
Wright-radial DH-4B of the US Air Force after the war

With time, DH.4s were fitted with better versions of the Eagle engine such as the 375 hp (280 kW) Eagle VIII which became standard in the end of 1917 despite grossly mismanagements and chronical shortages. This left engineers to investigate for alternatives, and included naturally the BHP (230 hp/170 kW), RAF3A (200 hp/150 kW) Siddeley Puma (230 hp/170 kW) and even the 260 hp (190 kW) Fiat which made their way to production aircraft but none matched the outstanding Eagle engine.

The DH.4 enjoyed a fairly long career, helped by its legendary reliability, quality and durability, performances and love by its crew. Entering service in January 1917, with No. 55 Squadron, two more squadrons in May 1917, then six squadrons by the fall of the year with the RFC's will to launch retaliatory bombing raids on German. Russia was an early and happy customer of the DH.4, with 50 of them by September 1917. The RNAS was equally satisfied with the DH.4 starting with No. 2 Squadron in May 1917. In addition to France, they were also used over Italy, patrolling the Aegean front and Otranto barrage. During one of many RNAS coastal patrols Major Egbert Cadbury and Captain Robert Leckie shot down Zeppelin L70 on 5 August 1918. Later on, four DH.4s sank UB 12 on 19 August 1918. The DH.4 is considered by experts today the best British one-engine light bomber in service in WW1. The crews in particular loved its speed and altitude that made it immune to German fighters. It was never escorted, and the feat was repeated by the Mosquito of ww2 fame.

By the fall of 1918 RFC's equipment of DH.4 began to fade as engines were in short supply, production switching to the disappointing DH.9 instead and replacement by the far better DH.9A with an American Liberty engine available in very large numbers. In June 1918 DH.4s of 55 Squadron performed strategic bombing raids over Germany in daylight, flying in wedge formations, for the leader to guide bombing drops and having the advantage of a massed defensive fire. This unit accused losses, but operated without replacement as these were the lowest of all units in operation in November 1918. Many were converted after the war for passenger transport, with enclosed cabins. The list of operators included also Argentina (civilian service) Australia (idem), Belgium (Aviation Militaire Belge), Canada, Chile, Cuba, Greece, Iran, Mexico, Nicaragua, New Zealand, South Africa, Soviet Union, Spain, and Turkey (postwar!).

DH-4 airmail
One of the numerous civilian versions postwar, this CAM 2 served with the US airmail by the Robertson Aircraft Corp. by 1926
Dimensions: 9.35 x13.21 x3.35 m (30 ft 8 in x 43 feet 4 in x 11 ft) Wing area: 434 ft² (40 m²)
Weight: 2,387 lb (1,085 kg) empty, 3,472 lb (1,578 kg) fully loaded.
Engine: Rolls-Royce Eagle VII inline liquid cooled piston 375 hp (289 kW)
Performances: Top speed 143 mp (230 km/h), range: 470 mi (770 km), endurance: 3/4 hr, ceiling: 22,000 ft (6,700 m), climb in 1,000 ft/min (305 m/min)
Armament: .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers, rear 1/2 Lewis gun (observer), 460 lb (210 kg) of bombs.

Airco DH.5 (1916)

Modern replica DH.5 in New Zealand
Modern replica DH.5 in New Zealand

De Havilland designed the Airco DH.5 combining a classic tractor biplane with better forward visibility inherited from the pushers. The main planes indeed were 27 inches separated, the upper one being more backward, to free frontal vision for the pilot, his vision no longer cluttered by the upper plane. The prototype had a forward-firing .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun was given a system allowing to fire it both upwards or to change its angle in flight. The production model would go for a fixed mounting on top of the cowl but offset to the left. The main fuel tank was installed behind the cockpit and below the oil tank for gravity, with another gravity fuel tank over the top main plane offset to the right.

The DH.5 prototype started trials in December 1916 whereas the Sopwith Camel and RAF S.E.5 were about also to enter service. The DH.5 however proved inferior to the earlier Sopwith Pup, compounded by the use of a single machine gun when two were mandatory. It was nevertheless trusted enough to be ordered from four manufacturers, starting with the bulk of the production by Airco (200), British Caudron (50), Darracq (200) and March, Jones & Cribb (100). The DH.5 rapidly proved unpopular in 1917, compounded by alleged handling difficulties and poor performance at high altitude, with a tendency to fall rapidly when in action.The upper main plane was also a blind spot to the rear and weak point as most attacks came from that angle in 1917. However the DH.5 was both robust, good at low altitude with an excellent forward field and it was discovered it excelled best as strafing attack plane, showing excellent performances in the Battle of Cambrai. The DH.5 served also with the No. 2 Squadron Australian Flying Corps, the first Australian fighter squadron also for ground-attack until December 1917. In 1918 all DH.5 in service were being replaced by the S.E.5a in January 1918 and gradually moved to training units briefly before being removed RFC service. Just one reproduction has been made in the United States by John Shiveley at Aviation Heritage Centre, Omaka Aerodrome, New Zealand.
Length: 6.71 x7.83 x2.78 m (22 ft x 25 ft 8 in x 9 ft 1½ in) Wing area: 212.1 ft² (19.7 m²)
Weight: 1,010 lb (459 kg) empty, 1,492 lb (676 kg) loaded
Engine Le Rhône 9J 9-cylinder Rotary engine, 110 hp (82 kW)
Performances: Top speed: 102 mph (89 knots, 164 km/h), 2 hours 45 min endurance, ceiling 16,000 ft (4,878 m.) Armament: One 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun, four 25 lb (10 kg) bombs under fuselage racks

Read More:

On military factory
Airco on wikipedia
Airco on theaerorome.com
Anout the DH5 scout
on historyofwar.org