Tag Archives: de Havilland Aircraft Co. Ltd.

22 February 1925

Captain Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, OM, CBE, AFC, RDI, FRAeS (27 July 1882–21 May 1965)
Captain Geoffrey de Havilland, O.B.E., in the cockpit of an airplane, circa 1925. (Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

22 February 1925: At the de Havilland Aircraft Company airfield at Stag Lane, Edgeware, London, Geoffrey de Havilland, O.B.E., took his new DH.60 Moth, c/n 168 (later registered G-EBKT), for its first flight.

The DH.60 was a light-weight, two-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane. The fuselage was constructed of plywood and the wings and tail surfaces were covered with fabric. The Moth was 23 feet, 5½ inches (7.150 meters) long with a wingspan of 29 feet, 0 inches (8.839 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 9½ inches (2.680 meters). The airplane was designed so that the wings could be folded parallel to the fuselage, giving it an approximate width of 9 feet (2.7 meters).

The wings had a chord of 4 feet, 3 inches and the lower wing was staggered slightly behind the upper. Their total area was 229.0 square feet (21.3 square meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 4 feet, 10 inches (1.473 meters) and lower wing was staggered 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) behind the upper. Both wings had 3.5° angle of incidence and 3.5° dihedral. There was no sweep.

The DH.60 had an empty weight of 764 pounds (346.6 kilograms) and its gross weight was 1,650 pounds (748 kilograms).

An A.D.C. Cirrus aircraft engine at the Science Museum, London. (Nimbus227)

The Moth was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 4.503 liter (274.771-cubic-inch-displacement A.D.C. Aircraft Ltd., Cirrus inline 4-cylinder overhead valve engine with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The direct-drive engine produced 60 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 65 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The Cirrus was 0.983 meters (3.225 feet) long, 0.908 meters (2.979 feet) high and 0.450 meters (1.476 feet) wide. It weighed 260 pounds (118 kilograms). The A.D.C. Cirrus was designed by Major Frank Bernard Halford, who later designed the de Havilland Gipsy engine, as well as the Goblin and Ghost turbojet engines.

De Havilland built 8 pre-production and 31 production DH.60 Moths. 595 DH.60s of all variants were produced at Stag Lane.

The prototype de Havilland Aircraft Company DH.60 Moth, G-EBKT.
The prototype de Havilland Aircraft Company DH.60 Moth, G-EBKT. (Unattributed)

On 29 May 1925, Alan Cobham flew the prototype from Croydon to Zurich and back in 14 hours, 49 minutes. Cobham also flew the Moth in The Kings Cup Air Race, though weather forced him to land short of the finish. It placed second in a follow-up race.

The G-EBKT was used as a demonstrator for de Havilland for a brief time before being sold to Sophie C. Elliot Lynn, 26 March 1926. She flew the Moth in the Paris Concours d’Avions Economiques in August 1926. (Mrs. Elliott Lynn later became Mary, Lady Heath.)

Sophie Elliott Lynn with her pale blue de Havilland DH.60 Moth, G-EBKT. (Unattributed)
Sophie Catherine Elliot Lynn with her pale blue de Havilland DH.60 Moth, G-EBKT. (A Fleeting Peace)

In 1927, G-EBKT was sold to the London Aeroplane Club. It crashed at Dennis Lane, Stanmore, Middlesex, 21 August 1927, injuring the pilot and a passenger:

On Sunday afternoon, Pilot Officer Stanley Pritchard-Barrett, flying on D.H. “Moth” G-EBKT with his wife as passenger, crashed in the grounds of the residence of Major Sir Maurice FitzGerald,Bt. He was severely injured about his head, and his wife, who was a passenger, had a leg broken. The machine fell from a height of about 90 ft.

The London Aeroplane Club “Moth” is apparently a complete write-off.

Flight

G-EBKT’s registration was cancelled 20 January 1928.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 January 1929

The Honorable Mary Bailey DBE (1890–1960) (Monash University)
The Honorable Mary Bailey D.B.E. (1890–1960) (Monash University)

16 January 1929: After a 10-month, 18,000-mile (29,000-kilometer) solo flight from Croydon Aerodrome, London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, Mary, Lady Bailey, arrived back at the Stag Lane Aerodrome at Edgeware, London, flying a de Havilland DH.60X Cirrus II Moth, G-EBTG.

A contemporary newspaper reported the event:

LADY BAILEY’S FLIGHT.

(British Official Wireless.)

LONDON, Jan. 16.

     Lady Bailey landed at Croydon this afternoon in her De Havilland Moth aeroplane, thus completing a flight from London to Capetown and back. She was greeted at Croydon by a large and cheering crowd.

Lady Bailey is the first woman to fly from London to Capetown and back. She has made the longest flight ever accomplished by a woman, and her 18,000 miles journey is the longest solo flight by either a man or a woman. She is the first woman to have flown over the Congo and the Sahara.

The Royal Aeronautical Society, in congratulating Lady Bailey, pays tribute to her as one of the gallant pioneers of Aeronautics.

— The Sydney Morning Herald, No. 28,405. Friday, 18 January 1929, Page 13, Column 1.

A contemporary cigarette card with an illustration of Lady Bailey’s DH.60X Cirrus II Moth, G-EBTG. (Monash University)
A contemporary cigarette card with an illustration of Lady Bailey’s DH.60X Cirrus II Moth, G-EBTG. (Monash University)

Flight offered the following commentary:

A Great Little Lady

Exactly how many miles she has covered during her long flight is difficult to estimate; nor is this necessary for a full appreciation of the merits of Lady Bailey’s flight from London through Africa to the Cape, around Africa and home again. The general press has made much of the fact that Lady Bailey’s flight is the longest ever accomplished by a woman, and the longest solo flight ever undertaken, thus establishing two “records.” To us that is of very minor importance. What matters is that an Englishwoman should have chosen to see Africa from the air, and should have been prepared to rely entirely on her own resourcefulness in making the tour. Everyone who knows Lady Bailey at all well realises that personal “advertisement” is the last thing she would desire; she is the most modest and unassuming of women. But her great achievement must unavoidably bring her into the “limelight.” From her point of view the whole thing resolved itself into this: She wanted to tour Africa; she was already a private owner-pilot. What more natural, then, than that she should make the tour by air? Only those who have a fairly good knowledge of Africa, with its variety of country and climate, can realise the sort of task Lady Bailey set herself. That she should have completed the tour, as far as Paris, there to be held up by fogs, is but the irony of fate, and is an experience which has befallen many air travelers. Her great flight was in any case a tour and not a spectacular “stunt” flight intended to break records, so we should not let the delay on the final stage be regarded as other than one of many incidents on a tour that must have been full of surprises and disappointments. Through tropical heat, in rain or snow, across mountains, deserts and seas, Lady Bailey carried on with a quiet determination which is, we like to think, a characteristic of our race, and her de Havilland “Moth” and “Cirrus” engine did not let her down. England is proud of the trio and its achievements.

— FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 1046. (No. 2. Vol. XXI.) 10 January 1929, at Page 20.

The Royal Aero Club (R.Ae.C.) awarded its Britannia Trophy for 1929 to Lady Bailey for the “most meritorious flight of the year.”

Mary (née Westenra), Lady Bailey, 1 September 1911. (Bassano Ltd., Royal Photographers. © National Portrait Gallery, London)
Mary (née Westenra), Lady Bailey, 1 September 1911. (Bassano Ltd., Royal Photographers. © National Portrait Gallery, London)

Lady Bailey was born The Hon. Mary Westenra, 1 December 1890, the daughter of the 5th Baron Rossmore. She married Colonel Sir Abe Bailey, 1st Bt., 5 September 1911 at the age of 20.

The Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain.
The Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain.

Soon after becoming a licensed pilot in early 1927 (Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate 8067), she flew across the Irish Sea, the first woman to do so. She set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude, 5,268 meters (17,283 feet), 5 July 1927.¹ She set several long distance solo flight records, including an 8,000-mile flight from Croydon, South London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, with her DH.60X Cirrus II Moth, G-EBSF, and an 10,000-mile return flight made with another DH.60 (after G-EBSF was damaged). These were the longest solo flight and the longest flight by a woman to that time.

Harmon Aviatrix Trophy
Harmon Aviatrix Trophy

Lady Bailey was twice awarded the Harmon Trophy (1927, 1928). In 1930, she was invested Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. During World War II, The Hon. Dame Mary Bailey, D.B.E., served with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force with the rank Section Officer, equivalent to a Royal Air Force sergeant.

Lady Mary died 29 July 1960 at the age of 70.

G-EBTG (s/n 469) was a de Havilland DH.60X Cirrus II Moth which had been sold to Lady Bailey by Commander Lionel Mansfield Robinson of Nairobi, Kenya, as a replacement for her own Moth, G-EBSF (s/n 415), which had been damaged at Tabora, Tanganyika, 4 October 1928.

G-EBTG was reconditioned by de Havilland’s and a more powerful engine was installed. The airplane changed ownership several times, and was finally written off as damaged beyond repair after a collision with a furniture van in 1938.

De Havilland DH.60 Cirrus Moth G-EBLV at Stag Lane Aerodrome. (BAE Systems)
De Havilland DH.60 Cirrus Moth G-EBLV at Stag Lane Aerodrome. (BAE Systems)

The de Havilland DH.60X Cirrus II Moth was a two-place, single-engine light biplane with a wooden airframe which was covered with plywood, with sheet metal panels around the engine. The wings and tail surfaces were fabric-covered, and the wings could be folded to fit inside a small hangar. The “X” in the type designation indicates that the airplane has a split-axle main landing gear, which forms an X when seen from the front of the airplane.

The DH.60X Cirrus II Moth (also referred to as the Moth Type X) was 23 feet, 8½ inches (7.226 meters) long with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters). Its height was 8 feet, 9½ inches (2.680 meters). The airplane was designed so that the wings could be folded parallel to the fuselage, giving it a width of 9 feet, 10 inches (2.997 meters). The wings had a chord of 4 feet, 4⅜ inches (1.330 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 4 feet, 10 inches (1.473 meters) and lower wing was staggered 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) behind the upper. Both wings had 3.5° angle of incidence and 3.5° dihedral. There was no sweep. The airplane had an empty weight of 885 pounds (401 kilograms) and gross weight of 1,550 pounds (703 kilograms).

An A.D.C. Cirrus aircraft engine at the Science Museum, London. (Wikipedia)
An A.D.C. Cirrus aircraft engine at the Science Museum, London. (Wikipedia)

The Cirrus II Moth was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 4.942 liter (301.563-cubic-inch-displacement) A.D.C. (Aircraft Disposal Corporation, Ltd.) Cirrus Mark II four-cylinder vertical inline engine. This was a right-hand tractor, direct-drive, overhead-valve engine with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.9:1. It had a normal power rating of 78.5 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. and a maximum power rating of 84 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller. The Cirrus Mk.II was 1.165 meters (3 feet, 9.87 inches) long, 0.482 meters (1 foot, 6.98 inches) wide and 0.904 meters (2 feet, 11.59 inches) high. It weighed 268 pounds (121.56 kilograms).

The DH.60X Cirrus II Moth had a cruise speed of 80–85 miles per hour (129–137 kilometers per hour) at 1,000 feet (305 meters). Its maximum speed at Sea Level was 102 miles per hour (164 kilometers per hour), and  97 miles per hour (156 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). It could climb to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) in 14 minutes, and to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in 37 minutes. Its absolute ceiling was 14,000–15,000 feet (4,267–4,572 meters). The airplane’s maximum range was 410 miles (660 kilometers).

In 1929, de Havilland offered the Moth Type X at a price of £650 (approximately £41,000, or $52,100, in 2019). The de Havilland Aircraft Co., Ltd., built 32 of the DH.60 Cirrus II Moth variant. Nearly 900 of all DH.60 Moth models were built at the company’s factory at Stag Lane, and another 90 were built under license in Australia, France, and the United States.

This de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus Moth, G-EBLV, in The Shuttleworth Collection, is similar to the airplanes flown by Lady Bailey, from London to Cape Town and return, 1928. It is the only flying example of the Cirrus Moth.
This de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus Moth, G-EBLV, in The Shuttleworth Collection, is the same airplane shown in the photograph above. It is similar to the airplanes flown by Lady Bailey, from London to Cape Town and return, 1928. It is the only flying example of the Cirrus Moth. (www.airmuseumsuk.org)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8221

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 January 1931

Amy Johnson at the Stag Lane Aerodrome, 1 January 1931. (Unattributed)
Amy Johnson, CBE, 1930. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

MISS AMY JOHNSON.

FLIGHT TO PEKING.

Departure From London.

LONDON, Jan. 1.

     Miss Amy Johnson, who flew alone to Australia several months ago, arrived at the Stag Lane aerodrome this morning in readiness for a flight to Peking by way of Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, and Omsk. From Omsk she will follow the Trans-Siberian railway.

     Owing to fog she was unable to start on her journey immediately. But she left at 20 minutes to 11 o’clock.

     Miss Johnson wore a green leather flying suit and parachute, strapped to her back. As she entered the cockpit of the Gipsy Moth aeroplane, with which she was presented after her trip to Australia, she carried a parcel of biscuits, chocolate, and tea. Only two dozen persons saw her start. She does not intend to hurry.

The Argus, Melbourne, Friday, January 2, 1931. No. 26,329. Page 5, Column 5.

Amy Mollison’s de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth G-ABDV, “Jason III,” in Poland, January 1931. (National Digital Archives 1-S-1215-3)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 December–28 December 1955

De Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO ay the Farnborough air show, September 1954. (RuthAS via Wikipedia)
De Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO at the Farnborough Airshow, September 1954. (RuthAS via Wikipedia)

2 December 1955: The prototype de Havilland DH-106 Comet 3, G-ANLO, departed Hatfield Aerodrome, Hertfordshire, England, with Chief Test Pilot John Cunningham and Per Buggé in the cockpit. R.W. Chandler was the navigator/radio operator. Other crew members included Chief Flight Engineer E. Brackstone Brown, and flight engineers R.V. Ablett and J. Hamilton.

Several de Havilland executives and engineers were among the passengers. Captain A.P.W. Cane of British Overseas Airways Corporation and Captain I.D.V. Ralfe of Qantas were aboard to observe to new airliner in operation.

De Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO was delayed by heavy fog at Hatfield, 2 December 1955. (De Havilland)
De Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO was delayed by heavy fog at Hatfield, 2 December 1955. (De Havilland)

Departure had been scheduled for 5:30 a.m., local time, but heavy fog delayed the flight. 5 hours, 3 minutes later, the Comet 3 landed at Cairo, Egypt, after flying 2,076 nautical miles (2,389 statute miles, 3,845 kilometers). Rather than continuing on as had originally been planned, the crew remained over night at Cairo.

G-ANLO left Cairo the following morning and with refueling stops at Bombay, Maharashtra India; Singapore, Colony of Singapore; and Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia; the airliner arrived at Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on 4 December, after a total of 19 hours, 5 minutes of flight. The distance traveled was 8,728 nautical miles (10,044 statute miles, 16,164 kilometers). During the Singapore-Darwin leg, the Comet 3 cruised at 44,000 feet (13,411 meters). More than 20,000 people were waiting at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport to see the new jetliner arrive.

De Havilland DH-106 Comet 3 G-ANLO arrived at Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 4 December 1955. (Unattributed)
De Havilland DH-106 Comet 3 G-ANLO arrived at Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 4 December 1955. (Unattributed)

Group Captain Cunningham made demonstration flights from Sydney to Melbourne, Canberra and Perth.

G-ANLO then continued to Auckland, New Zealand, flying the 1,166 nautical miles (1,342 miles, 2,159 kilometers) in 2 hours, 43 minutes. From Auckland to Nadi Airport, Fiji, 1,153 nautical miles (1,326 miles, 2,135 kilometers), took 2 hours, 52 minutes.

The next leg of the around the world tour, Fiji to Honolulu, in the Hawaiian Islands, was completed on 13 December. The Comet 3 covered the 2,791 nautical miles (3,212 statute miles, 5,169 kilometers) in 6 hours, 44 minutes. G-ANLO remained at Honolulu for the next two days.

DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO is decorated with a flower lei on its arrival at Honolulu International Airport, 13 December 1955. (Zoggavia)
DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO is decorated with a flower lei on its arrival at Honolulu International Airport, 13 December 1955. (Zoggavia)

On 15 December, the Comet 3 left Honolulu for Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 2,408 nautical miles (2,771 statute miles, 4,460 kilometers). The duration of this flight was 5 hours, 40 minutes. The Comet 3 flew across Canada to Toronto, Ontario, 1,898 nautical miles (2,184 statute miles, 3,515 kilometers) in 3 hours, 56 minutes, then on to Montreal, Quebec, arriving there on 20 December.

The final leg of the flight, Montreal to London Heathrow Airport, 2,907 nautical miles (3,345 statute miles, 5,384 kilometers) was completed in 6 hours, 9 minutes, on 27 December 1955.

This was the first around-the-world flight by a jet-powered aircraft. The total distance flown by the Comet 3 was 24,324 nautical miles (27,991.6 statute miles/45,048.1 kilometers) The total flight time was 56 hours, 17 minutes.

The de Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 was a further development of the Comet 2 series. It was 15 feet (4.572 meters) longer with a length of 111 feet, 6 inches (33.985 meters), a wingspan of 115 feet (35.052 meters) and overall height of 29 feet, 6 inches (8.992. The area of the wings and tail surfaces had been increased. It was powered by four Rolls Royce Avon 521 turbojet engines, rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), each.

De Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO, left quarter, at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, 1955. (Dphne Seager)
De Havilland DH.106 Comet 3 G-ANLO, left quarter, at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, 1955. (Daphne Seager)

The airliner was designed to carry 58–76 passengers on flights ranging to 2,600 miles (4,184 kilometers). In addition to the increased length, visual differences from the previous Comets were the circular passenger windows, and wing tanks extending forward from the wings’ leading edges.

Only two Comet 3s were built and one was used as a static test article. Production continued with the Comet 4, which had even greater improvements. G-ANLO remained a development prototype and was modified several times. In 1958 the wings were shortened and the external wing tanks removed. The airplane was redesignated Comet 3B. It was turned over to the Ministry of Supply and re-registered XP915, 20 June 1961. The airplane was used in instrument landing tests and later converted to a mockup of the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR1 maritime patrol aircraft. It was taken out of service in 1966 and scrapped.

Group Captain John Cunningham, Royal Air Force. (Daily Mail)
Group Captain John Cunningham, Royal Air Force. (Daily Mail)

Group Captain John Cunningham C.B.E., D.S.O. and Two Bars, D.F.C. and Bar, A.E., was born 1917 and educated at Croydon. In 1935 he became an apprentice at De Havilland’s and also joined the Auxiliary Air Force, where he trained as a pilot. Cunningham was called to active duty in August 1939, just before World War II began.

Promoted to Group Captain in 1944, Cunningham was the highest scoring Royal Air Force night fighter pilot of World War II, credited with shooting down 20 enemy airplanes. He was responsible for the myth that eating carrots would improve night vision.

Following the War, John Cunningham returned to de Havilland as a test pilot. Following the death of Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., in 1946, Cunningham became the de Havilland’s chief test pilot. He remained with the firm through a series of mergers, finally retiring in 1980.

He set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world speed and altitude record with the company’s DH.100 Vampire jet fighter, TG278: 799.644 kilometers per hour (496.876 miles per hour) over a 100 kilometer course at Lympne Airport, 31 August 1947.¹ He flew the DH.100 to 18,119 meters (59,446 feet) over Hatfield Aerodrome, 23 March 1948.² On 24 April 1950, Cunningham flew a DH.104 Dove light transport from London to Cairo at an average speed of 686.56 kilometers per hour (426.61 miles per hour), setting a world record for speed over a recognized course.³

Group Captain Cunningham died 21 July 2002 at the age of 84 years.

Per Olivarius Buggé (also known as Peter Bugge) was born at Kristiansund, Norway in 1918. He joined the Royal Norwegian Air Force in 1938. After Germany invaded the country, Buggé escaped to Sweden, April 1940, and in February 1941 arrived in Great Britain. He served with the Royal Air Force for the remainder of the War, flying Bristol Beaufighters and de Havilland Mosquitos with No. 604 Squadron and No. 85 Squadron (while it was under the command of Squadron Leader John Cunningham).

After the War Buggé flew for British Overseas Airways Corporation and Swedish Airlines. In 1949, he joined de Havilland as a test pilot, and stayed with the company after it was absorbed by Hawker Siddeley. He died in 1998.

John Cunningham (left) and Per Bugge in the cockpit of a DH.106 Comet. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
John Cunningham (left) and Per Buggé in the cockpit of a DH.106 Comet. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

¹ FAI record file number 8884

² FAI record file number 9844

³ FAI record file number 6378

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 December 1945

Lieutenant Eric M. Brown, MBE, DSC, RNVR. © IWM (A 31015)
Lieutenant Eric M. Brown, M.B.E., D.S.C., Royal Navy. © IWM (A 31015)

3 December 1945: The first landing and takeoff aboard an aircraft carrier by a jet-powered aircraft were made by Lieutenant-Commander Eric Melrose Brown, M.B.E., D.S.C., R.N.V.R., Chief Naval Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough, while flying a de Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551/G. The ship was the Royal Navy Colossus-class light aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean (R68), under the command of Captain Casper John, R.N.

For his actions in these tests, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was invested an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), 19 February 1946.

LZ551 was the second of three prototype DH.100 Vampires, which first flew 17 March 1944. The airplane was used for flight testing and then in 1945, was modified for operation for carriers. It was named “Sea Vampire” and reclassified as Mk.10.

The DH.100 was a single-seat, single-engine fighter powered by a turbojet engine. The twin tail boom configuration of the airplane was intended to allow a short exhaust tract for the engine, reducing power loss in the early jet engines available at the time.

LZ551/G was originally powered by a Halford H.1 turbojet which produced 2,300 pounds of thrust (10.231 kilonewtons) at 9,300 r.p.m. This engine was produced by de Havilland and named Goblin.

The Vampire entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1945 and remained a front-line fighter until 1953. 3,268 DH.100s were built. There were two prototype Sea Vampires (including LZ551) followed by 18 production Sea Vampire FB.5 fighter bombers and 73 Sea Vampire T.22 two-place trainers.

LZ551 is in the collection of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset.

Captain Eric ("Winkle") Brown, RNAS, aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (Daily Mail)
Lieutenant-Commander Eric (“Winkle”) Brown, MBE, DSC, RNVR, with the second prototype de Havilland DH.100, LZ551, aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (Daily Mail)

HMS Ocean was built at the Alexander Stephen and Sons yard on the Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland. The ship was launched in 1944 and commissioned 8 August 1945. Classed as a light fleet carrier, HMS Ocean was 630 feet (192 meters) long at the water line, with a beam of 80 feet, 1 inch (24.41 meters) and standard draft of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.64 meters) at 13,190 tons displacement; 23 feet, 3 inches (7.09 meters), at full load displacement (18,000 tons). The aircraft carrier’s  flight deck was 695 feet, 6 inches (212.0 meters) long. Ocean was driven by four Parsons geared steam turbines producing 40,000 shaft horsepower, and had a maximum speed of 25 knots (28.8 miles per hour/46.3 kilometers per hour). HMS Ocean had a crew of 1,050 sailors, and could carry 52 aircraft.

HMS Ocean served for twelve years before being placed in reserve. Five years later, she was scrapped at Faslane, Scotland.

Winkle Brown and the DH.100 Sea Vampire fly past HMS Ocean.
Winkle Brown and the DH.100 Sea Vampire fly past HMS Ocean.
A landing signal officer guides Brown to land aboard HMS Ocean.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 LZ551/G catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 lands aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (BAE Systems)
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 takes off from HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (BAE Systems)

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., KCVSA, Ph.D., Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., is one of aviation’s greatest test pilots. He was born at Leith, Scotland, 21 January 1918, the son of Robert John Brown and Euphemia Melrose Brown. His father, a Royal Air Force officer, took him for his first flight at the age of 8. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland; Fettes College; and at the University of Edinburgh. He received a Master of Arts degree from the university in 1947.

This unidentified Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm petty officer appears to be Eric Brown.

Eric Brown volunteered for the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, 4 December 1939. Having previously learned to fly at the University Air Squadron, Brown was sent to a Flying Refresher Course at RNAS Sydenham, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Sub-Lieutenant Eric Melrose Brown, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, circa 1939.

Brown received a commission as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, 26 November 1940. He briefly served with No. 801 Squadron before being transferred to No. 802 Squadron. He flew the Grumman G-36A Martlet Mk.I (the export version of the U.S. Navy F4F-3 Wildcat fighter) from the escort carrier HMS Audacity (D10) on Gibraltar convoys.

Having shot down several enemy aircraft, including two Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor four-engine patrol bombers, Brown was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. HMS Audacity was sunk by enemy submarines in the Atlantic, 21 December 1941. Brown was one of only 24 to escape from the sinking ship, but only he and one other survived long enough in the frigid water to be rescued.

Ensign Eric M.Brown with a Grumman Martlet Mk.I
Sub-Lieutenant Eric M.Brown, R.N.V.R., Fleet Air Arm, with a Grumman Martlet Mk.I, circa 1941. (Unattributed)

Sub-Lieutenant Brown met Miss Evelyn Jean Margaret Macrory on 7 April 1940. They married in 1942 and would have one son.

Brown was promoted to lieutenant, 1 April 1943. After a number of operational assignments, Lieutenant Brown was assigned to the Naval Test Squadron at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, Boscombe Down, in December 1943. The following month Brown was named Chief Naval Test Pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. He held that post until 1949.

In July 1945, Eric Brown was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-commander (temporary), and then, following the war, he was transferred from the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve to the Royal Navy, and appointed a lieutenant with date of rank to 1 April 1943.

Lieutenant Brown was awarded the King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air in the New Year’s Honours List, 1949. Brown returned to No. 802 Squadron during the Korean War, flying from the aircraft  carriers HMS Vengeance (R71) and HMS Indomitable (92). He was promoted to lieutenant-commander, 1 April 1951. In September 1951, Brown resumed flight testing as an exchange officer at the U.S. Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland.

Commander and Mrs. Brown at RNAS Lossiemouth, circa 1954. (Daily Mail)
Commander and Mrs. Brown at RNAS Lossiemouth, circa 1954. (Daily Mail)

In 1953, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was a ship’s officer aboard HMS Rocket (H92), an anti-submarine frigate. He was promoted to commander, 31 December 1953. After a helicopter refresher course, Brown commanded a Search-and-Rescue (SAR) helicopter flight aboard HMS Illustrious. He next commanded No. 804 Squadron based at RNAS Lossiemouth, then went on to command RNAS Brawdy at Pembrokeshire, Wales.

From 1958 to 1960, Commander Brown was the head of the British Naval Air Mission to Germany. He then held several senior positions in air defense within the Ministry of Defence. He was promoted to captain 31 December 1960.

From 1964 to 1967, Brown was the Naval Attache at Bonn, Germany. He next commanded RNAS Lossiemouth, 1967–1970.

Captain Brown’s final military assignment was as Aide-de-camp to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.

Eric M. Brown was invested a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.), 3 July 1945, for landings of a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito aboard HMS Indefatigable, 2 May 1944. On 1 January 1970, Captain Brown was named a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the Queen’s New Years Honours List.

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC Hob FRAeS, RN
Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., K.C.V.S.A., Ph.D., Hon. F.R.Ae.S., Royal Navy

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., K.C.V.S.A., Ph.D. Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., retired from active duty 12 March 1970.

At that time, he had accumulated more than 18,000 flight hours, with over 8,000 hours as a test pilot. Captain Brown had flown 487 different aircraft types (not variants), a record which is unlikely to ever be broken. Brown made more landings on aircraft carriers than any other pilot, with 2407 landings, fixed wing, and 212 landings, helicopter. He made 2,721 catapult launches, both at sea and on land.

In 1982 and 1983, Captain Brown served as president of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Eric “Winkle” Brown died at Redhill, Surrey, England, 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years.

Captain Brown with the De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)
Captain Eric M. Brown with the De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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