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De Havilland Vampire

The de Havilland Vampire was the second jet engined aircraft commissioned by the Royal Air Force during WW II, although it never saw combat. After the war, it served with the front-line RAF until 1955. It also served with foreign air forces, including those of Australia, Finland, France, India, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland. Almost 4,400 Vampires were built, a quarter of them under licence.

Royal Canadian Air Force
de Havilland Vampire

The Vampire began as an experimental aircraft, unlike the Gloster Meteor which was always specified as an interceptor. Given the specification E6/41, design work on the DH-100 began at the de Havilland works at Hatfield in mid-1942, two years after the Meteor.

Originally named the Spidercrab, the aircraft was entirely a de Havilland project, and it utilised the company's extensive experience with using moulded plywood for aircraft construction (see Mosquito). It was the last time composite wood/metal construction was used in high performance military aircraft. It had conventional straight mid-wings and a single jet engine, placed in an egg-shaped, aluminium-surfaced fuselage, and exhausting in a straight line. To protect the rear control surfaces and reduce weight the designers used a distinctive tail with twin booms, similar to that of the Lockheed P-38.

Geoffrey de Havilland piloted the first test flight of prototype LZ548/G on September 30 1943 from Hatfield, six months behind the Meteor. The production Mark I did not fly until April 1945 and most were built by English Electric Aircraft due to the pressures on de Havilland's production facilities, busy with other types. Although eagerly taken into service by the RAF, it was still being developed as a fighter when the war ended, the reason it never saw WWII combat.

The Vampire was an exceptionally versatile aircraft, and it set many aviation firsts and records, being the first RAF fighter with a top speed of over 500mph. It was the first jet to take off from and land on an aircraft carrier, and in 1948 John Cunningham set a new world altitude record of 59,446ft. On July 14 1948, Vampire F3s of RAF No 54 Squadron became the first jet aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. They went via Stornoway, Iceland and Labrador to Montreal on the first leg of a goodwill tour of Canada and the US where they gave several formation aerobatic displays.

The first engine was a Halford H1 producing 2,100 lb of thrust, designed by Frank Halford and built by de Havilland and later renamed the Goblin. The engine was a centrifugal-flow type, a design soon superceded post-war by the slimmer axial-flow units, and initially gave the aircraft a disappointingly limited range. Later marks were distinguished by greatly increased fuel capacities. As designs improved the engine was often upgraded. Later MkIs used the Goblin 2, the Mk3 onwards used the Goblin III and the final models used the Goblin 3. Certain marks were test-beds for the Rolls-Royce Nene but did not enter production.

The Mk5 was navalised as the Sea Vampire, the first Royal Navy jet aircraft. The navy had been very impressed with the aircraft since December 3, 1945, when a Vampire carried out the flying trials on the carrier HMS Ocean. The RAF Mk5 was altered to extend the aircraft's role from a fighter to a ground attack aircraft, the wings being clipped, strengthened and fitted with hard-points for bombs or rockets. The fighter-bomber Mk5 (FB5) became the most numerous combat variant with 473 aircraft produced.

The final Vampire was the Mk11, a trainer. First flown in 1950, over 600 were produced in both air force and naval models. The trainer remained in service with the RAF until 1966.

Specification (FB 5)

The Venom

Similar in appearance to the Vampire but with subtle structural differences, a faster and more agile new fighter-bomber, the de Havilland DH112 Venom, first flew on September 2, 1949 and entered service in August 1952 as the Venom FB Mk I.

It was originally fitted with the new Ghost 103 turbojet and during production with the even more powerful Ghost 105 turbojet. The FB Mk4 version had a maximum speed of 945 kmh and ceiling of 12,200m. The Venom was used by many air forces in various roles in most parts of the world, and was sometimes equipped with two Firestreak air-to-air missiles. Navalised versions of the DH 112 were the FW Mk20 and FW Mk21 Sea Venoms, all-weather productions for the RN's Fleet Air Arm. The French called their version, built under licence, the Aquilon ("Sea Eagle").