The De Havilland Aircraft Company

When Geoffrey de Havilland left Airco George Holt Thomas, his former employer, invested £10,000 towards the formation of a new company. de Havilland contributed £3,000 himself, found £1,000 elsewhere and registered the de Havilland Aircraft Company on 25 September 1920. He leased the former London & Provincial Flying School site at Stag Lane, near Edgware, for his factory.

Many of de Havilland’s friends and colleagues joined him in the new company. Geoffrey looked after design with Frank Hearle as Works Manager. Charles Clement Walker was Chief of Aerodynamics & Stressing and Arthur Ernest Hagg was Head of the Drawing Office. Francis E.N. St Barbe was Business & Sales Manager and Wilfred E. Nixon was Company Secretary. The first task at Stag Lane was to complete work on the DH.18 airliner, a project which had begun at Airco.

It was decided that the company should concentrate on civil aircraft for the growing airline market. There was, as yet, no real market for privately owned aircraft. In 1921, however, the company was approached by Alan Samuel Butler who wanted a new aeroplane built for him. This was a turning point for de Havilland as Butler invested heavily in the company and by 1924 was its chairman.

While working at Farnborough de Havilland had not entered competitions but for the 1923 Lympne Aeroplane Trials he produced the DH.53 Humming Bird single-seat monoplane. It was the most practical aeroplane there, though its performance was restricted by the competition rules. It was later modified and became a practical tourer.

de Havilland had produced a number of designs to meet Air Ministry requirements for the RAF, but in most cases he felt they were asking for the wrong type or requested modifications rendering the design ineffective. The same was true with light aircraft competitions which encouraged the production of underpowered aeroplanes.

At the same time as the Humming Bird was constructed the company built the DH.51 three-seat touring biplane. There were problems, however, with the modified RAF 1a engine. Frank Bernard Halford had designed the Airdisco Cirrus engine using World War One engine components. It was fitted in a compact two-seat biplane and the combination became the DH.60 Cirrus Moth. It was first flown by Geoffrey de Havilland on 22 February 1925 and was an instant success with private aviators and the Air Ministry alike. No other civil aircraft had a production run of similar size at that time. It was built in Australia and Finland and exported world-wide.

The Cirrus Moth was a victim of its own success as the supply of war surplus engine components for the Cirrus dried up. In 1926 Halford was requested to design a new engine which became the de Havilland Gipsy. A small monoplane, the de Havilland DH.71 Tiger Moth, was built to test it. The aircraft was first flown in 1927 by Hubert Broad and quickly started breaking records. In 1928 the Gipsy engine was installed in a DH.60 Moth and it quickly gained popularity; victory in the King’s Cup Air Race the same year helped publicity. The Gipsy Moth combined low price and practicality. It became one of the most famous aircraft of all time.

Numerous records were broken and many outstanding feats achieved. At the end of 1929 production was three per day with more being built in the USA and France. The original had a wooden structure but a later version was made of steel tube. This was nicknamed the Metal Moth and again was sold world-wide.

When the Gipsy engine was inverted to become the Gipsy III it was fitted in a modified wooden Gipsy Moth airframe. When the engine was improved to become the Gipsy Major this aircraft was named the Moth Major. The engine/fuselage combination continued to be produced during World War Two and formed part of the Queen Bee radio-controlled target aircraft.

The Gipsy Moth was re-designed in 1931 to meet an Air Ministry specification for a trainer for the RAF. The new aircraft combined several features from previous members of the Moth family and re-used the name of an earlier aircraft. It became one of the most famous aircraft of all time, the DH.82 Tiger Moth.

As de Havilland and his wife were getting tired of flying in aircraft with open cockpits he designed a range of touring aircraft with enclosed cockpits. These included the Puss Moth, Leopard Moth and Hornet Moth. They were not as cheap as the Gipsy Moth but provided a higher level of comfort.

The number of aircraft produced and encroachment by housing meant that the company could not continue at Stag Lane. In 1932 the factory moved to new premises at Hatfield, Hertfordshire. The Stag Lane airfield was officially closed in 1934 but the factory was retained for the production of engines.