Aircraft of the Month

DE HAVILLAND HORNET

The de Havilland DH103 Hornet was a high speed, long-range fighter, initially conceived as a private venture for use in the Pacific theatre against the Japanese by both RAF and RN. Drawing on the wooden construction techniques pioneered by the Mosquito, major design and development work took place during 1943-44 with the first prototype taking to the air on 28th July 1944 with Geoffrey de Havilland at the controls. The aircraft entered RAF service with No 46 Squadron at RAF Horsham St Faith in February 1946 and eventually equipped seven squadrons. A Sea Hornet version was delivered to the RN shortly afterwards and eventually saw service with no fewer than 14 Fleet Air Arm squadrons.

The Hornet was powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines with propellers that rotated in opposite directions in order to eliminate torque; a further advantage of the arrangement was to reduce adverse yaw and provide more stable and predictable behaviour in flight. Armament comprised 4 x 20mm Hispano cannon with a total of 760 rounds and the aircraft could also carry 2 x 1000 lb bombs or up to 8 x 60 lb rocket projectiles. The Hornet proved the fastest twin propeller-driven aircraft ever to see RAF service and its pilots considered it a superb aircraft to fly.

With the advent of jet-powered fighters such as Vampire and Venom, the Hornet had a relatively short life and was withdrawn from operational service in mid-1956. This was not before setting a number of point-to-point speed records, however, and enjoying a successful ground attack contribution during the Malayan Emergency.

Seven marks of the aircraft were produced, with both RAF and RN operating reconnaissance versions; a night fighter was also developed for carrier operations. The total production build of 387 machines comprised 209 Hornets and 178 Sea Hornets but, sadly, no complete example exists today. The last substantially complete machine could be seen at Goodwood until 1968.

Hornets operated from RAF Tangmere in the early 1950s when competing against other aircraft in selection for Farnborough Air Show displays.

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