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World War One: Airco DH.2

The DH.2 was designed by Geoffrey de Havilland as a single seat fighting scout to replace the larger two seater DH.1. Although de Havilland had already designed the B.E.2, a very conventional tractor biplane, the DH.1 and DH.2 reverted to the more primitive looking pusher configuration solely because Great Britain did not have at that time, a reliable interrupter mechanism to allow machine gun fire through rotating propellers.


First flown on 1st June 1915 the aircraft was found to have satisfactory handling characteristics and was subsequently evaluated at Hendon on 22nd of the same month for possible use by the Royal Flying Corps. A month later the first DH.2 arrived in France for operational trials with No.5 Squadron. The aircraft was unfortunately shot down and its pilot killed (although the DH.2 was repaired by the Germans!).

DH.2One significant change was recommended to the aircraft since it was originally configured to have a flexible mounting for the .303 in. Lewis gun, with the option for the pilot to place it in the left or the right hand side of the cockpit pod. The gun was subsequently firmly mounted to the forward fuselage centre-line allowing the pilot to aim the aircraft instead of the gun. This quickly showed the DH.2 to be a capable fighting machine despite its most challenging opposition during the first half of 1916 being the modern looking Fokker E.III 'Eindekker' monoplane.

Powered by the 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape engine the DH.2 served as a front line fighter in France for the whole of 1916.

With the arrival of modern tractor biplane fighters on both sides of the conflict, the DH.2 pushers were progressively withdrawn between March and June 1917,with many of the survivors being allocated to training squadrons for the remainder of the conflict. Of the 453 DH.2s built, around two thirds served in France with others were operated in Palestine and Macedonia.

DH.2It's not known when the last DH.2 was scrapped however there were clearly none left by the time serious interest in early aircraft began to emerge. It was not until many years later that renewed interest in the type manifested itself in the form of construction of a full scale flying replica.

Pioneer replica builder the late Walt Redfern who was the first to make plans available for full scale Fokker Dr.1 and Nieuport 24, subsequently produced a fine reproduction DH-2 and made the drawings available to homebuilders. The Redfern DH-2 featured some changes to the airframe, including the use of 4130 chrome-moly steel tube in areas like the fuselage pod where timber was originally used, and the use of a 125 hp Kinner radial in place of the original Gnome Monosoupape rotary. Walt passed away after flying just 38 hours on his DH.2 however plans for the aircraft remained on the market and examples are still being constructed with one already flying in Great Britain and another modified example in the USA.

During 2002, Walt Refern's DH.2 was purchased from a museum in Idaho and shipped to New Zealand for The Vintage Aviator Collection. On arrival the aircraft received some remedial work and new livery featuring the colours of 24 Sqn., RFC as it appears here.





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