AirCo DH.2 Biplane Scout Aircraft
The Airco DH.2, a rugged and nimble design, helped to win back Allied air superiority by 1916.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
Geoffrey de Havilland was hired by the Airco firm in June of 1914 as lead designer and quickly lent his design talents to developing the Airco "DH.1" (the "DH" a reference to the designer himself). The DH.1 was a two-seat reconnaissance scout biplane fitted with a water-cooled inline engine in a "pusher" arrangement. While most contemporary engines are "puller" in nature - that is to say that they are mounted forward in the airframe and "pull" the aircraft through the skies - the pusher arrangement required the engine to be located at the rear of the airframe, "pushing" the airframe through the skies instead. This arrangement was necessitated by the simple fact that no sufficient functional synchronization gear (also referred to as "interrupter gear") for the Allies powers had yet been developed. The Germans were firstly successful in this endeavor and displayed it to terrible effect in their Fokker Monoplanes and subsequent biplanes and triplanes. Interrupter gear was just that - a component within the machine gun/propeller function that allowed a pilot to shoot "through" his spinning propeller blade arc without damaging the blades in the process (hence the synchronization). This allowed the pilot all of the performance benefits of a forward-mounted engine with the stability of a solid gun platform. As such, the Allies made due by fitting rearward-set engines in pusher configurations and allocating machine armament to other parts of the aircraft. This generally produced slower aircraft platforms and machine guns were out of reach of the pilot, the latter proving detrimental when they jammed in the middle of an air fight.
De Havilland's second project, aptly designated as the DH.2, took the same pusher arrangement but instead fitted an air-cooled rotary engine. She was still a biplane aircraft not unlike the DH.1 though she was smaller in scale, having seating for just one person. The DH.2 was promising enough among the shortage of good fighter platforms that the British military sent her into operational trials over France by July of 1915. Of course, these inexperienced DH.2 pilots faced a determined and battle-hardened foe and at least one DH.2 fell to German guns, the technology being captured and re-engineered by the enemy. Within time, she formed the ranks of No. 24 Squadron who first netted an aerial victory with a DH.2 on April 2nd, 1916. The DH.2 essentially became the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) first "true" dedicated fighter platform and she did not disappoint once in service.
While the Central Powers and their excellent Fokker Monoplane enjoyed air superiority up to that point (known as the "Fokker Scourge" during the summer of 1915), the DH.2 had arrived to try and change the odds in favor of the Allies. The first Imperial German Monoplane was downed by a DH.2 on April 25th, 1916. In June alone, DH.2 pilots racked up a further 17 enemy aircraft. A further 15 were counted in August and another 15 were netted in September. Ten more enemy aircraft were tallied in November. DH.2 pilots recalled the aircraft's excellent rate-of-climb and handling qualities and this no doubt shown through in their actions. Interestingly, early DH.2 pilots found the aircraft quite sensitive and difficult to manage but experience soon dispelled these feelings. Coupled with well-trained and experienced pilots, the DH.2 proved a lethal system and was instrumental in winning back control of the skies from the Central Powers by the middle of 1916.
Once their time along the Western Front had come and gone (aircraft turnover was quite high in the Great War due to the ever-changing technology), DH.2s were sent to "continue the fight" across fronts in the Middle East. Along the Western Front, the DH.2 had already met her match by the new breed of German and Austro-Hungarian fighter mounts. To showcase her general ineffectiveness in the later stages of her tenure, on December 20th, 1916, five out of six DH.2s were lost in one aerial fight against just five Albatros D.III series fighters. By March of 1917, the DH.2 was being pulled from frontline duties. Missions beyond the Western Front covered the bloodied skies above Macedonia and Palestine. No fewer than 100 DH.2s were retained on the British mainland to help train a new generation of fighter pilot. However, by the fall of 1918, the DH.2 was officially retired from any active service with the English, replaced by more capable types in the RFC. By November of 1918, the Great War had officially come to a close with the signing of the armistice and the DH.2 was resigned to the history books.