With the vantage point afforded to pilots of the earlier Airco DH.2 model, famous aircraft designer Geoffrey de Havilland set about to create an improved version through the DH.5. The end result was, however, one of de Havilland's more forgettable designs of the war - not highly regarded by either pilots charged with flying her or the historians left to cover her exploits. It did operate with a more useful interrupter gear allowing for better service from a fixed, forward-firing machine gun and held a light bombing capability. First flight was in August of 1916 with service introduction in May of the following year. Its operational limitations left just 552 examples built with the only users becoming the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) of Britain and the Australian Flying Corps (AFC).
The Airco DH.5 biplane scout was somewhat unique in its design - a key quality being the backward-staggered upper wing element which allowed the pilot in a forward-set cockpit much improved views to the front and sides of his aircraft. As a "fighting scout" this proved ideal for spotting one's enemy first certainly held its advantages. The aircraft was powered by a sole 110 horsepower Le Rhone 9J 9-cylinder rotary engine in the nose driving a two-blade wooden propeller unit. A typical biplane wing assembly was used through a single bay approach and applicable struts and cabling provided the needed support as well as control for moving surfaces. The struts leaned noticeably rearwards to compensate for the upper wing placement over the aircraft. Armament was 1 x 7.7mm Vickers machine gun while a modest bomb-carrying capability was also given - 4 x 25lb bombs under the fuselage. With the interrupter gear, the gun could be installed over the engine housing and fired through the spinning propeller blades while also being relatively accessible by the pilot to clear weapon jams.
As unique was the DH.5 design was attempting to be, the aircraft went on to have less-than-stellar performance and the mere appearance of the aircraft along airfields for pilots familiar with "traditional" biplanes was enough to put off most. The stigma against the DH.5 was so great that the model earned an unflattering reputation for instability though this quality was not a proven one. Couple this with the fact that the aircraft required a greater amount of training and experience to be able to handle effectively in a dogfight and the DH.5 was in operational service for no longer than eight months over any front. By January of 1918, the DH.5 was no longer an option and quickly replaced by more acceptable types as the war began to turn a corner - the DH.5 even failed as a basic trainer.
Despite this, the DH.5 was still noted for its rugged construction which led to a sound over-battlefield piece where it operated at its best at low altitudes in the strike role instead of the high altitude (10,000 feet+) dogfighting role where performance dropped considerably. As a dogfighter, the DH.5 was a rather limited value mount for the position of the upper wing blocked a critical rearward view and the sole machine gun armament limited its offensive output against targets in its crosshairs. The light bombload was something of a saving grace for it allowed the DH.5 to operate in the bomber role and strike at unprotected targets.
Five RFC squadrons eventually operated the type (Nos. 24, 32, 41, 64, and 65) and two AFC were also handed the DH.5 (No.2 and No.7 (Training)). None of the airframes survived the test of time as museum showpieces.
Production was seen from AirCo as well as British Caudron, Darracq (of France), and March, Jones, and Cribb.