The de Havilland DH 108 "Swallow" was a British experimental aircraft designed by John Carver Meadows Frost in 1945. The DH 108 featured a tailless, swept wing with a single vertical stabilizer. Initially designed to evaluate swept wing handling characteristics at low and high subsonic speeds for the proposed early tailless design of the Comet airliner, three examples of the DH 108 were built. With the adoption of a conventional tail for the Comet, the aircraft were used instead to investigate swept wing handling up to supersonic speeds.
The first DH 108 prototype, serial number TG283, utilising the Vampire fuselage and a 43° swept wing, flew on 15 May 1946. Designed to investigate low-speed handling, it was capable of only 280 mph. De Havilland Chief Test Pilot Geoffrey de Havilland Jr., son of de Havilland company owner-designer Geoffrey de Havilland, gave a display flight in the DH 108 during the 1946 Society of British Aircraft Constructors (SBAC) airshow at Radlett.
The second, high-speed prototype, TG306, with a 45° swept wing incorporating automatic leading-edge Handley Page slats and powered by a de Havilland Goblin 3 turbojet, flew soon after in June 1946. Modifications to the design included a more streamlined, longer nose and a smaller canopy. While being used to evaluate handling characteristics at high-speed, on 27th September 1946 TG306 suffered a catastrophic structuralfailure that occurred in a dive from 10,000 ft at Mach 0.9 and crashed in the Thames Estuary. The pilot, Geoffrey de Havilland Jr., was killed in the accident. Early wind tunnel testing had pointed to potentially dangerous flight behaviours, but pitch oscillation at high-speed had been unexpected. It was found that the main spar had cracked at the roots which caused the wings to fold back.
After the loss of the second prototype, VW120 became the third and final prototype based on the newer Vampire F.5 fighter built at Hatfield. It differed from the first test aircraft in that it featured an even more streamlined pointed nose and smaller reinforced canopy . Power-boosted elevators had been specified as a means to control the pitch oscillations at the root of the earlier disaster. A more powerful Goblin 4 had the potential to push the DH 108 into the supersonic range. VW120 first flew on 24 July 1947 flown by John Cunningham, the famous wartime nightfighter ace.
VW120 established a new World Air Speed Record of 604.98 mph on a 62 mile circuit.VW120 was the first British aircraft to break the
sound barrier on 6th September 1948 piloted by John Derry. In fact VW 120 was only the third aircraft ever to fly at Mach 1.
In 1949, VW120 put on an aerial display at Farnborough and scored third place in the Society of British Aircraft Constructors Challenge Trophy Air Race before being turned over to the Ministry of Supply and test flown at RAE Farnborough. It was destroyed on 15 February
1950 in a fatal crash near Brickhill, Buckinghamshire, killing its test pilot, Squadron Leader Stuart Muller-Rowland. Accident investigation pointed to a faulty oxygen system that incapacitated the pilot.
Finally, on 1 May 1950 during low-speed sideslip and stall tests the first prototype, TG283, was lost in a crash at Hartley Wintney killing the pilot Sqn Ldr George E.C. Genders AFC DFM, when, after abandoning the aircraft at low altitude in an inverted spin, his parachute failed to open in time. In all, 480 flights had been made by the three Swallows.
Although the DH 108 had a brief and tragic history it provided vital information that eventally lead to the birth of such aircraft as Concorde.
The painting depicts DH 108, VW120 the final version of Swallow.
Artist Paul Howard.
Available as an A3 size or 20x16 print.