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 structural
failure 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
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
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
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
The painting depicts DH 108, VW120 the final version of Swallow.
Artist Paul Howard.
Available as an A3 size or 20x16 print.