The Airco DH.2 was a single-seat biplane "pusher" aircraft which operated as a fighter during the First World War. It was the second pusher design by Geoffrey de Havilland for Airco, based on his earlier DH.1 two-seater. The DH.2 was the first effectively armed British single-seat fighter and enabled Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilots to counter the "Fokker Scourge" that had given the Germans the advantage in the air in late 1915. Until the British developed an interrupter gear to match the German system, pushers such as the DH.2 and the F.E.2b carried the burden of fighting and escort duties.
Design and development
Early air combat over the Western Front indicated the need for a single seat fighter with forward firing armament. As no reliable interrupter gear was available to the British, Geoffrey de Havilland designed the DH.2 as a smaller, single seat development of the earlier two seat DH.1 pusher design. The D.H.2 first flew in July 1915.
The D.H.2 was armed with a single .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun which was originally able to be positioned on one of three flexible mountings in the cockpit, with the pilot transferring the gun between mountings in flight at the same time as flying the aircraft. Once pilots learned that the best method of achieving a kill was to aim the aircraft rather than the gun, the machine gun was fixed in the forward-facing centre mount, although this was initially banned by higher authorities until a clip which fixed the gun in place but could be released if required was approved.
A total of 453 D.H.2s were produced by Airco.
After evaluation at Hendon on 22 June 1915, the first DH.2 arrived in France for operational trials with No. 5 RFC Squadron but was shot down and its pilot killed (although the DH.2 was recovered and repaired by the Germans). No. 24 Squadron RFC, the first squadron equipped with the DH.2 and the first complete squadron entirely equipped with single-seat fighters in the RFC (or, incidentally, any other flying service), arrived in France in February 1916. The DH.2 ultimately equipped seven fighter squadrons on the Western Front. The little pusher quickly proved itself more than a match for the Fokker Eindecker, and was heavily engaged during the Battle of the Somme, 24 Squadron alone engaging in 774 combats and destroying 44 enemy machines. The DH.2 had sensitive controls and at a time when service training for pilots in the RFC was very poor it terrified some pilots, who nicknamed it the "Spinning Incinerator", but as familiarity with the type increased, it was recognised as very manoeverable and relatively easy to fly.
The arrival at the front of more powerful German tractor biplane fighters such as the Halberstadt D.II and the Albatros D.I, which appeared in September 1916, meant that the DH.2 was outclassed in turn. It remained in first line service in France, however, until No. 24 and No. 32 Squadron RFC completed re-equipment with Airco DH 5s in June 1917, and a few remained in service on the Macedonian front and in Palestine until late autumn of that year. By this time the type was totally obsolete as a fighter, although it was used as an advanced trainer into 1918.
Distinguished pilots of the DH.2 included Victoria Cross winner Lanoe Hawker (eight victories), who was the first commander of No 24 Squadron and ace Alan Wilkinson (10 victories). The commander of No. 32 Squadron, Lionel Rees won the Victoria Cross flying the D.H.2 for single handedly attacking a formation of 10 German two-seaters on 1 July 1916, destroying two. German ace and tactician Oswald Boelcke was killed during a dogfight with 24 Squadron D.H.2s, although it should be noted that this was due to a collision with one of his own wingmen, Erwin Böhme.
DH.2s were progressively retired and at war's end no surviving airframes were retained. In 1970, Walter M. Redfern from Seattle, Washington built a replica DH.2 powered by a Kinner 125-150 hp engine and subsequently, Redfern sold plans to home builders. Currently a number of the DH.2 replicas are flying worldwide.
Data from Warplanes of the First World War - Fighters Volume One
1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun using 47-round drum magazines
Published - July 2009
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