This Week In Aviation History: Speed Is Power

Built in secret — and without a government contract — the de Havilland DH 98 Mosquito prototype made its first flight from Hatfield, England on November 25, 1940. The aircraft was built for war, but to avoid the use of precious metals, it was built from wood. The result was a brilliant aircraft that fought against the negative stereotype of an unarmed wooden bomber by handily outpacing the best fighter aircraft of the day.

Designed and built at Salisbury Hall near Hatfield, the Mosquito employed a cedar and balsa “composite” wood ply structure, for the fuselage, the wings, the tail and the engine nacelles. Power came from two liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce Merlin 12 cylinder upright Vee engines, with superchargers. No matter the role employed, the Mosquito had a crew of two, consisting of pilot and navigator. Depending on the particular task, the seating arrangement would differ from model to model. Some of this was due to the variants which had a glass nose for the navigator, or a solid nose for the mounting of machine guns or radar.

Speed and Versatility: The power and grace of the aircraft was evident from the first flight with pilot Geoffrey de Havilland Jr. For more than two years, the Mosquito was the fastest operational production aircraft in the world. Affectionately known as the ‘Mossie,’ the Mosquito flew in many roles beyond the one it was designed to perform. The wooden fuselage aided conversion and modification, and examples were flown as camera planes, bombers, fighters, night fighters and pathfinders. Pathfinders flew ahead of RAF nighttime bomber formations and dropped incendiary bombs to precisely mark the target for the following heavy bombers.

Low level precision bombing attacks became a hallmark of the DH 98, although some runs did not quite fulfill expectations. A raid on Gestapo Headquarters in Norway for example successfully ran to the target, only to have the bombs fail or run completely through the building before exploding.

The US Army Air Force flew Mosquitoes, operating some of them as the F-8, indicative of their reconnaissance role with ‘F for Foto’ prefix. The F-8s procured for America came from the Canadian production lines of de Havilland Canada in Toronto. Many more were provided under ‘Reverse Lend-Lease’ from the United Kingdom, and these were the PR Mk XVI and used for aerial photography and weather reconnaissance. Two F-8s were tested by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at Langley Field, Virginia.

The Royal Navy flew a number of Sea Mosquitoes, outfitted with arresting gear and folding wings — and a developmental version became the first British twin to land on an aircraft carrier on March 25, 1944.

The Mosquito had another unique clandestine role with the airline BOAC on the ‘Ball Bearing Run’, flying critical parts and important personnel to and from Sweden with several civil-registered examples.

Postwar, the Mosquito found homes in other air forces and as an aerial survey/photogrammetry aircraft. A number were also used for a brief period in civil air racing.

de Havilland Mosquito PR Mk. XVI:
Wingspan: 54 feet, 2 inches;
Length: 44 feet, 6 inches;
Height: 12 feet, 6 inches;
Weight: 23,000 lbs. (Full);
Max Speed at 30,000 feet: 415 mph;
Cruise Speed: 245 mph;
Ceiling: 37,000 feet;
Range: 1,485 miles.