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World War I: Airco DH.2


World War I: Airco DH.2

Airco DH.2

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Airco DH.2 Specifications:


  • Length: 25 ft. 2.5 in.
  • Wingspan: 28 ft. 3 in.
  • Height: 9 ft. 6.5 in.
  • Wing Area: 249 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 942 lbs.
  • Crew: 1


  • Power Plant: 1 × Gnome Monosoupape rotary engine, 100 hp
  • Range: 250 miles
  • Max Speed: 93 mph
  • Ceiling: 14,000 ft.


  • Guns: 1 × .30 cal. Lewis Gun

Airco DH.2 Design & Development:

In early 1915, the first true fighter aircraft, the Fokker Eindecker, appeared over the Western Front. The first fighter to incorporate an interrupter gear which allowed a machine gun to fire through the propeller, the Fokker quickly gained the upper hand on the Allied scout planes then in service. In response to this new threat, the Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Airco) began working on a new purpose-built fighter for the Royal Flying Corps. Designed by Geoffrey de Havilland, the result was the Airco DH.2.

As the British lacked interrupter gear technology, de Havilland created the DH.2 as a "pusher" biplane with the propeller facing the rear. A smaller, more agile version of his two-seat DH.1 observation plane, the DH.2 was powered by a 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape rotary engine was capable of 93 mph. For armament, de Havilland equipped the DH.2 with a forward-firing .30 cal. Lewis gun. This weapon was initially placed on a flexible mount, however as pilots found that it was easier to achieve kills by pointing the aircraft rather than the gun, it was fixed in place.

The first DH.2 arrived in France on June 22, 1915, and underwent trials with No. 5 Squadron. This aircraft faired badly and was shot down by the Germans. Further refining the aircraft, it returned to France in larger numbers in early 1916. All told 453 DH.2s were constructed during the war. A maneuverable fighter for the period, the DH.2 had sensitive controls and was difficult for novice pilots who dubbed it the "Spinning Incinerator" during training.

Airco DH.2 Operational History:

In February 1916, No. 24 Squadron became the first to be fully equipped with the DH.2. Eventually used by seven Royal Flying Corps squadrons, the DH.2 proved itself a nimble fighter that was superior to the Fokker Eindecker. During that summer, DH.2s were heavily used during the Battle of the Somme. While the fighting raged between July and November, the DH.2 took part in 774 engagements and downed 44 German aircraft. In this period, the DH.2 and the French Nieuport 11 successfully reversed the "Fokker Scourge" that began with the introduction of the Eindecker.

In the fall of 1916, the DH.2's superiority was ended with the introduction of new German fighters such as the Albatros D.I and Halberstadt D.II. Though out-classed, the DH.2 was retained in service on the Western Front through mid-1917 as it was replaced by more advanced fighters. While some aircraft were detailed to secondary fronts in Palestine and Macedonia, many DH.2s were reassigned for use as advanced trainers. In this new role, the aircraft was utilized as late as 1918. Obsolete by war's end, no DH.2s were retained by the postwar Royal Air Force.

Selected Sources

  • Spartacus: DH.2
  • Angelucci, Enzo, Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft: 1914-1980 (The Military Press: New York, 1983)

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