Airco DH.2

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 a synchronisation 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.

Airco DH.2
Role Fighter
Manufacturer Airco
Designer Geoffrey de Havilland
First flight July 1915
Primary user Royal Flying Corps
Number built 453
Developed from Airco DH.1

Design and development

Early air combat over the Western Front indicated the need for a single-seat fighter with forward-firing armament. As no means of firing forward through the propeller of a tractor aeroplane 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 DH.2 first flew in July 1915.[1]

The DH.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.[2] A clip was devised by Major Lanoe Hawker, who also improved the gunsights and added a ring sight and an "aiming off model" that helped the gunner allow for leading a target.[3]

The majority of DH.2s were fitted with the 100 hp (75 kW) Gnôme Monosoupape rotary engine, but later models received the 110 hp (82 kW) Le Rhône 9J.[4]

Other sources advise the Gnôme Monosoupape, nine-cylinder, air-cooled rotary, 100 hp (75 kW) engine was retained in the DH. 2 design despite its tendency for shedding cylinders in midair; one DH.2 was fitted experimentally with a 110 hp (82 kW) le Rhône 9J.[5]

A total of 453 DH.2s were produced by Airco.[6]

Operational service

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).[6] 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, arrived in France in February 1916.[7] The DH.2 ultimately equipped seven fighter squadrons on the Western Front[8] and quickly proved more than a match for the Fokker Eindecker. DH.2s were also heavily engaged during the Battle of the Somme, No. 24 Squadron alone engaging in 774 combats and destroying 44 enemy machines.[7] The DH.2 had sensitive controls and at a time when service training for pilots in the RFC was very poor it initially had a high accident rate, gaining the nickname "The Spinning Incinerator",[9][10] but as familiarity with the type increased, it was recognised as very manoeverable and relatively easy to fly.[11] The rear-mounted rotary engine made the DH.2 easy to stall, but also made it highly maneuverable.[3]

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, "A" Flight of No. 47 Squadron and a joint R.F.C. / R.N.A.S. fighter squadron [12] and X" Flight [12] 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. DH.2s were progressively retired and at war's end no surviving airframes were retained.


No original DH.2s are known to exist. In 1970, Walter M. Redfern from Seattle, Washington built a replica DH.2 called the Redfern DH-2, powered by a Kinner 125-150 hp engine. Redfern subsequently sold plans to home builders, and a number of these replicas are still flying worldwide.[13] Redfern's original replica is now on display at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim, New Zealand.

DH.2 Aces

Distinguished pilots of the DH.2 included Victoria Cross winner Lanoe Hawker (seven victories, though none in the DH.2), who was the first commander of No. 24 Squadron and Alan Wilkinson. The commander of No. 32 Squadron, Lionel Rees won the Victoria Cross flying the D.H.2 for single-handedly attacking a formation of ten German two-seaters on 1 July 1916, destroying two.[8] James McCudden became an ace in DH.2s to start his career as the British Empire's fourth-ranking ace of the war.[14] German ace and tactician Oswald Boelcke was killed during a dogfight with No. 24 Squadron DH.2s due to a collision with one of his own wingmen, Erwin Böhme. Fourteen aces scored five or more aerial victories using the DH.2; many went on to further success in later types also. Eight pilots scored all of their victories flying solely the type: Harry Wood, Sidney Cowan, Hubert Jones, William Curphey, Maximillian Mare-Montembault, Patrick Anthony Langan-Byrne, Eric Pashley and Selden Long.

Lanoe George Hawker V.C., D.S.O., commanding officer of No. 24 Squadron flying a DH. 2 was shot down by Manfred von Richthofen of Jasta 2 flying an Albatros D.II.

DH.2 Aces[14]
Pilot victories
Patrick Anthony Langan-Byrne 10
Alan Wilkinson 10
Selden Long 9
Arthur Gerald Knight 8
Eric C. Pashley 8
John Oliver Andrews 7
Sidney Cowan 7
Hubert Jones 7
William Curphey 6
Stanley Cockerell 5
Henry Evans 5
James McCudden 5
Robert Saundby 5
Harry Wood 5


 United Kingdom

Specifications (DH.2)

Data from Warplanes of the First World War - Fighters Volume One[15]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 25 ft 2 12 in (7.684 m)
  • Wingspan: 28 ft 3 in (8.61 m)
  • Height: 9 ft 6 12 in (2.908 m)
  • Wing area: 249 sq ft (23.1 m2)
  • Empty weight: 943 lb (428 kg)
  • Gross weight: 1,441 lb (654 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnôme Monosoupape 9-cylinder rotary engine, 100 hp (75 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 93 mph (150 km/h, 81 kn)
  • Endurance: 2 hr 45 min
  • Service ceiling: 14,000 ft (4,300 m)
  • Time to altitude: 24 min 45 s to 10,000 ft (3,000 m)


See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era



  1. Mason 1992, p. 42.
  2. Goulding 1986, p. 11.
  3. Guttman 2009, p. 31
  4. Sharpe 2000, p. 20.
  5. Munson 1968, p. 99.
  6. Airco DH-2 Archived 12 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Mason 1992, p. 41.
  8. Jackson 1987, p. 48.
  9. Raleigh 1922, pp. 427–428.
  10. Funderburk, p. 83
  11. Cheesman 1960, p. 40.
  12. Munson, p. 99
  13. "Redfern DH-2." Archived 7 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved: 10 January 2010.
  14. Guttman 2009, p. 91.
  15. Bruce 1965, p. 128.


  • Bruce, J.M. Warplanes of the First World War - Fighters Volume One. London: MacDonald & Co., 1965.
  • Cheesman, E.F., ed. Fighter Aircraft of the 1914-1918 War. Herts, UK: Harleyford, 1960.
  • Funderburk, Thomas R. The Fighters: The Men and Machines of the First Air War. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1962.
  • Goulding, James. Interceptor: RAF Single Seat Multi-Gun Fighters. London: Ian Allan Ltd., 1986. ISBN 0-7110-1583-X.
  • Guttman, Jon. Pusher Aces of World War 1. Jon Guttman. Osprey Pub Co, 2009. ISBN 1-84603-417-5, ISBN 978-1-84603-417-6.
  • Jackson, A.J. De Havilland Aircraft since 1909. London: Putnam, Third edition, 1987. ISBN 0-85177-802-X.
  • Mason, Francis K. The British Fighter since 1912. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1992. ISBN 1-55750-082-7.
  • Miller, James F. "DH 2 vs Albatros D I/D II - Western Front 1916 (Osprey Duel ; 42)". Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2012. ISBN 978-1-84908-704-9
  • Munson, Kenneth. Fighters Attack and Training Aircraft 1914-1919. New York: Macmillan, 1968.
  • Raleigh, Walter. The War In The Air: Being the Story of the part played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force, Vol I. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, First edition 1922, 2002 (reprint). ISBN 978-1-84342-412-3.
  • Sharpe, Michael. Biplanes, Triplanes, and Seaplanes. London: Friedman/Fairfax Books, 2000. ISBN 1-58663-300-7.
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