The Mosquito. W4050 The Wooden Wonder

Posted on Sep 13, 2012 by


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A Bit of Good Advice for types (like me) who moan when they’re bored. Get off your proverbial and head for The Severn Valley Railway (see last Roytrs) and the de Havilland (DH) Aircraft Heritage Centre behind Salisbury Hall. Both are desperate for volunteers.

I have written about Geoffrey de Havilland, Salisbury Hall and The Mosquito in Hertfordshire: A~Z and Hertfordshire: Secrets & Spies.

In 1955, when ex Royal Marine, Major Walter Goldsmith, owner of Salisbury Hall, acquired the prototype Mosquito W4050 it led, eventually, to the Mosquito Aircraft Museum.

John Cunningham CBE, DSO & Two Bars, DFC & Bar, was its first President. WWII hero, Group Captain Wing Commander John Cat’s Eyes Cunningham, flew the first plane to have radar. It was so secret, very few knew of it. Chief Test Pilot for de Havilland, Cunningham helped develop the Comet, Britain’s first jet airliner and set an international flight record in the aircraft on 16 October 1957.

When Goering said with a week of good weather, his Luftwaffe would knock England out of the war, he had not bargained on Geoffrey de Havilland who played a huge part in saving the nation from the jackboot. Goering ate his words in 1943. He said: “…It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased…There is nothing the British do not have. They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops…

In 1938, R.E.Bishop, de Havilland’s chief designer, conceived the idea of a light bomber which could exceed the speed of contemporary fighter planes. Powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, it would be faster than any fighter able to reach Berlin. De Havilland knew a wooden aircraft could take advantage of the underused resources and skills of the furniture industry during the war. As aircraft programmes needed all available metal, the Mosquito was built with linen, ply, spruce and balsa wood. Dubbed The Wooden Wonder, Mossie and The Balsa Bomber it could carry the same bomb load of a four engine B-17 Flying Fortress and was capable of making two round trips in a night. To accelerate glue drying, de Havilland developed a technique of heating it using radio waves. The pilot and navigator sat side by side. One of the fastest aircraft around it was also the most manoeuvrable. It climbed faster and turned more quickly than a Spitfire.

In order to design the Mosquito in secret, engineers needed somewhere near the de Havilland factory at Hatfield. Salisbury Hall, requisitioned for the war effort was ideal. The prototype W4050 was built in a hangar disguised as a barn behind the Hall. The first of 7781 made, the Mosquito was ready for action by 1941.

Salisbury Hall was home to Winston Churchill when his mother re-married. This is where he announced his engagement to Clementine Hozier from Berkhamsted and this is where he came with Air Ministry officials and in-service bomber crews to inspect The Wooden Wonder. The Air Ministry was sceptical until de Havilland Jnr took to the skies in the Mosquito. Its performance was a revelation. When the Air Ministry ate humble pie and agreed to order a supply, the plane was transported to Hatfield for re-assembly and testing to the factory which the Germans sent double agent Eddie Chapman to blow up (see Hertfordshire Secrets & Spies)

 The Museum also has find information on Blue Streak, the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile built by de Havilland in the 1950s.  Rolls Royce built the engines. Blue Streak continued as satellite launcher until 1972. One ended up in the hands of a farmer who used its huge fuel tanks to house his chickens, another ended up in a museum in Scotland.

Also on display is the Sea Vixen. Designed in 1946, it made its first flight in 195. Here too is the ill fated 1949 DH 106 Comet, the world’s first jet powered passenger aircraft. De Havilland leapfrogged the US in civil aviation by adopting jet propulsion.

The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret flew in the DH106 Comet in 1952. After touring the works and production line at Hatfield they flew over France, Italy and the Swiss Alps before returning four hours later. The Queen Mother, who took the controls, sent a telegram from Hatfield to No. 600 (City of London) Squadron, of which she was Honorary Air Commodore. “I am delighted to tell you that today I took over as pilot of a Comet aircraft. We exceeded a reading of 0.8 Mach at 40,000 ft’.

The very first DH Comet, however, was built in 1934. It was a DH88 Comet Racer which won the England to Australia air race. When de Havilland’s offer to build a 230 mph racer so that Britain could enter the competition was advertised, three were ordered: One for Jim and Amy (née Johnson) Mollison; racing driver Bernard Rubins and A.O.Edwards MD of The Grosvenor House Hotel. The Mollison’s plane was black and gold, Rubins’ was green. The other one, red and white, named Grosvenor House won.

De Havilland’s second son John was killed on a Mosquito test flight in 1944. His first son, Geoffrey, died in the DH108 practising for a world speed record attempt in 1946. He was buried with his brother in Tewin churchyard. The boys’ mother died shortly afterwards.

When de Havilland was taken over by Hawker Siddeley in 1960, the famous DH logo disappeared. In 1961 the last Mosquito was withdrawn from RAF photo-reconnaissance units. Sir Geoffrey de Havilland died at Watford Peace Memorial Hospital in 1965.  He was buried with his wife and sons in Tewin.

In 1977, Hawker Siddeley Aviation, British Aircraft Corporation and Scottish Aviation were nationalised to become British Aerospace (BAe) – now BAE Systems.

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