THIS IS ONE of the launch titles in the new Airlife Classic paperback series, reproducing some of the publisher’s earliest works of a biographical nature.

THIS IS ONE of the launch titles in the new Airlife Classic paperback series, reproducing some of the publisher’s earliest works of a biographical nature (a theme from which their house name is drawn).

When Sky Fever first appeared under another imprint in 1961, the de Havilland enterprise was being taken over by Hawker Siddeley, and neither the new Trident airliner nor the D.H.125 business jet had flown. Many thought the book a great disappointment in that it glossed over much that could and should have been explored in greater depth. It was padded out with pages dedicated to reports of Mosquito operations compiled during the war by Sir Geoffrey’s brother Hereward, and included a whole chapter covering the de Havilland company’s involvement with the space programme, written by a young engineer at the request of Sir Geoffrey.

Both sections are retained in the current edition, although the notes on space activities could be interpreted as being rather quaint when viewed against the progress made during the forty year gap since they were first penned. In the interests of completeness, perhaps they are important, but in retrospect might have been better left out.

It was a long held view that Sir Geoffrey wrote the book with great reluctance, and may even have subcontracted it in part to de Havilland’s revered PR Manager, Martin Sharp. It is more likely that in retirement the modest Sir Geoffrey set off on the task with initial enthusiasm, for the story of his early family life and natural attraction to things mechanical and aeronautical are covered quite adequately, if not comprehensively, in detail that only the subject himself could know. Later, apart from focus on the Mosquito and Comet airliner, for which Martin Sharp was an obvious provider of facts and data, the story line is disappointingly thin.

Rereading this book after an interval of many years, it was unexpectedly refreshing to be reminded of Geoffrey de Havilland’s pioneering years, of how he built and crashed his first flying machine, but made a success of the second. Wondering what to do with it, he eventually sold it to Farnborough, along with his own services as designer and test pilot, for which he was paid by distance flown rather than time aloft.

He was deeply affected by the death of his brother Ivon in 1905, but was greatly inspired by the activities of the Wright brothers when their activities received greater publicity from 1906 onward.There would have been no biography and no de Havilland Company had a little remembered accident in a B.S.1 which occurred at Farnborough in March 1913 proved more serious. De Havilland spun into the ground from 100 feet in an aeroplane he had designed and which was fitted with a rudder that was already recognised as being too small. Work on a new rudder was in hand before the crash, which put de Havilland in hospital with a broken jaw, severe bruising and minus a number of teeth which were later extracted from the wreckage and presented to him.

Almost half the text covers Geoffrey de Havilland’s life until 1914, the year in which he resigned from his position at Farnborough and joined Airco at Hendon. And that, according to most, is where the ‘DH’ was irrevocably stamped onto the world of aeroplane design. Stuart McKay.

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