The de Havilland DH.100 Vampire was a British jet fighter commissioned by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Following the Gloster Meteor, it was the second jet fighter to enter service with the RAF. Although it arrived too late to see combat during the war, the Vampire served with front line RAF squadrons until 1953 and continued in use as a trainer until 1966, although generally the RAF relegated the Vampire to advanced training roles in the mid-1950s and the type was generally out of RAF service by the end of the decade. The Vampire also served with many air forces worldwide, setting aviation firsts and records.
Almost 3,300 Vampires were built, a quarter of them under licence in other countries. The Vampire design was also developed into the de Havilland Venom fighter-bomber as well as naval Sea Vampire variants.
In Australian Service
In 1946 approval was given for the purchase of an initial 50 Vampire aircraft for the RAAF. The first three machines were British-built aircraft, an F1, F2 and FB.5, and were given serial numbers A78-1 to A78-3.
The second aircraft, the F2 (A78-2), was significant in that it was powered by a Rolls Royce Nene jet engine, rather than the usual Goblin. All 80 F.30 fighters and FB.31 fighter-bomber aircraft built in Australia by de Havilland Australia were to be powered by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation licence-built versions of the Nene engine. The Nene required a greater intake cross-section than the Goblin, and the initial solution was to mount auxiliary intakes on top of the fuselage behind the canopy. Unfortunately these intakes led to elevator blanking on formation of shock waves, and three aircraft and pilots were lost in unrecoverable dives. All Nene-engined aircraft were later modified to have the auxiliary intakes beneath the fuselage, thus avoiding the problem.
The first Vampire F.30 fighter (A79-1) flew in June 1949, and it was followed by 56 more F.30 variants before the final 23 aircraft were completed as FB.31s with strengthened and clipped wings with underwing hardpoints. The last FB.31 was delivered in August 1953, and 24 late-production F.30s were subsequently upgraded to FB.31 standard. Single seat Vampires were retired in the RAAF in 1954.
The T.33, T.34 and T.35 were used by the RAAF and the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) (known as Mk33 through to Mk35W in RAAF service) and many were manufactured or assembled at de Havilland Australia’s facilities in Sydney. The Mk35W was a Mk35 fitted with spare Mk33 wings following overstress or achievement of fatigue life. Vampire trainer production in Australia amounted to 110 aircraft, and the initial order was filled by 35 T.33s for the RAAF, deliveries being made in 1952 with five T.34s for the RAN delivered in 1954. The trainers remained in service in the RAAF until 1970 while RAN Vampires were retired in 1971.
The Vampire was considered to be a largely experimental design due to its unorthodox arrangement and the use of a single engine, unlike the Gloster Meteor which was already specified for production. The low power output of early British jet engines meant that only twin-engine aircraft designs were considered practical; but as more powerful engines were developed, particularly Frank Halford’s H.1 (later known as the Goblin), a single-engined jet fighter became more viable. De Havilland were approached to produce an airframe for the H.1, and their first design, the DH.99, was an all-metal, twin-boom, tricycle undercarriage aircraft armed with four cannon. The use of a twin boom kept the jet pipe short which avoided the power loss of a long pipe that would have been needed in a conventional fuselage. The DH.99 was modified to a mixed wood and metal construction in light of Ministry of Aircraft Production recommendations, and the design was renumbered to DH.100 by November 1941.
Under Air Ministry specification E.6/41 for two prototypes, design work on the DH.100 began at the de Havilland works at Hatfield in mid-1942, two years after the Meteor.
Originally named the “Spider Crab,” the aircraft was entirely a de Havilland project, exploiting the company’s extensive experience in building with moulded plywood for aircraft construction. Many of the basic design features were first used in their Mosquito fast bomber. It had conventional straight mid-wings and a single jet engine placed in an egg-shaped, aluminium-skinned fuselage, exhausting in a straight line.
Geoffrey de Havilland Jr, the de Havilland chief test pilot and son of the company’s founder, test flew prototype Serial number LZ548/G on its maiden flight on 20 September 1943 from Hatfield. The flight took place only six months after the Meteor’s maiden flight. The first Vampire flight had been delayed due to the need to send the only available engine fit for flight to America to replace one destroyed in ground engine runs in Lockheed’s prototype XP-80. The production Vampire Mk I did not fly until April 1945, with most being built by English Electric Aircraft at their Preston, Lancashire factories due to the pressures on de Havilland’s production facilities, which were busy with other types. Although eagerly taken into service by the RAF, it was still being developed at war’s end, and never saw combat in the Second World War.
The Vampire was first powered by a Halford H1 (later called the “Goblin”) producing 2,100 lbf (9.3 kN) of thrust, designed by Frank B Halford and built by de Havilland. The engine was a centrifugal-flow type, a design soon superseded post-war by the slimmer axial-flow units. Initially, the Goblin gave the aircraft a disappointingly limited range. This was a common problem with all the early jets, and later marks were distinguished by greatly increased fuel capacities. As designs improved the engine was often upgraded. Later Mk Is used the Goblin II; the F.3 onwards used the Goblin III. Certain marks were test-beds for the Rolls-Royce Nene, leading to the FB30 and 31 variants built in Australia. An unusual characteristic of the low positioning of the engine meant that a Vampire could not remain on idle for longer than a certain time because the heat from the jet exhaust would melt the tarmac on which it stood.
De Havilland initiated a private venture night fighter, the DH.113 intended for export, fitting a two seat cockpit closely based on that of the Mosquito night fighter, and a lengthened nose accommodating AI Mk X radar. An order to supply the Egyptian Air Force was received, but this was blocked by the British government as part of a general ban on supplying arms to Egypt. Instead the RAF took over the order and put them into service as an interim between the retirement of the de Havilland Mosquito night fighter and the full introduction of the Meteor night fighter. Removal of the radar from the night fighter and fitting of dual controls gave a jet trainer, the DH.115 Vampire which entered British service as the Vampire T.11. This was built in large numbers, both for the RAF and for export.
A total of 3,268 Vampires were built in 15 versions, including a twin-seat night fighter, trainer and a carrier-based aircraft designated Sea Vampire.
The Vampire was used by some 31 air forces. Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.S. were the only major Western powers not to use the aircraft type.
In 1947 Wing Commander Maurice Smith, then-Editor of Flight magazine, stated upon piloting his first jet-powered aircraft, a Vampire Mk III; “Piloting a jet aircraft has confirmed one opinion I had formed after flying as a passenger in the Lancastrian jet test beds, that few, if any, having flown in a jet-propelled transport, will wish to revert to the noise, vibration and attendant fatigue of an airscrew-propelled piston-engined aircraft”.
On 8 June 1946, the Vampire was introduced to the British public when Fighter Command’s 247 Squadron was given the honour of leading the flypast over London at the Victory Day Celebrations.
The Vampire was a versatile aircraft, setting many aviation firsts and records, being the first RAF fighter with a top speed exceeding 500 mph (800 km/h). On 3 December 1945, a Sea Vampire piloted by Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown became the first pure-jet aircraft to land on and take off from an aircraft carrier.
Vampires were used in trials from 1947 to 1955 to develop undercarriage-less fighters that could operate from flexible rubber decks on aircraft carriers, which would allow the weight and complication of an undercarriage to be eliminated. Despite demonstrating that the technique was practicable, with many landings being made with undercarriage retracted on flexible decks both at RAE Farnborough and on board the carrier HMS Warrior, the proposal was not taken further. On 23 March 1948, John Cunningham, flying a modified Mk I with extended wing tips and powered by a de Havilland Ghost engine, set a new world altitude record of 59,446 ft (18,119 m).
On 14 July 1948, six Vampire F.3s of No. 54 Squadron RAF became the first jet aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean when they arrived in Goose Bay, Labrador. They went via Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, Keflavik in Iceland and Bluie West 1, Greenland. From Goose Bay airfield they went on to Montreal (c. 3,000 mi/4,830 km) to start the RAF’s annual goodwill tour of Canada and the US where they gave formation aerobatic displays.
At the same time, USAF Colonel David C. Schilling led a group of F-80 Shooting Stars flying to Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base in Germany to relieve a unit based there. There were conflicting reports later regarding competition between the RAF and USAF to be the first to fly the Atlantic. One report said the USAF squadron delayed completion of its movement to allow the Vampires to be “the first jets across the Atlantic”. Another said that the Vampire pilots celebrated “winning the race against the rival F-80s.”