De Havilland D.H.91 Albatross
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De Havilland D.H.91 Albatross

Designed by A. E. Hagg to an Air Ministry specification for a transatlantic mailplane, the de Havilland D.H.91 Albatross was aerodynamically and aesthetically one of the outstanding commercial aircraft of the pre-war era. Of wooden construction, it introduced the ply-balsaply sandwich fuselage structure later used so successfully for the Mosquito, and had a one-piece wing similar to that of the Comet. Powerplant consisted of four de Havilland Gipsy Twelve engines driving constant-speed propellers, and the landing gear main units were electrically retractable. The prototype, initially with twin fins mounted at mid-span on the tailplane, was flown for the first time at Hatfield on 20 May 1937. Flight test results indicated that the vertical tail surfaces were unsatisfactory, and the redesigned tail unit incorporated endplate fins with unbalanced rudders and trim tabs.

Problems with the landing gear retraction system resulted in a wheels-up landing for the first prototype on 31 March 1938, and a structural weakness in the rear fuselage was revealed when the second prototype broke into two a few months later when landing during overload trials. Effective modifications were soon evolved and the two prototypes were repaired and used experimentally by Imperial Airways. However, their range made them particularly useful for a shuttle service between the UK and Iceland, and they were impressed for RAF use with No. 271 Squadron in September 1940. Five Albatrosses, with reduced capacity, additional cabin windows and slotted flaps replacing the split trailingedge flaps, were delivered to Imperial Airways between October 1938 and June 1939. Providing accommodation for 22 passengers and a crew of four, they saw wartime service on the Bristol- Lisbon and Bristol-Shannon routes until, with their numbers reduced to two by enemy action or accidents, the survivors were scrapped in September 1943.

De Havilland D.H.91 Albatross

 ENGINE4 x de Havilland Gipsy Twelve piston engines, 391kW
    Take-off weight13381 kg29500 lb
    Empty weight9630 kg21231 lb
    Wingspan32.00 m105 ft 0 in
    Length21.79 m72 ft 6 in
    Height6.78 m22 ft 3 in
    Wing area100.15 m21078.00 sq ft
    Max. speed362 km/h225 mph
    Cruise speed338 km/h210 mph
    Ceiling5455 m17900 ft
    Range1674 km1040 miles

De Havilland D.H.91 AlbatrossA three-view drawing (1024 x 702)

Norrie Southam, 26.05.2015

My uncle Flt Lt John Ried RAFVR piloted both the RAF Abatrosses while he was with 271sqdn.He went on to fly Mosquitos with 605 Sqdn. KIA on 26/6/44 with his observer Roy Phillips.

Sven, 22.05.2015

The props were 2 bladed

Bob, 21.05.2015

I have a contemporary Brass Model for sale of the early version with inset Fins.

If anyone wants to see a pic, please email.

About 6 inch Span.


Gregory Smaxwill, 09.09.2014

I would like to know if the constant speed propellers were two or three bladed ?

John Coles, 28.11.2013

Certainly one of the most elegant aeroplanes ever made.Looking at those lovely lines it's hard to believe she's made of wood.I have a photo of DH91s under construction which show the laminated wood structure and the closely cowled Gipsy Major motors. They must've been put in with a shoehorn and grease.To me the only aircraft to rival the DH91 for sheer elegance is the VC10.

John Coles, 28.11.2013

Certainly one of the most elegant aeroplanes ever made.Looking at those lovely lines it's hard to believe she's made of wood.I have a photo of DH91s under construction which show the laminated wood structure and the closely cowled Gipsy Major motors. They must've been put in with a shoehorn and grease.To me the only aircraft to rival the DH91 for sheer elegance is the VC10.

Matthew Kitchen, 15.09.2012

You'd think they would've preserved the last remaining "Albies?" (I called them Albies for short") It's too bad it wasn't the case.

peter, 12.02.2012

Miles closed down when power cuts caused the heating to fail in their store rooms. Their supply of aircraft grade plywood was ruined by cold and damp.
Also, the prototype Marathon crashed when the pilot ( Bastable ? ) forgot to re trim the tailplane.
Miles aerovan was the forerunner of the Short Skyvan
Handley Page produced the Marathon for a while, but it was in competition with the Dh Heron and not very sucessful.
Back to the albatross, I believe the wings were very rigid, giving an uncomfortable ride.

Laurie Harris, 02.01.2012

I've often heard the story that the famous Lockheed Constellation design was based on the DH Albatross. Not sure how true that was but they do have remarkable similarities.

Fiona, 27.07.2011

My Father flew on Albratross F class and he was on a record time flight over the Channel as a crew member on 25th July 1939. I was also named after the aircraft the Fiona!
If anyone has a photo of the Fiona I would be very interested.

Peter Hubbard, 06.03.2011

In belated answer to Tracy's question,; Yes, they did have a toilet. See the excelant write-up in the 'Flight' archive of 1937

Stacy, 11.10.2010

I'm currently writing a novel concerning a WWII war correspondent who flies to Lisbon in Sept 1941 in one of these, so I'm wondering... Did it have a toilet? That was, apparently, a 4&1/2 hour flight.

Bruno Pacifico, 03.04.2010

Gostei muito do artigo, e acho uma pena que essa bela aeronave não exista mais. eu cheguei a penbsar que esse avião ainda existia, por causa da foto colorida ainda existente. Eu cheguei a pensar em viajar para Croydon para ir visitá-lo!

Victor Boyce, 08.11.2009

The Miles Aircraft exported to Australia after WWII were built with wood and Aerolite Urea Formaldehyde Glue. These aircraft fell apart due to glue failure from the heat of Australia. When UF glue reaches a temperature of or about 120°F the glue oxides, looks like brown sugar and fails as a glue. Because of fatal accidents,UF glue has been declared OBSOLETE in the USA And BANNED for aircraft use in Australia. I know, a Miles Gemini was declared unairworthy in my shop at Tamworth N.S.W because GLUE FAILURE.
I was told (I cannot verify)the Miles Aircraft Co. went Bankrupt because of the failure of AEROLITE glue in Miles aircraft, causing them to have STRUCTUAL FAILURE.

Victor Boyce
1335 Robinhood Lane S.
Lakeland FL 33813
A & P IA USA, AME Canada, L.A.M.E. Australia.

Trisha, 22.06.2009

I have the brass handbell that was used to wake the sleeping passengers from Fortuna that crashed in Shannon (Rineanna). My grandfather was a aviation mechanic and was given the bell after she went down. We are trying to get photos certs etc to go with our little "shrine" to Fortuna, wish us luck

Bill Bath, 14.10.2008

I write a column on the history of aviation for the bi-monthly news letter of the International Society of Transport Aircraft Traders, a non-profit society, and need to include a photo of the Albatross as one of the most graceful airliners of its era. To avoid any inadvertent infringement of copy right may I use the above photo in the heading?

I do the column as a volunteer and am not paid for it.

Bill Bath

Peter Lloyd, 03.09.2008

David Miles -

Are you a relative of THE Miles, one of the UK's most brilliant aircraft designers?

I have admired him all my life and cursed those bloody stupid Civil Servants and politicians who shut down the British aircraft industry - including the Miles M-52 and, eventually, Miles Aircraft itself. Criminal traitors.

David Miles, 07.02.2007

I think this site would be improved by a) Giving the names applied by Imperial Airways to each aircraft, e.g.Frobisher, Fortuna, Falcon, etc. and b) quoting all measurements in Imperial as well as metric. I had the privilege - as a boy of 9 - of stepping aboard and looking around "Falcon" in early, 1939.Always interested in aircraft from the earliest possible age, I was so impressed by this advanced and outstandingly beautiful flying machine. The A.W.27 "Ensign", which I was also privileged to look into, was, although impressive by its size, not nearly as beautiful, albeit it was a handsome machine. (Its tyres were taller than I was at the time !)

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© The fuselage was made of laminations of cedar ply and balsa wood, built as a monocoque in which the skins bore the load.

© As first built the Albatross had tailfins inset near the fuselage, but directional instability saw a change to more traditional endplate fins.

© Passenger entry was through a door just 1m tall and the rear fuselage was particularly cramped. In general the cabin was noisy and the ride was uncomfortable.

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