Richard (Dick) Whittingham spent all his working life at de Havilland, starting as an apprentice in 1935 and finishing up as a senior production engineer. This is the fifth extract from Dick’s wartime diaries, adapted by his nephew Roger Coasby, and it gives a personal insight into those exciting days at Hatfield in the early 1940’s.
Geoffrey de Havilland, Jnr
“I got to know Geoffrey de Havilland quite well during the war years, as from the middle of 1942 until the end of 1945 I carried out daily inspections on the experimental aircraft that he flew and signed them out as being safe for flight. This was a great responsibility and privilege as I was only 22 years old when I was first assigned to this position.
The first time that I had the opportunity to speak to him was on the first day that I had cleared his aircraft for flight. After he landed the Mosquito I asked him if he would be flying it the next day. He replied “yes, at the crack of dawn.” When I told this to the flight test foreman I said “whatever time will that be” and he said “twenty to ten!”
Geoffrey was a brilliant pilot, the ultimate professional. A man of few words, modest, private and unassuming, like his father and his brother John who was also a test pilot. He was utterly focused on his job and because of that had no time for jokes or small talk with those who worked with him, although I am sure that other pilots and friends who socialised with him in the evenings when he relaxed would have seen another side of his character.
I only saw him get really annoyed on one occasion. He was flying a Mosquito locally when part of the perspex canopy broke off and his precious hacking jacket that he always wore and stowed behind his seat was sucked out and blown away. He got as many of his pilots as possible into the air and we watched them circling round and round somewhere near the “Crooked Chimney pub” looking for it. It was never found!
In 1942 Geoffrey visited Canada and the U.S.A. This was in order to hand over a Mosquito to the U.S. Army Air Corps and also to test the first Canadian built Mosquito.
Whilst in Toronto he gave demos to the workers there, and it gives one a good insight into his character when reading his report on his time at the Canadian factory when he writes……“this was my most unpleasant day out there as three speeches were required from me: they were short speeches.” Before leaving Canada he flew the Mosquito in a demonstration flight over Toronto in aid of a War Bonds sale drive. He wrote….“This was a truly amusing show to do, and one gained a fine impression of speed going well below the tall skyscrapers with 400 (m.p.h.) indicated.”
He then toured the U.S.A. demonstrating the Mosquito to Army and Naval Air Staff who gave him an opportunity to fly many of their aircraft. It is worth recording a meeting he had with Howard Hughes.
Geoffrey wrote…..“He is at present engaged on the design of, and construction of a 30,000lb wooden-plastic transport for the Army Air Corps (later named the Spruce Goose). This plane was to have been the very acme of simplicity of construction, but Hughes was dumbfounded when he looked at the Mosquito. Turning to me he said ‘I guess I’m going to give those goddam designers of mine holyjeeze.’ Sure enough the following day there arrived at the airfield half a dozen long faced gloomy looking individuals; members of the Hughes design staff. They spent several hours inspecting and asking questions about the Mosquito. In sympathy, Burrell (his observer) and I stood them lunch in the fine Glywayo restaurant.”
On occasions, I had the opportunity to fly with Geoffrey in the Mosquito. It was always an exhilarating experience. In the air he was always focused on the job in hand and was completely unflappable. Once we were diving almost vertically through thick cloud and suddenly broke out into sunlight, just missing a Catalina that was flying past just below the cloud-base. It was so close that I could see the horrified expression on the gunner’s face, looking at us from his perspex blister. Geoffrey was completely unmoved by the incident as if it was nothing unusual. When on the ground however, ready for take-off he would not move until you assured him that there was no plane about to land on top of us. (The Mosquito had no rear view mirrors!)
Part six of Dick Whittingham’s diary will be published next month.
Roger Coasby is a member of the de Havilland Aeronautical Technical School Association. You can find out more about the DHAeTSA, which has over 500 members, on our Affiliates page here.