The Wartime Diary of a de Havilland Engineer – Part 1

Dick Whittingham in 2008
Dick Whittingham in 2008 – © David Coasby

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 first extract from Dick’s wartime diaries, adapted by his nephew Roger Coasby, and it gives a real insight into those heady days at Hatfield in the early 1940’s.

“We had started to build Mosquitos at Hatfield with a production line set up in the erecting shop. My job, with a mate, was to fit the flying controls. The two of us would do one aircraft a day and the whole line would move along once a day. I became an inspector in the erecting shop and hadn’t been there long when I had a real stroke of luck. I was transferred to experimental flight test as an inspector. Initially I was working on the Mosquito bomber and fighter. Every day they had to be inspected, the engines run then signed out for flight. I would taxi them and occasionally had the opportunity to fly in them, particularly at the weekends when things were quieter.

I was fortunate enough to fly with Geoffrey de Havilland or his brother John who was about my age. One day I had an interesting flight with Geoffrey (in W4050). We took off and circled over Hatfield Park. After a bit Geoffrey said to me “Can you see anybody yet?” I looked over his shoulder and said, “There’s a Spitfire catching us up.” “Right” he said and opened the throttles wide and made off in the direction of Hertford. After a bit he said “Is he still with us?” And it was obvious to me that this was a set-up between the two pilots and they were having a race. After about five minutes there was absolutely nothing between this latest Spitfire and this old prototype Mosquito.

When Geoffrey saw that he wasn’t getting away from the Spitfire he pulled what we called pulling the tit. It was the emergency boost over-ride toggle on the instrument panel. It was wire locked to stop you from doing so and you were only allowed to use it for a few seconds. Anyway, when he pulled this out we absolutely shot away from the Spitfire. After we landed the other pilot who turned out to be Flt Lt Hartnell, the chief test pilot at DH Propellers on the other side of the aerodrome, came over and said “I know what you did…you pulled the tit didn’t you?” Geoffrey replied, “How could I? I had an inspector with me – he would never have allowed that.” I just kept quiet. But it was interesting for me to see the difference between the performance of the two aeroplanes.

Mosquito prototype W4050

The prototype Mosquito fighter had a hard life including a lot of flying and a couple of wheels-up landings. One day a pilot said to me he had noticed one of the engines flopping up and down in flight. So, we jacked it up and took the weight off the engine and checked that it was fully bolted to the spar. Everything seemed secure, which I told him. About a week later another pilot said to me “That engine’s still going up and down you know.” When I looked disbelieving he said “Well come on, I’ll show you what I mean.” I got in and he took it up and after going along in straight and level flight for a bit he set up a porpoising motion, just pushing the stick forward and back really quite gently. Then he said, “Look out at the starboard wing at the engine.” I looked out and said “Nothing wrong with it.” He then said now look at the port one.” The front of the engine seemed to be going up and down about 8 or 9 inches. I was absolutely horrified. I realised then what had happened. It wasn’t that the engine wasn’t securely bolted to the wing, it was the fact that the wooden structure of the wing was starting to come apart internally. After we landed we refused to sign it out any more. That’s the last I saw of the poor old fighter prototype.”

Part two 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.

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1 thought on “The Wartime Diary of a de Havilland Engineer – Part 1”

  1. Pingback: The Wartime Diaries of Dick Whittingham – a de Havilland Engineer | The People's Mosquito

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