When Flying Was Glamorous


air travel 1945

Circa 1945: Stewards serving passengers on board an airplane. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images) 


smoking permitted

Circa 1936: Air hostess Daphne Kearley of Golders Green tending to the crew of the new luxury air service from Croydon, England to Paris, operated by Air Dispatch. (Ward/Getty Images)

lad flying

Circa 1937: A young boy, with his arm in plaster, sits in a chair on an airplane looking out of the window. (London Express/Getty Images)



31st March 1937: A sleeping berth on an Imperial Airways aircraft. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

The cabin wasn’t pressurized so the aircraft did not fly much higher than 12,000 feet. The engines made such a racket that ear plugs were required for sleep.




Circa 1945: British and Overseas Airways air stewardess Peggy Keyte brings a tray of coffees to the passengers in her aircraft, during a World War II flight. (Fred Ramage/Keystone/Getty Images) 



Circa 1946: Air hostess Patricia Palley attends to passengers in the decorated cabin of a Pan-American air liner over the Atlantic. (William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images)



Circa 1950: Two air hostesses walking away from a BOAC Comet. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This is not as glamorous as it looks. This DH 106 Comet (pictured above) was the first civilian jetliner ever produced. Designed and manufactured by de Havilland Aircraft Company Limited, owned by Geoffrey de Havilland, one of the most brilliant aircraft designers of the era. (Half brother of Oliva de Havilland).

The de Havilland Comet began regular passenger service in 1952. Tragically, in the first year after it was introduced, three of these aircraft broke up in mid-flight, killing all on board. Metal fatigue was later identified as the cause and the plane was completely redesigned.


British European Airways (BEA) Comet 4B arriving at Berlin Tempelhof Airport in 1969 (Wikimedia photo by Ralf Manteufel and enhanced by Altair78)


Nimrod R1 from 51 Sqn RAF Waddington doing a fly past at the RAF Waddington Air show July 4th 2009

A maritime patrol aircraft variant of the DH Comet, the Nimrod as shown above, was later produced and continued in service with the Royal Air Force until 2011.

Wooden Plane Most Successful Fighter-Bomber World War Two

The de Havilland Mosquito, one of the most successful aircraft of World War Two, had an airframe composed entirely of wood.



The Mosquito excelled in all its different roles including fighter bomber. Above is a Mosquito being loaded or “bombed up” in RAF parlance. ” RAF station Swanton Morley in early 1942, this picture shows quartets of 500-pounder bombs going aboard a Mosquito Bomber B.IV of 105 Squadron.”

(photo and second caption courtesy www.ww2-weapons.com)

Wood!? In World War Two? As odd as it seems the answer is ‘yes’. The fuselage of the Mosquito was made of balsa wood pressed between two layers of cedar plywood. The rest of the air frame was made of spruce, with plywood covering.

The wing was built in one piece, and attached to the lower side of the fuselage structure. The aircraft wasn’t very big: 41 feet long with a wingspan of 54 feet.


RAF/RCAF de Havilland DH-98 Mosquito, circa 1943

The photo above is the courtesy of Canadian Armed Forces. A total of 1,134 Mosquitoes were built under license in Canada.

Unlike the other self-governing white dominions as well as colonies of the British Empire, the Canadians insisted that each individual service in the forces of the British crown have a separate Canadian branch. Hence, while under British command, Royal Canadian Air force squadrons were formed by the Royal Air Force.

Other colonies did have their own forces such as the Royal Australian Air force, but most of these were pre-war formations. Royal Navy ships, bombers, etc usually had a mix of personnel from all over the Empire. Territorial based infantry regiments tried to keep their ranks full with men from their traditional recruiting grounds, such as the Oxford and Buckinghamshire light infantry (Ox and Bucks), but as the war ground on that became impossible.




A Royal Air Force de Havilland Mosquito B.XVI (serial ML963) in flight. ML963, 8K-K “King” of No. 571 Squadron,30 September 1944.

(Photo courtesy wikpedia).

The “Timber Terror” out-performed almost every other aircraft in World War Two. What made this aircraft so unusual was its versatility.  In addition to its initial role as a fighter bomber, the Mosquito functioned equally well as a high altitude night bomber, night fighter, U-boat hunter, photo reconnaissance plane, daytime low altitude bomber, and daytime fighter. No wonder its other nickname was the “Wooden Wonder.” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says the de Havilland Mosquito is thought to be the most versatile warplane ever built. I think anyone who studies the plane would agree.


Mosquito being bombed up with a 2,000 lb “cookie.”

(photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

The RAF Mosquito annoyed the Germans to no end.

In 1943, said Reichsmarshal Göring, the foul, drug-addicted toad who was C-in-C of the Luftwaffe:

“It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminum better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased yet again. What do you make of that? There is nothing the British do not have. They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops. After the war is over I’m going to buy a British radio set – then at least I’ll own something that has always worked.”

– as cited in “Pathfinder Aircraft” published by the RAF




Royal Air Force- 2nd Tactical Air Force, 1943-1945.
A De Havilland Mosquito NF Mark XIII of No. 604 Squadron RAF prepares to taxy out onto the perimeter track in the melting snow at B51/Lille-Vendeville, France, for a night sortie.
Date between 1943 and 1945.

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

The aircraft was the brainchild of Geoffrey de Havilland, the design and industrial genius behind the de Havilland Aircraft Company in Great Britain. He was a first cousin to actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine – who were sisters. Their father and Geoffrey’s father were half-brothers.

The prototype made its first flight in late 1940 and was put through RAF testing in February of 1941. It out-performed the Supermarine Spitfire in the two critical areas de Havilland had envisioned: speed and altitude. The Mosquito tested out at a top speed of 392 mph (631 km/h) at 22,000 ft (6,700 m) altitude, compared to a top speed of 360 mph (579 km/h) at 19,500 ft (6,000 m) for the Spitfire. Quite an accomplishment.



beautiful color photo of a de Havilland Mosquito

(photo courtesy of www.wwiitanks.com/2012_12_01_archive)

During his long life – 1882 to 1965  – he died at age 82 and had continued to fly until he was 70, Geoffrey de Havilland set many records, invented many things, and lived large.  But he will ever be remembered for the incredible deHavilland Mosquito which was so important to Allied victory. I wish I could have met him once.