de Havilland Albatross

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DH.91 Albatross
Albatross 1938 prototype.jpg
The prototype DH.91 Albatross, G-AEVV, over Hatfield, September 1938 (photo from Flight International)
Role Mail plane and transport aircraft
Manufacturer de Havilland
Designer A. E. Hagg
First flight 20 May 1937
Introduction October 1938
Retired 1943
Primary users Imperial Airways/British Overseas Airways Corporation
Royal Air Force
Number built 7 (including two prototypes)

The de Havilland DH.91 Albatross was a four-engine British transport aircraft in the 1930s. A total of seven aircraft were built in 1938–39.


The DH.91 was designed in 1936 by A. E. Hagg to Air Ministry specification 36/35 for a transatlantic mail plane.

The aircraft was remarkable for the ply-balsa-ply sandwich construction of its fuselage, which was later made famous in the de Havilland Mosquito bomber. Another unique feature was a cooling system for the air-cooled engines that allowed nearly ideal streamlining of the engine mounting.[1] The first Albatross flew on May 20, 1937. The second prototype broke in two during overload tests but was repaired with minor reinforcement, and it and the first prototype were operated by Imperial Airways.

Although designed as a mailplane, a version to carry 22 passengers was developed; the main differences being extra windows and the replacement of split flaps with slotted flaps. Five examples formed the production order delivered in 1938/1939. When war was declared all seven aircraft were operating from Bristol/Whitchurch to Lisbon and Shannon.[2]

Operational history[edit]

A BOAC de Havilland Albatross at Bristol (Whitchurch) Airport, c. 1941

As normal for the Imperial Airways fleet of the time, all were given names starting with the same letter, and the first aircraft's name was also used as a generic description for the type overall, as "Frobisher Class". This tradition, which came from a maritime and railway background of classes of ships and locomotives, lasted well into postwar days with BOAC and BEA.

The first delivery to Imperial Airways was the 22-passenger DH.91 Frobisher in October 1938. The five passenger-carrying aircraft were operated on routes from Croydon to Paris, Brussels and Zurich. After test flying was completed, the two prototypes were delivered to Imperial Airways as long-range mail carriers. The only significant season of their operation was the summer of 1939, when they were the main type on the two-hourly London Croydon-to-Paris Le Bourget passenger route.

With the onset of World War II, the Royal Air Force considered their range and speed useful for courier flights between Great Britain and Iceland, and the two mail planes were pressed into service with 271 Squadron in September 1940, operating between Prestwick and Reykjavik but both were destroyed in landing accidents in Reykjavík within the space of 18 months: Faraday in 1941 and Franklin in 1942.[3]

The five passenger aircraft were used by Imperial Airways, (BOAC from September 1940) on BristolLisbon and BristolShannon routes from Bristol (Whitchurch) Airport.[3]

One aircraft (Frobisher) was destroyed during a German air raid on Bristol in 1940,[a] one (Fingal) was destroyed in a crash landing following a fuel pipe failure in 1940 at Pucklechurch, another (Frobisher) was destroyed in an air raid on Whitchurch, and one more (Fortuna) crashed near Shannon Airport in 1943.

This accident was found to be due to deterioration of the aircraft's plywood wing structures. In view of the two surviving aircraft's vulnerability to similar problems, and for lack of spares parts, Falcon and Fiona were scrapped in September 1943.[5]



Mail-carrier variant was delivered to Imperial Airways in August 1939 as Faraday and registered G-AEVV. It was transferred to BOAC when it was formed in 1940 but was impressed into Royal Air Force service with serial number AX903 for operation by No. 271 Squadron RAF. It was destroyed in a landing accident at Reykjavik on the 11 August 1941.[6][7]


Mail-carrier variant was delivered to BOAC as Franklin and registered G-AEVW. Impressed into Royal Air Force Service with the serial number AX904 for operation by 271 Squadron. It was destroyed when the landing gear collapsed on landing at Reykjavik on the 7 April 1942.[6][8]


Passenger variant was registered G-AFDI and delivered to Imperial Airways (later BOAC) as Frobisher in 1938. It was destroyed on the ground during a German air attack on Whitchurch Airport on 20 December 1940.[6][9]


Passenger variant was registered G-AFDJ and delivered to Imperial Airways (later BOAC) as Falcon in 1938. It was scrapped in September 1943.[6][10]


Passenger variant was registered G-AFDK and delivered to Imperial Airways (later BOAC) as Fortuna in 1939. Destroyed in a crash landing near Shannon Airport, Ireland on 16 July 1943.[6][11]


Passenger variant was registered G-AFDL and delivered to Imperial Airways (later BOAC) as Fingal in 1939. Destroyed in a crash landing near Pucklechurch, Gloucestershire, England on 6 October 1940.[6][12]


Passenger variant was registered G-AFDM and delivered to Imperial Airways (later BOAC) as Fiona in 1939. It was scrapped in September 1943.[6][13]


 United Kingdom

Specifications (DH.91)[edit]

Data from British Civil Aircraft since 1919 [14]

General characteristics

  • Crew: four (pilot, copilot, radio operator and steward)
  • Capacity: 22 passengers
  • Length: 71 ft 6 in (21.80 m)
  • Wingspan: 105 ft 0 in (32.01 m)
  • Height: 22 ft 3 in (6.78 m)
  • Wing area: 1,078 ft² (100.2 m²)
  • Empty weight: 21,230 lb (9,650 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 29,500 lb (13,380 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × de Havilland Gipsy Twelve 12-cylinder inverted V piston engine, 525 hp (392 kW) each


See also[edit]

Related development
Related lists



  1. ^ Moss states that Frobisher was actually destroyed by an arson attack by a disgruntled ex-BOAC employee on 20 October 1940.[4]


  1. ^ "Cooling System for Plane Engines Uses Air Piped from Wings" Popular Science, September 1938, drawing of cooling system
  2. ^ Mondey, Dvaid (1982). Hamlyn Concise Guide to British Aircraft of World War II. Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. p. 75. ISBN 1851526684. 
  3. ^ a b Moss Air Pictorial, September 1964, p. 292.
  4. ^ Moss Air Pictorial September 1964, p. 293.
  5. ^ Moss Air Pictorial, September 1964, p. 294.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Jackson 1973, pp 472
  7. ^ Civil Aviation Authority Registration Entry for G-AEVV
  8. ^ Civil Aviation Authority Registration Entry for G-AEVW
  9. ^ Civil Aviation Authority Registration Entry for G-AFDI
  10. ^ Civil Aviation Authority Registration Entry for G-AFDJ
  11. ^ Civil Aviation Authority Registration Entry for G-AFDK
  12. ^ Civil Aviation Authority Registration Entry for G-AFDL
  13. ^ Civil Aviation Authority Registration Entry for G-AFDM
  14. ^ Jackson 1973, p.153.


  • Kopenhagen, Wolfgang (editor) (1987). Das große Flugzeug-Typenbuch. Transpress. ISBN 3-344-00162-0. 
  • Jackson, A. J. (1987). De Havilland aircraft since 1909. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-896-4. 
  • Jackson, A. J. (1973). British Civil Aircraft since 1919, Volume 2 (2nd ed.). Putnam. ISBN 0-370-10010-7. 
  • Moss, Peter W. (September 1964). "The de Havilland D.H.91 Albatross". Air Pictorial. Vol. 26 no. 9. pp. 292–294.