Geoffrey de Havilland (1882-1965) began designing aircraft prior to World War I. In 1912 he went to work as chief designer for Airco. Although de Havilland was not an owner of Airco, his designs for that company, designated with a “D.H.” prefix, accounted for substantially all of its success and reputation, and within a few years de Havilland’s name was better known than Airco’s. Upon the failure of Airco, de Havilland purchased its assets and founded the de Havilland Aircraft Company, Ltd., in 1920. For the next 40 years, the company was consistently at the forefront of British and world aircraft design. de Havilland built light civil aircraft, airliners, and military fighters, bombers and trainers. Geoffrey de Havilland himself took an active role in the design of the company’s aircraft, and personally test-flew many of its important designs, even when he had reached an advanced age. Two of his three sons perished while test-flying the company’s aircraft during the late 1940s.
De Havilland’s designs had a distinctive style and philosophy. Except where operational concerns dictated otherwise, they tended to be elegant and slender, with elliptical tail surfaces that persisted from World War I biplanes to jets. De Havilland’s designs were aerodynamically refined, low in weight for their purpose and power, and accordingly achieved superior performance out of the same engines used by other manufacturers.
De Havilland was acquired by Hawker Siddeley in 1960; its legacy to some extent lives on in British Aerospace.