Slipping the Bonds
by George Paterson

Vampire FB.5-va1


One morning in May 1941 three men flew from the De Havilland headquarters in Hatfield to watch an early test flight of the Gloster E28/39, the first British jet aircraft. They were De Havilland himself, Frank Halford, an unqualified but gifted engine designer, and George Bishop, the company's senior airframe designer.

What they saw that day at RAF Cranwell, the remote base where these test flights were taking place, impressed them enough that they decided to build a jet aircraft themselves, and develop an engine in-house, to avoid the risks of the inter-company friction that were bedevilling the progress of Gloster's project, which led in due course to the Meteor. Eighteen months later, the Vampire was ready to take to the air.

The engine that Halford designed was significantly more efficient than the one created for the officially sponsored Gloster aircraft, and the reasons for that cast light on the nature of the problems caused by the divided design responsibilities of the Gloster team. Because of the risk of sympathetic vibrations of the main shaft, it was kept short, to the extent that the air passing through the compressor had to have reverse bends, which had an adverse effect on the efficiency of the compressor. Halford simply used a longer, larger-diameter, shaft, which was less prone to vibration, while giving room for the compressor air to take a smoother path through the engine. Some members of the Gloster team had suggested that solution earlier, but others vetoed it, because to them the shaft diameter was sacrosanct!

Although the Meteor flew before the Vampire, and saw limited action during WW II, its early versions were not really mature enough for effective front-line operations, and its only operational success was against V-1 cruise missiles heading for London. The Vampire entered service shortly after the end of the War.

The Initial Image

This is the headline image from a review by Scott van Aken; the model is a Vampire FB.5 of the New Zealand Air Force. I think the FB.5 was the most produced mark of the Vampire, and it served with a number of airforces world-wide.

Despite the modest pixel count of the image, it is very clear and easy to read, with good definition and lighting over the whole airframe. Very little needed to be done to get it prepared for pasting to the background image.


I'm probably biassed in favour of the Vampire vis-a-vis the Meteor, since De Havilland is a local outfit to my adopted home town. But to my eye, the Vampire looked right from the start, whereas the early Meteors were frankly a bit of a mess – The Meteor F.8 was the first of the breed that achieved a harmonious appearance.

Like the Mosquito, the Vampire incorporated a lot of wood in its structure, but unlike the Mosquito, the outer skin was of metal. Mosquitoes needed to be protected from damp conditions; if they were kept outdoors in wet weather, serious damage could occur, especially to the plywood skinning. The Banff Strike Wing, operating from the less than sunny climes of northern Scotland, tried to hanger their Mosquitoes overnight whenever possible. I think the relative scarcity of preserved Mosquitoes may be due to this fragility of the airframe.