The Airco D.H.3 was Geoffrey de Havilland's first twin engined aircraft and was designed as a day bomber with the range to hit German industry. It was originally produced as a private venture in the belief that the War Ministry would soon realise that it needed long range bombers. Airco did receive an order for fifty D.H.3As, but this contract was cancelled before any of the production aircraft had been completed.
Geoffrey de Havilland had been involved in the early development of the Royal Aircraft Factory's F.E.4, and the D.H.3 did resemble a smaller version of that aircraft. The D.H.3 was a large two bay biplane of conventional construction, built with fabric covered spruce girders. The front was covered with plywood to increase its strength. The fuselage was attached to the bottom of the lower wing, while the two pusher engines were carried in nacelles carried between the wings. The D.H.3 was the first aircraft to feature the graceful curing rudder that would become a standard feature of most later de Havilland aircraft.
The D.H.3 carried a crew of three. The pilot's cockpit was placed just ahead of the wings. The rear gunner was located just behind the wings, partly in an attempt to move the centre of gravity forwards. The D.H.3 was armed with two Lewis guns and could carry 680lb of bombs.
Photographic evidence suggests that two prototypes were probably completed. The original D.H.3, powered by two 120hp Beardmore water-cooled engines, didn't get a War Ministry serial number. It made its maiden flight in either January or February 1916, and its performance was good enough to win Airco a contract to produce fifty D.H.3As, powered by two 160hp Beardmore engines.
The D.H.3A was a victim of the arguments over the Royal Aircraft Factory at the start of 1916. A number of private aircraft manufactures claimed that the War Office was ordering R.A.F. designed aircraft even when private aircraft were clearly superior. One side effect of this dispute was an increased level of hostility at the War Office to privately designed military aircraft. This dispute, combined with a belief that large twin-engined aircraft were not practical, in part influenced by the poor performance of the F.E.4, and that strategic bombing would not be necessary, led to the cancellation of the D.H.3A order.
The German bombing campaign over Britain forced the War Office to change its views. The D.H.3A was resurrected as the D.H.10, but the time lost could never be made up, and the war ended before the D.H.10 was ready to enter service.
Engine: Two Beardmore water cooled engines
Power: 120hp (D.H.3), 160 hp (D.H.3A)
Wing span: 60ft 10in
Length: 36ft 10in
Height: 14ft 6in
Tare Weight: 3,980lb
All-up weight D.H.3: 5,810lb
All-up weight D.H.3A: 5,776lb
Max Speed: 95mph
Range: 700 miles
Armament: Two Lewis guns
Bomb-load: 680lb military payload
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