The de Havilland D.H.91 Albatross was a pre-war passenger aircraft produced in very small numbers, and which served as a transport aircraft during the Second World War. The impetus for the development of the Albatross came from within de Havilland. Their Comet two-seat racer had won the 1934 MacRobertson Race to Australia, but the commercially available Douglas DC-2 had not been far behind. de Havilland realised that they would need to develop far faster passenger aircraft if they were to compete with the Americans, and approached the Air Ministry for financial support.
On 21 January 1936 de Havilland were rewarded with a contract for two Transatlantic mailplanes, to be produced to specification 36/35, which called for an aircraft capable of carrying 1,000lb of cargo over a range of 2,500 miles at 210mph against a 40mph headwind.
The Albatross was a very elegant, slender, four-engined aircraft. It was constructed from layers of cedar and balsa wood, and gave de Havilland valuable experience in the production of wooden aircraft (soon to be invaluable in the design of the Mosquito). It was powered by four new 525hp Gipsy Twelve engines that were designed specifically for the Albatross by combining two Gipsy Six engines.
Only seven Albatrosses were ever built (two prototypes and five production aircraft). The prototypes were configured as long range mail planes, while the production aircraft were built to carry 22 passengers. The passenger aircraft entered service on 2 January 1939, and in the last few months of peace broke a number of speed records for inter-city routes (starting with a 48 minute journey between London and Brussels).
At the outbreak of the Second World War all seven Albatrosses were moved to Whitchurch airfield, Bristol, from where they operated on the routes to Shannon and Lisbon. In September 1940 the two mail planes, with their longer range, were taken over by the RAF. They were allocated to No.271 Squadron, and used to fly between Prestwich and Reykjavik. Both of these aircraft were destroyed in crashes at Reykjavik.
Of remaining five one was destroyed after a forced landing at Pucklechurch, Gloucestershire, in October 1940 and a second during a German air raid in December of the same year. For the next three years the remaining aircraft continued to operate on the long range passenger routes, until one was destroyed in a crash near Shannon in July 1943. The remaining aircraft were scrapped later in 1943 because of a lack of spares.
Engines: Four de Havilland Gipsy Twelve inline engines
Power: 525hp each
Span: 105ft 0in
Length: 71ft 6in
Height: 22ft 3in
Empty weight: 21,230lb
Maximum take-off weight: 29,500lb
Max speed: 225 mph
Cruising speed: 210mph
Service ceiling: 17,900ft
Range: 1,040 miles