With the entry of the United States and Russia into World War Two, some members of the British government had enough confidence in the outcome of the war to start thinking about lucrative post-war civil aviation requirements. Consequently, the government set up a committee in 1942 headed by Lord Brabazon of Tara, Sandwich in Kent. Known as the Brabazon Committee, their task was to evaluate civil transport aircraft and advise on what sort Britain would need after the war. Unfortunately, the committee became known for some rather spectacular failures that tended overshadow some of the successful designs that resulted from their studies. One of these successful designs was the de Havilland DH104 Dove, developed to specification 26/46 of the Brabazon committee and intended as a small eleven-seat domestic feeder airliner and replacement for the DH89 Dragon Rapide.
Design work began on the Dove began towards the end of the war, with the first of two prototypes flying at Hatfield airfield, Hertfordshire on September 25, 1945. It was notable for being the first British transport aircraft with tricycle landing gear and reversible pitch, braking propellers. Unlike previous de Havilland aircraft, it was of all metal construction with a semi-monocoque fuselage structure covered in a stressed aluminium skin. Two supercharged 330 hp de Havilland Gipsy Queen 70-3 engines with three blade, DH Hydromatic fully feathering and reversible propellers were mounted on the low-set, metal covered stressed skin cantilever wings. Seating was initially provided for eight passengers although this was later changed to various other seating configurations ranging from the executive six seater through to an eleven-seat airliner. The two crew members sat in a distinctly de Havilland raised cockpit similar to, but not the same as, that found on the legendary DH98 Mosquito.
After further fine-tuning of the prototype and the addition of a small dorsal fin to improve directional stability, the aircraft entered production as the seven to eleven seat Dove Mk.1 airliner and the six seat Dove Mk.2 executive transport. Orders began to arrive for the Dove, the Mk.2 proving very popular with a number of large companies. Its potential was soon noticed by the military and the Royal Air Force placed an order for a military communications variant. In response, de Havilland developed the Dove Mk.4 with deliveries of the first of 30 to the RAF beginning in 1948. Essentially the same as the civil version, the Mk.4 was limited to seven seats due to the inclusion of a survival dinghy. One major difference between the military and civil variants was the name; Dove was hardly a suitable name for a military aircraft so the Mk.4 became the far more militarily acceptable Devon C.Mk.1. The Fleet Air Arm ordered a total of 13 aircraft as the Sea Devon C.Mk.20.
1953 saw the introduction of the Dove Mk.5 airliner and Mk.6 executive transport. These differed mainly in the powerplants fitted, these being two 380 hp Gipsy Queen 70-2 supercharged engines. The top speed, range and maximum take off weight were also increased slightly over its predecessor. A further engine change to the 400 hp Gipsy Queen 70-3 in 1960 saw the introduction of the last two civil variants, the Dove Mk.7 and Dove Mk.8 for the airline and executive markets respectively. This variant also introduced the domed cockpit roof as fitted to the DH114 Heron, a four engine version of the Dove that first flew on May 10, 1950, and had a 52 Imperial gallon auxiliary fuel tank in the rear baggage compartment. Again, the top speed, range and maximum take off weight increased. The RAF's Devon's were later upgraded to this standard and became the Devon C.Mk.2. A handful of Doves also underwent after-market modifications such as the 1963 Riley Turbo Executive 400. Developed by the Riley Aeronautics Corporation, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the 400 was essentially an executive transport with two 400 hp Avco Lycoming IO-72-A1A engines. Another modification to come out of the United States was created by Carstedt Air of Long Beach, California, who produced the Carstedt Jet Liner 600 in 1966. Fitted with two 600 shp Garrett-AiResearch TPE331 turboprops, it had a lengthened fuselage with seating for 18 passengers. In addition to the new engines, a new instrument panel, swept back tail and a steel spar capped wing were also fitted depending on the customer's requirements.
Production of the Dove and Devon amounted to 544 aircraft (including the two prototypes) and continued until 1967, with the last deliveries taking place as late as 1970. They saw widespread use outside of Britain with examples being sold to at least 16 other countries for both civil and military use. Among these users was the Royal New Zealand Air Force who operated a total of 30 Devons (NZ1801-NZ1830) between 1948 and 1981. The first two, built as Doves but renamed Devons in RNZAF service, arrived in June and December 1948. Assigned to the General Purpose Flight based at Ohakea, they were used for VIP duties. Deliveries of the remaining 28 aircraft began in 1952, replacing the air force's Airspeed Oxfords and Consuls, Avro Ansons and de Havilland DH89 Dragon Rapides. In replacing these aircraft, they also took on their roles of navigation, signals and twin-engine training as well as general communications aircraft. Over the years, the number of Devons in RNZAF service slowly reduced with seven being lost in service, a further ten being sold, two donated to the Royal Malaysian Air Force and a number put into storage or used as instructional airframes. With the retirement of NZ1822 in 1981, the Devon's service with the RNZAF came to an end, being replaced by the Fokker F27 Friendship and Cessna 421C Golden Eagle.
At present, there are four Devons on the New Zealand register with several more (including incomplete aircraft) either under restoration, in storage privately or with the RNZAF or on display at museums.
Text © 2002 Stuart Russell.
Power Plant: Two 298kW (400hp) Gipsy Queen 70-3
Wingspan: 17.4m (57ft)
Length: 11.96m (39ft 3in)
Max T-O weight: 4,060kg (8,950lb)
Max cruising speed: 338km/h (210mph)
Range: 1,415km (880miles)