De Havilland was one of the great names of British aviation, linked to the standard day bomber of the last year of World War One (which served until 1931), the DH.9A, to the record-breaking racer, the DH.88 Comet, to the most versatile DH.89 Mosquito. It was natural, therefore that the company would make a swift entry into the field of the jet fighter, with the DH Spider Crab (soon renamed Vampire!). De Havilland were also swift to exploit the two-seat nightfighter design that they had been asked for by the Air Ministry, to tide the RAF over until the Meteor nightfighter came online. The NF.10 quickly became the T.11, and a two-seat trainer was born.
Overseas sales of the DH 115 two-seater (usually under the T.55 designation) were fast and furious, with examples going to Sweden, Norway, New Zealand and Rhodesia amongst others. The Australians were a little different in that their single-seat Vampires were powered by Rolls-Royce Nene turbojets, whereas their two-seaters (T.33/34/35) had DeH Goblin engines. The Nene was an unhappy choice for this airframe, as the extra air intakes required were initially positioned incorrectly, causing high-speed control difficulties, and three fatal crashes.
Thanks to the mass disposal sale by the Swiss Air Force, there are now a substantial number of single and two-seat Vampires spread around the world, some of them in flying condition (there is also an ex-RAF T.11 on the European display circuit, too). The Swiss machines were licence-built, from 1953 onwards, by Flugzeugwerk Emmen, the State Aircraft Factory, which in three out of four of the official languages of Switzerland should be named ‘Eidgenössisches Flugzeugwerk-Fabrique Fédérale d’Avions-Fabbrica Federale d’Aeroplani’.
Here we see an ex-Swiss Air Force T.55, G-HELV, belonging to Air Atlantique, now operating under the banner of Classic Flight, which is part of the Air Atlantique empire. It is generally displayed as part of their Heritage Pair, the other half of which is a Gloster Meteor NF.11, G-LOSM. ‘XJ771′ is in typical 1960s RAF camouflage of Dark Green/Dark Sea Grey over Light Grey, a paint scheme which had been in use since the later part of WW2. This aircraft was built in December 1958, and delivered to the Swiss Air Force as ‘U-1215′, she served a variety of units at bases which included Altenrhein, Dübendorf, Emmen, and Sion, before being withdrawn in 1990.
The Vampire is shown in the Delta Jets hangar at Cotswold Airport, Gloucestershire, where it was undergoing routine maintenance. Delta Jets, as well as managing a fleet of classic jet aircraft for various owners, is a Beechcraft distributor, and as such has a wealth of experience when it comes to maintaining aircraft such as the Vampire. The access panels over the DeH Goblin Mk. 35B have been opened, and you can see the can-type combustors (there are 16), and, since the jet pipe and tail cone have been removed, you can see the blades of the single-stage turbine. The flaps are fully down under the wings, and it is obvious that XJ771 is in the middle of several systems checks.
Thanks to organisations like Air Atlantique Classic Flight and Delta Jets Ltd, we shall be able to see first and second generation jet fighters and trainers in the air for many more years to come!