De Havilland DH 53 Humming Bird
The British Air Ministry promoted a series of "Light Aeroplane Trials" in the hope of evolving an everyman's airplane. But the contest rules specified only such little engines that the trials machines were inevitably underpowered freaks.
De Havilland entered the field of ultralight aircraft with the de Havilland D.H.53 Humming Bird which was built for the Daily Mail light aeroplane trials held at Lympne, Kent, in October 1923.
Two examples of the little monoplane were built, powered by 750cc Douglas motorcycle engines, and in spite of considerable problems with this powerplant both aircraft did well.
In an effort to make the type more reliable, a Blackburn Tomtit engine was installed and other detail changes made before the Humming Bird was flown to the Brussels Aero Show in 1923. The pilot reported after a flight from Brussels, he had been overtak-en by a Belgian freight train of the slowest sort. It later took part in several air races together with the second aircraft, owned by a group of RAF officers who re-engined it with a 26kW A.B.C. Scorpion engine which proved unreliable.
Because of its economical performance, the first Humming Bird had secured for de Havilland an Air Ministry order for eight aircraft for communications and flying practice. Five others were built for civil customers, three going to Australia, one to Czechoslovakia and one to Russia.
The last two RAF Humming Birds were used in experiments which involved launching them from the airship R-33 and recovering them in the air. Following the disposal of all eight aircraft by the RAF in 1927, six were civil registered and flown for several years. One survives with the Shuttleworth Trust at Old Warden, having been rebuilt with a number of new components post-war. It was flown on occasions, but following extensive damage is no longer airworthy and maintained as a static exhibit.
Engine: 1 x Blackburn Tomtit two-cylinder piston, 19kW
Take-off weight: 256 kg / 564 lb
Empty weight: 148 kg / 326 lb
Wingspan: 9.17 m / 30 ft 1 in
Length: 5.99 m / 19 ft 8 in
Height: 2.21 m / 7 ft 3 in
Wing area: 11.61 sq.m / 124.97 sq ft
Max. speed: 117 km/h / 73 mph
Cruise speed: 97 km/h / 60 mph
Ceiling: 4570 m / 15000 ft
Range: 241 km / 150 miles