The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Monday, July 9, 2012

"The Wooden Wonder" - The de Havilland Mosquito Bomber

The narrator in the video of the last post conveyed the attitude that woodworkers of the WWII era pretty much felt that they could build anything of wood. We've already seen that they accomplished this on the seas with the wooden patrol torpedo boats; but like on the seas, battle in the air had evolved to steel and aluminum-alloy duralumin as early as the end of World War I. However, shortages of these metals forced aircraft designers to meet the high replacement rate of fighting aircraft with another type of raw material.

As it always seems, man turned back to wood. Aircraft designer Geoffrey de Havilland, who had been building aeroplanes since his youth in 1910 and so had experience with wood in flight, submitted a design to the British Air Ministry for a prototype light bomber that incredibly had more speed than the famous all-metal Supermarine Spitfire fighters that had won the Battle of Britain. Because of its light weight and handling characteristics, the prototype was eventually named the "Mosquito", and after proving its potential in numerous trials, de Havilland won a contract and began production.

Mosquito B Mk IV serial DK338 before delivery to 105 Squadron - this aircraft was used on several of 105 Squadron's low-altitude daylight bombing operations during 1943.
The Mosquito lived up to its name in warfare, proving an annoying adversary to German Luftwaffe pilots. In fact, the Mosquito was so maddening to the Luftwaffe general staff that two "kills" were awarded to any pilot who successfully shot down one Mosquito.

But the attribute that makes the Mosquito live on in the hearts of many old-timers in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada was its construction of wood. With strips of Ecuadorian balsawood sandwiched between 7/16" 3-plys of Canadian birch, the shell of the Mosquito proved strong enough for extensive use in the war, and in the years after. The following  Australian news reel video shows the manufacturing technique, and in it we see that wood and glue, when mixed properly and with ingenuity and enthusiasm, can produce remarkable man-made machines.

A couple of interesting facts: the Mosquito is a forerunner of the de Havilland "Dash" series of commuter planes that I would guess every frequent flyer has boarded at one time or another. And for you classic movie buffs, the Mosquito's designer Geoff de Havilland was a paternal cousin of the lovely and charming actress Olivia de Havilland, who won our hearts in movies such as Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Gone With the Wind.

A fitting connection, as the de Havilland Mosquito bombers were also gone with the wind before opposing pilots could get them in their sights. And all thanks to the fact that the British Air Ministers decided to Go Wood.


Simon Dragan said...

What about the Hughes H-4 Hercules – “spruce goose “built of birch rather than spruce -

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, much of the birch plywood for the Mosquito was made in Marshfield, Wisconsin, probably of Wisconsin Birch, not Canadian. The same is true of the plywood for the "Spruce Goose".

Jerry Finch

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Canada harvested and made most of the plywood required since yellow birch and white birch were not too hard to source in that era and we've made plywood here for a long time. Most of the birch on the continent grows in Canada. Some planes were made of Sitka spruce as well and it was harvested in remote Islands on the Canadian west coast. It was yarded by steam donkey and transported by rail to the coast. I've seen these old tracks in the woods on the Queen Charlotte Islands in BC. Much of this spruce was used in the Mosquito as well and a nearby lake named Mosquito lake.

Odee said...

Strangely enough, Mosquito Lake, (which if memory serves, had neither a lake, nor the pesky mosquito at the time) Ontario was one of the largest suppliers of birch for the DeHavilland Mossy.