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Over 60 years ago on September 20th 1943 the De Havilland Vampire became Britain's second operational jet fighter, just after the first flight of the Gloster Meteor. The Meteor entered service with 616 Squadron in 1944, but due to De Havilland's committment to Mosquito production the Vampire just missed operational service in World War 2. De Haviland's had long been famous for it's range of wooden civil aircraft and had shown with the Mosquito and Hornet that innovative wooden construction could also be applied to very high performance aircraft. Also innovative, was De Haviland's determination to produce a jet engine of their own design in cooperation with Major F.B. Halford. The Vampire represented a creative and elegant approach to the problems inherent in producing a first generation jet fighter. In contrast with the Gloster Meteor which used a twin engined layout to compensate for the low power offered by the primitive jet engines, De Haviland's produced a very small and light airframe utilising mixed wood and alloy construction powered by a single engine. To overcome the power loss of a long jet pipe a twin boom arrangement was selected. The aircraft looked decidely odd, but the arrangement worked fine.
The Vampire F1 entered service in 1946 and in so doing became the first RAF fighter with a top speed of over 500 mph and by virtue of being one of the first jet aircraft set a number of records. In 1948 John Cunningham set a new world altitude record of 59,446 ft, and the same year the Vampire made the first Atlantic crossing by jet. The Vampire was also the first jet fighter to operate from an aircraft carrier. Due to the extreme simplicity and economy of the Vampire's construction the Vampire was exported widely providing a painless introduction to jet flying for many air forces.
the two seat trainer Vampire T11 was developed which extended the types life well beyond the expectations of the designers in 1943. The side by side seating arrangement was ideal for teaching with good visibility and the Vampire's inherent stability made the Vampire a very safe training platform. Also, unlike the Meteor trainer the Vampire retained its four 20mm cannon and could be used for tactical weapons training. The RAF operated the Vampire T11 until the 1970's and the Swiss Air Force operated their's until the 1990's!
All in all a grand total of 4366 Vampire's were built in the UK and under license abroad making the Vampire one of the most successful jet fighter's of all time. Today there are a considerable number of Vampire's still flying, (most of them ex Swiss Air Force machines) and it is likely that this remarkably long lived little jet fighter and trainer will grace our skies for many years to come