The DH.91 Albatross is one of the most attractive aircraft to have ever served with the Royal Air Force yet it has largely been forgotten thanks in no small part to the fact only two ever served in RAF markings. The DH.91 started life thanks to an Air Ministry requirement for a transatlantic mail plane. De Havilland opted for a sleek looking monoplane design powered by four De Havilland Gypsy Twelve engines each of which produced 525hp. In order to keep weight down much of the aircraft was constructed out of wood with only weight supporting spars being metal. The wooden body was constructed of plywood and balsa in a sandwich configuration (ply-balsa-ply). De Havilland repeated this method of aircraft construction with the Mosquito which became one of the finest aircraft of World War II.
Although born out of a requirement for a mail plane De Havilland was quick to realize the potential as an airliner and designed a 22 seat passenger version. Of the seven airframes completed two were built as mail planes and the rest were in the passenger configuration. The aircraft entered service with Imperial Airways (later BOAC) in 1938 but after less than a year the Second World War broke out. This would be fatal to De Havilland’s ambitions with the type. The Air Ministry wanted warplanes and De Havilland was briefly committed to building frontline aircraft of competing companies. As the war turned against Britain and France in 1940 De Havilland actually found itself building combat versions of its Tiger Moth trainer to help repel an expected German invasion. Under these conditions the Albatross was effectively dead in terms of production.
For the Albatross the war brought a change of owner for the two mail planes as they were impressed in to RAF service as communication aircraft. Their main function was to act as couriers between Britain and Iceland under the banner of No.271 Squadron. This was a tough job for the two aircraft and their crews with severe weather, rough landing conditions and the threat of German aircraft and surface ships being a constant worry. Ultimately it would prove too much for the aircraft and both were lost in landing accidents at Reykjavik; the first on the 11th August 1941 and the second one on the 7th April 1942. Unfortunately none of the seven aircraft built survive today.
Crew: 4 (pilot, copilot, radio operator and steward)
Length: 71 ft 6 in (21.80 m)
Wingspan: 105 ft 0 in (32.01 m)
Height: 22 ft 3 in (6.78 m)
Wing area: 1,078 ft² (100.2 m²)
Powerplant: 4 × de Havilland Gipsy Twelve (525 hp each)
Maximum speed: 195 kn (225 mph, 362 km/h)
Cruise speed: 183 kn (210 mph, 338 km/h)
Range: 904 nmi, (1,040 mi, 1,675 km)
Service ceiling: 17,900 ft (5,455 m)