de Havilland Hornet and Sea Hornet (1945 - 1957)


The classic lines of the Hornet family are well illustrated in this fine shot of the Sea Hornet PR22 prototype TT187

The DH.103 Hornet was designed as a private venture lightweight twin-engined fighter, optimised for use in the war against Japan. Specification F.12/43 was written around the type which first flew (RR915) on 28 July 1944. In design it resembled a scaled down Mosquito and like its forebear it was remarkably fast; the prototype exceeded 485 mph. The Hornet equipped Fighter Command day fighter units in the UK and later was used with success as a strike fighter in Malaya. It was the fastest piston-enginned fighter in Royal Air Force service.

hornet2nd prototype Hornet RR919

F Mark 1 The first Hornet was armed with four 20mm cannon and it entered service with 64 Sqn in May 1946. Like all variants it was powered by the Merlin 130/131 driving handed propellor units. First production machine was PX210 which flew on 1 March 1945 and the Mark 1 served only in the UK, lacking the range of later variants.
Service Fighter 19, 41, 64, 65 Training 1335 CU; 226 OCU; CFS; ECFS Communications FCCS; 12 GCF; 1 OFU; Horsham St Faith SF Other CFE (AFDS); CGS; PRDU; RAE; TRE

hornetF Mk 1 PX252/YT-H of 65 Sqn

PR Mark 2 The Mark 2 was designed as an unarmed reconnaissance vehicle for use in the Far East. An early production F Mk 1 (PX216) served as the prototype and five were built before the end of the war resulted in the decision to abandon the type.
Service Trials PRDU; RAE

hornetPrototype PR Mk 2 PX216

F Mark 3 The main fighter variant was provided with increased internal tankage (from 360 to 540 gals) plus a further 400 gals in underwing tanks. To improve lateral stability a dorsal fillet was introduced and provision was made for two 1,000lb bombs or eight 60lb RPs under the wings. It entered service with 19 Sqn in March 1948 and when replaced by jet types in the UK this variant, together with the FR4, served in Malaya and Hong Kong.
Service Fighter 19, 33, 41, 45, 64, 65, 80 Training FETS; Hornet CU; RAFC Communications 1689 Flt; 12 GCF; 10 MU; 1 OFU; Linton on Ouse SF Other CFE

hornetF Mk 3 PX362/MS-H of the Hornet Conversion Flight

FR Mark 4 The Mark 4 was the last of the Hornets and it was used exclusively in the Far East. It was basically an F Mk 3 equipped for photo-reconnaissance with an F.52 camera displacing 21 gals of fuel. Some were built on the production line while others were F Mk 3 conversions.
hornetFR Mk 4 WF977/B of 80 Sqn

Service Fighter reconnaissance 33, 45, 80

The DH103 Sea Hornet was initially produced to specification N.5/44 calling for a long-range fighter for use against the Japanese. The first prototype was PX212, a converted Hornet I which flew on 19 April 1945. The Sea Hornet was the first twin-engined type to operate from British carriers, but it entered service too late to play any part in the Second World War.

hornetPrototype F Mk 20 PX212

F Mark 20 The Mk 20 was similar to the RAF's F Mk 3 but with folding wings and a fuselage camera window. The engines were the Merlin 130/131, which were handed, and armament comprised four 20mm cannon, and eight 60lb RPs or two 1,000lb bombs. Only one front-line unit was fully equipped with the variant.
Service Fighter 801, 809 Display 806 Training 736, 738, 759 Utility 728, 771 Trials 703, 739, 778

hornetFine shot of three aircraft of 801 NAS: TT206/151FD nearest

hornetFR variant of the F Mk 20 TT211 showing camera ports

NF Mark 21 The night fighter was built to specification N.21/45 and fitted with an ASH radar in a thimble radome and a radar operator's cockpit in the rear fuselage. The tailplane span was increased to improve stability and the engines were the Merlin 134/135. The NF Mk 21 served with only one front-line unit, and that for only two years from completion of working-up.
Service Night fighter 809 Training 759, 762, 792 Utility 728, 771 Trials 703, 787

hornetNF Mk 21 VW955/493CW of 809 NAS shows the distinctive thimble nose of the night fighter

PR Mark 22 For photo-reconnaissance the armament of the F Mk 20 was removed and replaced with two F.52 cameras (day photography) or a K.19B camera for night work.
Service Photo-reconnaisance 801, 806, 1833 Training 738, 759 Trials 703, 739, 787

hornetPR Mk 22 VZ658

Specification and production

Mark Role Engine HP Weight




F1 Fighter 2 Merlin 130 1,770 14,100 472 60
PR2 Photo-recce 2 Merlin 130 1,770 15,000 472 5
F3 Fighter 2 Merlin 130 1,770 19,550 472 121
FR4 Fighter-recce 2 Merlin 130 1,770 19,550 472 23*
F20 Fighter 2xMerlin 130 2,070 18,530 467 79
NF21 Night fighter 2xMerlin 133 2,030 19,530 430 80
PR22 Photo-recce 2xMerlin 130 2,070 18,230 467 23


* 12 new aircraft, 11 rebuilt from F3

Further reading

Birtles, P de Havilland Hornet, The (Profile 174) Profile Publications, Leatherhead, 1968

Cooper, L G Hornet File, The Air Britain, Tonbridge, 1992


The Hornet saw operational service in Malaya with 33 and 45 Sqns. Here three aircraft of 45 Sqn return after a strike: nearest aircraft is WB876/OB-O.