De Havilland DH-4 was was the only US built aircraft to see combat
during World War I. When the US entered the war in April 1917, the
Aviation Section of the Signal Corps only had 132 aircraft, and all were
obsolete. Colonel R. C. Bolling was commissioned to study current
Allied aircraft designs being used at the front and to arrange for their
manufacture in America. Several European aircraft were considered,
but the DH-4 was selected because of its comparatively simple
construction and its apparent adaptability to mass production.
After completing trials in October 1917, production
contracts were placed for the DH-4. It was dubbed the "Liberty
Plane." By the end of the war on November 11, 1918, three U.S.
manufacturers were building them. The largest producer was the
Dayton-Wright Airplane Company of Dayton, Ohio, which built 3,106
airplanes. The Fisher Body Division of General Motors Corporation of
Cleveland, Ohio, produced 1,600 aircraft, and the Standard Aircraft
Corporation of Patterson, New Jersey, built 140 machines. Plans were
under way to produce an additional 7,502 DH-4s, but orders were
cancelled after the armistice.
The first American-built DH-4 reached France on
May 11, 1918. However, they needed to be made combat ready and the
mission was not flown until August 2. By war's end, thirteen Army Air
Service squadrons, five of them bomber squadrons, were equipped with the
Liberty Plane. In addition, four combined Navy-Marine squadrons were
flying DH-4s along the Belgian coast. Of the 4,346 DH-4s built in the
United States, 1,213 were delivered to France, and of those only 696
reached the Zone of Advance. Although the American DH-4s were in
combat for less than four months, they proved their worth. Of the six
Medals of Honor awarded to aviators during the First World War, four
were received by pilots and observers flying DH-4s.
The DH-4 continued in military service for many years
after the war. It was the principal aircraft used by the U.S. Government
when air mail service began in 1918. A few were transferred to the
new airlines that took over the mail services in 1926-1930. The U.S.
Army Air Service, later Army Air Corps, operated them until 1932.
The War Department transferred the NASM DH-4 to the Smithsonian
Institution in 1919. The National Air and Space Museum restored the
aircraft in 1980-1981.
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