Airco DH.9A

The Airco DH.9A was a British single-engined light bomber designed and first used shortly before the end of the First World War. It was a development of the unsuccessful Airco DH.9 bomber, with a strengthened structure, and crucially, replacing the underpowered and unreliable Siddeley Puma engine of the DH.9 with the American Liberty engine.

Colloquially known as the "Ninak" (from the phonetic alphabet treatment of designation "nine-A"), it served on in large numbers for the Royal Air Force following the end of the war, both at home and overseas, where it was used for colonial policing in the Middle East, finally being retired in 1931. Over 2,400 examples of an unlicensed version, the Polikarpov R-1 was also built in the Soviet Union, the type serving as the standard Soviet light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft through the 1920s.

Airco DH.9A
Class Aircraft
Type Bomber
Manufacturer Airco
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1918
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Afghanistan View
Australia 1920 1930 View
Canada View
Iran (Persia) View
Latvia View
Mongolia View
Russia (USSR) View
Switzerland View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1918 1931 View
United States of America View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Airco 1997 View

The DH.9A was planned as an improved version of the existing Airco DH.9. The DH.9 was a disappointment owing to its underpowered and unreliable engines, and the DH.9A was planned to use much more powerful engines to resolve this. As the Rolls-Royce Eagle engine used in the successful DH.4 was unavailable in sufficient quantities, the new 400 hp (298 kW) American Liberty engine was chosen instead.

As Airco was busy developing the Airco DH.10 twin-engined bomber, detailed design was carried out by Westland Aircraft. The DH.9 was fitted with new, longer span wings, and a strengthened fuselage structure.

The first prototype flew in March 1918, powered by a Rolls-Royce Eagle as no Liberty engines were yet available. The prototype proved successful, with the first Liberty-engined DH.9A flying on 19 April 1918, and deliveries to the Royal Air Force starting in June. By the end of the war, a total of 2,250 DH.9As had been ordered, with 885 being built by the end of the year. As it was decided that the DH.9A would be a standard type in the postwar RAF, the majority of outstanding orders were fulfilled, with 1,730 being built under the wartime contracts before production ceased in 1919.

While the existing aircraft were subject to a programme of refurbishment, a number of small contracts were placed for new production of DH.9As in 1925–26. These contracts resulted in a further 268 DH.9As being built. The new production and refurbished aircraft included batches of dual control trainers and six experimental aircraft powered by 465 hp Napier Lion engines, which reached a maximum speed of 144 mph.

The Soviet Union built large numbers of an unlicenced copy of the DH.9A, the R-1. After the production of 20 DH.4 copies, followed by about 200 copies of the DH.9 powered by the Mercedes D.IV engine (also designated the R-1) and a further 130 powered by the Siddeley Puma (designated R-2), a copy of the DH.9A, powered by the M-5 engine, a Soviet copy of the DH.9A's Liberty entered production in 1924.

First World War

The DH.9A entered service in July 1918 with No. 110 Squadron RAF, moving to France on 31 August 1918 to serve with the RAF's Independent Air Force on strategic bombing missions. Its first mission was against a German airfield on 14 September 1918. A further three squadrons commenced operations over the Western Front before the Armistice, with 99 Squadron (also serving with the Independent Air Force) replacing DH.9s, while 18 Squadron and 216 Squadron replaced DH.4s. Despite the superior performance of the DH.9A over the DH.9, the DH.9A squadrons suffered high losses during their long range bombing missions over Germany. Other squadrons flew coastal patrols from Great Yarmouth before the end of the year.

The United States Marine Corps also adopted the DH.9A, its Northern Bombing Group receiving at least 53, operations starting in September 1918.

Interwar RAF service

While the squadrons in service at the end of the First World War quickly disbanded or re-equipped in the postwar dis-armament, the DH.9A continued in service as the RAF's standard light bomber, with a total of 24 squadrons being equipped between 1920 and 1931, both at home and abroad.

The first post war operations were in southern Russia in 1919, in support of the "White Army" against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War. In September 1919, the RAF personnel were ordered to return home, leaving their aircraft behind. A squadron of DH.9As was deployed to Turkey in response to the Chanak Crisis in 1922, but did not engage in combat.

The DH.9A was one of the key weapons used by Britain to manage the territories that were in its control following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Great War. Five squadrons of DH.9As served in the Middle East, carrying out occasional bombing raids against rebelling tribesmen and villages. A larger radiator was fitted to cope with the high temperatures, while additional water containers and spares (including spare wheels lashed to the fuselage) were carried in case the aircraft were forced down in the desert, the DH.9A's struggling under ever heavier loads. Despite this it served successfully, with the Liberty engine being picked out for particular praise for its reliability ("as good as any Rolls Royce") in such harsh conditions. Some DH.9A aircraft were also transported to India to supplement the British Indian Army.

At home, the DH.9A continued on in regular RAF service until 1930, also forming the initial equipment of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF).

Soviet service

The R-1 was heavily used by the Soviet Air Forces through the 1920s as its standard light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. The Soviets deployed R-1s in support of the Chinese Kuomintang forces in the Northern Expedition against warlords in 1926–27 and against Chinese forces in clashes over control of the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria in 1929. R-1s were also used in support of operations against Basmachi Rebels in central Asia.

Role Light bomber/General purpose
Manufacturer Airco
First flight March 1918
Introduction 1918
Retired 1931
Primary user Royal Air Force
Number built 1997
Developed from Airco DH.9
Variants Westland Walrus
de Havilland DH.15

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 30 ft 3 in (9.22 m)
  • Wingspan: 45 ft 11¾ in (14.02 m)
  • Height: 11 ft 4 in (3.46 m)
  • Wing area: 486.75 ft² (45.2 m²)
  • Empty weight: 2,800 lb (1,272 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 4,645 lb (2,111 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Liberty 12A V-12 piston, 400 hp (298 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 123 mph (198 km/h)
  • Service ceiling: 16,750 ft (5,110 m)
  • Endurance: 5¼ hours
  • Climb to 10,000 ft: 15 min 45sec


  • Forward firing Vickers machine gun
  • 1 or 2 Rear Lewis guns on scarff ring
  • Up to 740 lb (336 kg) bombs on underwing and fuselage racks

End notes