Engineered wood construction second world war plane Dehavilland Mosquito in flight

Mosquito – “The wooden wonder”

The de Havilland mosquito is a fantastic example how wood, when innovatively used, can outperform traditional engineering materials in even the most extreme conditions.

Perhaps understandably, the so-called ‘wooden wonder’ was not always lauded as such throughout the development process. The ironically named Lord Beaverbrook, was one such critic, dubbing it “Freeman’s folly” after Air Chief Marshall Sir Wilfred Freeman who was one of the early believers in the unlikely plywood fighter bomber.

However the performance of the plane soon silenced its critics, becaming both the fastest and highest flying aeroplane of world war two.

How was this possible?

The secret to retaining strength and lightness was the use of a plywood monocoque construction. Pioneered in the 1850s as an industrial material, ply is a material greater than the sum of its parts. Thin layers of wood, laminated together, are positioned with their grains 90 degrees to one another. This has the effects of making its strength uniform in both directions, rather than regular wood which is ‘anisotropic’ (i.e. stronger in one direction than the other)

Blueprint engineering drawing of the Dehavilland mosquito's plywood fuselage

This combination strength and lightness allowed the fuselage to be designed as a monocoque, meaning that there was little internal frame or cross bracing. This was a pioneering technique which went on to be a game-changer in aircraft design.

At a time where traditional engineering manufacturers were running at full capacity, the mosquito was able to make use of the many carpentry and furniture building firms around the UK, who took up the challenge to take plywood construction to new heights.

Period photograph of Mosquito production line (left) juxtaposed with contemporary photo of Cambian technicians in our workshop

What can we learn from the Mosquito today?

By looking outside the normal realms of engineering materials, and using them in an unconventional manner, We can achieve performance which is impossible using normal methods.

Thankfully, today we live in an era of relative peace time. However, new challenges are always on the horizon, not least the existential threat to our species from climate change.

At Cambian, we believe that by choosing to use engineered wood as part of our toolbox, we can meet the challenges of tomorrow, offering world-beating performance at a low-carbon price tag.

If you are wondering how to bring the benefits of engineered wood to your industry, contact us today to see how Cambian could assist.