de Havilland Dragon Rapide

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de Havilland Dragon Rapide

The de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide was a 1930s British short-haul biplane passenger airliner. Short-haul airliner, Manufactured by de Havilland, First flight was 17 April 1934, the Primary user was the Royal Air Force and the total Number built was 731.

In 1933, the de Havilland company designed and built the Dragon Rapide aircraft as a faster and more comfortable successor to the DH.84 Dragon. It was a twin-engine, smaller version of the four-engine DH.86 Express. It shared many common features with the larger aircraft, including its tapered wings, streamlined fairings and the Gipsy Six engine, but it demonstrated none of the operational vices of the larger aircraft, and went on to become perhaps the most successful British-built short-haul commercial passenger aircraft of the 1930s.

The Prewar operation of the Dragon Rapide on the of Isle of Man Air Services scheduled service at Manchester (Ringway) Airport in 1938 were very successful.  

On 17 April 1934, the prototype aircraft first flew at Hatfield. 205 examples were built for airlines and other owners all around the world before the outbreak of World War II. Originally designated the “Dragon Six” it was first marketed as “Dragon Rapide”, although later it was popularly referred to as the “Rapide”. From 1936, with the fitting of improved trailing edge flaps, they were redesignated DH.89As.

In the summer of 1934, the type entered service with UK-based airlines, with Hillman Airways Ltd being first to take delivery in July. From August 1934, Railway Air Services (RAS) operated a fleet of Dragon Rapides on routes linking London, the north of England and on to Northern Ireland and Scotland. The RAS DH.89s were named after places on the network, for example “Star of Lancashire”.

Isle of Man Air Services operated a fleet of Rapides on scheduled services from Ronaldsway Airport near Castletown to airports in north-west England including Blackpool, Liverpool and Manchester. Some of its aircraft had been transferred to it after operation by Railway Air Services.

One famous incident was in July 1936 when two British MI6 intelligence agents, Cecil Bebb and Major Hugh Pollard, flew Francisco Franco in Dragon Rapide G-ACYR from the Canary Islands to Spanish Morocco, at the start of the military rebellion which began the Spanish Civil War. It is on display in the Museo del Aire, Madrid.

At the start of World War II, many (Dragon) Rapides were impressed by the British armed forces and served under the name de Havilland Dominie. They were used for passenger and communications duties. Over 500 further examples were built specifically for military purposes, powered by improved Gipsy Queen engines, to bring total production to 731. The Dominies were mainly used by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy for radio and navigation training. Postwar they were used as communications aircraft by Royal Naval air station flights.

 Other civilian Dragon Rapides continued to fly for UK airlines as part of the Associated Airways Joint Committee (AAJC). The AAJC co-ordinated the UKs wartime scheduled services which were entirely operated on over-water routes.

After the war, many ex-RAF survivors entered commercial service; in 1958, 81 examples were still flying on the British register. Dominie production was by both de Havilland and Brush Coachworks Ltd, the latter making the greater proportion.

The DH.89 proved an economical and very durable aircraft, despite its relatively primitive plywood construction, and many were still flying in the early 2000s. Several Dragon Rapides are still operational in the UK, and several suppliers still offer pleasure flights in them. A Dragon Rapide can be seen in the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Two Dragon Rapides are still airworthy in New Zealand. One Dragon Rapide flies with the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and another is based in Yolo County, California. Two are operated by Classic Wings for pleasure flights in UK.

After the Second World War de Havilland introduced a Dragon Rapide replacement, the de Havilland Dove.

 

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