Dragon Rapide Info & Specs

Has Operated from Apr 1934 to Present

Even to this day, the D.H.89 Dragon Rapide scores high on the list as being one of Britain’s most successful civil aircraft. Despite its basic, wooden construction, this pre-war design was considered to be an extremely elegant and modern looking aircraft when it emerged for the first time and even today, can arguably be seen as being at the very pinnacle of biplane design. Making its inaugural flight from Hatfield on April 17th 1934 as the ‘Dragon Six’, this replacement for the rather boxy looking D.H.84 Dragon had a more streamlined fuselage, elliptical Spitfiresque wings and 30% more power, although the D.H.89 was admittedly 20% heavier than its predecessor. Flight characteristics were good too and rough field performance was also considered to be very satisfactory.

From the mid-30s onward, Rapides began appearing all over the country and were particularly suited to short hops between grass airfields or to Britain’s many islands. Regular services were set up between the Isle of Man and the mainland while others would for the very first time bring aerial postal services to the many isolated, outer lying areas and islands of Scotland. Attempts were also made by Crilly Airlines to run trips between Ireland and the UK, but such plans were subsequently thwarted by the Irish Government who were in the process of setting up their own national airline. However, with the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, many of the civil Dragon Rapides would find themselves being impressed into the RAF, while a further 500 plus airframes would be ordered by the Ministry of Supply for wartime use as D.H.89 Dominies.

These aircraft would initially provide a number of essential services such as undertaking liaison, communication and light transport duties while later on, a large number were also used as radio, navigation and twin-engine rating trainers. A few examples were also retained in civil markings and were used for clandestine missions and transport services between allied or neutral countries. Not being a combat type, many of these aircraft survived the war and while some continued to serve on with the services, a considerable number of them would be sold off to private owners or airlines both at home and abroad who would for the most, converted them to civilian Dragon Rapide specifications. Indeed, this aircraft would invariably become the very first commercial type for some of the airlines that would go on to become household names during the third quarter of the 20th century.

Quite naturally, it wasn’t long before Dragon Rapides started to frequent Southend. In fact, this type had already been making visits before the war, the aforementioned Crilly having run services between Norwich, Ipswich, Southend and Ramsgate during 1935. However, it would be two of Southend’s major players that got the post-war ball rolling. While the first of these would not enter commercial service, Freddie Laker of ATEL and later Air Charter, procured a former Surrey Flying Services owned Rapide and employed it primarily for V.I.P charters and his own personal use. Meanwhile East Anglian Flying Services (Channel Airways) would snap up six of the type and convert them to Rapides before putting them into service operating both domestic and cross-Channel/Channel Island flights to and from Southend.

While the Dragon Rapide would once again become a regular sight on many of the island and domestic feeder routes between the post-war ’40s and early ’60s, these aircraft would still hang on well into the late ’60s by which time their eventual replacement on commercial services could not be held back. However by the 1970s, this aircraft had become extremely popular with aviation enthusiasts and preservation societies alike and as a result of this, air shows and open days would often offer pleasure trips in a Dragon Rapide. Even moving forward into the 21st century, a small number remain airworthy on the British register while many others have found places for themselves within a multitude of museums around the world.

 

De Havilland Dragon Rapide Main Variants

D.H.89

First production model

D.H.89A

Second, upgraded production model – Included modified flaps and cabin heaters

D.H.89A-4

As D.H.89A but with Gypsy Queen 2 engines

D.H.89M

Export military variant

D.H.89B Dominie 1

First version for the RAF/RN – Radio and navigation trainer

D.H.89B Dominie 2

Second version for the RAF/RN – Transport and communication aircraft

De Havilland Dragon Rapide Specifications

Number Built

731

Type

Short Range Biplane Airliner

Length

34ft 6in (10.50m)

Wingspan

48ft (14.60m)

Configurations

8 passengers

Cruise Speed

135kt – 155mph (250km/h)

Ceiling

16,500ft

Range

500nm

Engines

2 x 200hp De Havilland Gypsy Queen Six