The de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide was a British short-haul passenger airliner of the 1930s. Designed by the de Havilland company in late 1933 as a faster and more comfortable successor to the DH.84 Dragon, it was in effect a twin-engined, scaled-down version of the four-engined 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 commercial passenger aircraft of the 1930s.
Development and history
The prototype first flew on 17 April 1934 and 205 were built for 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 was later just called a "Rapide". With the fitting of improved trailing edge flaps from 1936, they were redesignated DH.89As.
One famous incident involving the use of a DH.89 was in July 1936 when a British MI6 intelligence agent, Hugh Pollard, flew Francisco Franco in one from the Canary Islands to Spanish Morocco, at the start of the military rebellion which began the Spanish Civil War.
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 duties and radio navigation training. Over 500 more were built specifically for military purposes, powered by improved Gipsy Queen engines, to bring total production to 731. Many survivors entered commercial service after the war, and 81 were still flying on the British register in 1958. Dominie production was by both de Havilland and Brush Coachworks Ltd, the latter making the greater proportion.
The DH.89 proved a very durable aircraft despite its relatively primitive plywood construction and many were still flying in the early 2000s. Several Rapides are still operational in the UK and several suppliers still offer pleasure flights in them. Two Rapides are still airworthy in New Zealand.
A de Havilland Dragon Rapide, the Sky Gypsy, appears in Out of Time, an episode of the BBC Science Fiction television series Torchwood, in which one is accidentally flown through a "transcendental portal" and travels from 1953 over 50 years into its passengers future. Dragon Rapides appear in several films including The Maggie, The Captain's Paradise, Fathom, the 1995 film adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III, and a 1986 Spanish film, Dragon rapide.
Specifications (Dragon Rapide)
Published - July 2009
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