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The de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide was a 1930s British short-haul biplane airliner for 6 – 8 passengers. It proved an economical and durable craft, despite its relatively primitive plywood construction.
In late 1933, the Dragon Rapide was designed at the de Havilland company 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 DH.86 Express, including its tapered wings, streamlined fairings and the Gipsy Six engine, but it demonstrated none of the operational vices of the DH.86 Express, and went on to become perhaps the most successful British-built short-haul commercial passenger aircraft of the 1930s.
On 17 April 1934, the prototype aircraft first flew at Hatfield. 205 craft 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 re-designated 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.
This Rapide had originally been imported in July of 1935 for survey duties with the RAAF and was serialed A3-1. It was only in military roundels for five months before being sold on the civilian market in December 1935 to Holymans Airways as VH-UFF ‘Memma”. In November 1936 it passed to Australian National Airways when that company took over Holymans. It was sold to Airlines of Australia Ltd in 1938, retaining the same name. In July 1940 it joined the RAAF again, this time as A33-3. It was re- civlianized in November 1943 for Guinea Airways. In 1947 it went to Airlines(WA) Ltd before being sold to aircraft dealers Brown & Dureau Ltd of Melbourne in October 1948 for aerial photo- graphic survey duties. It was finally exported to New Caledonia in 1956, becoming F-OAVG for Transpac. The humid jungle of that island took a terrible toll on the old lady and it was only operated for a year, before being retired on 2 February 1957 at Noumea-Magenta and providing parts for another Transpac D.H.89, F-OATC.