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De Havilland Dragon Rapide

DH.89 Dragon Rapide/Dominie
Role Short-haul airliner
Manufacturer de Havilland
First flight 17 April 1934
Primary user Royal Air Force
Number built 731

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.


  • Design and development 1
  • Operational history 2
    • Prewar operations 2.1
    • World War Two 2.2
    • Postwar operations 2.3
  • Variants 3
  • Operators 4
    • Civil 4.1
    • Military operators 4.2
  • Accidents and incidents 5
  • Survivors 6
  • Specifications (Dragon Rapide) 7
  • Notable appearances in media 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
    • Notes 10.1
    • Bibliography 10.2
  • External links 11

Design and development

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.

Operational history

Prewar operations

Dragon Rapide of Isle of Man Air Services on a scheduled service at Manchester (Ringway) Airport in 1938
G-ADAH, built in 1935, and used by Hillmans Airways and Allied Airways until 1947. On display at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, UK.

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 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".[1]

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.[2] It is on display in the Museo del Aire, Madrid.

World War Two

Dominie of the Royal Navy

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 craft 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.

DH.89B Dominie Mark II in Dutch Air Force livery, Militaire Luchtvaart Museum, the Netherlands (2009)

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.

Postwar operations

Ex-RAF Dominie G-AIDL was flown by Allied Airways in the late 1940s, Fox's Confectionery 1950–59, the Army Parachute Association 1967–77 and Air Atlantique Classic Flight 1995–2009. Since 2009 it has flown from Tangmere Military Aviation Museum.[3]

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 operators including Classic Wings and Plane Heritage still offer pleasure flights in them.

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


Dragon Rapide G-AIYR at Old Warden airfield
Dragon Rapide in flying condition, at Duxford aerodrome
Twin-engined light transport biplane. First production version.
Improved version, fitted with a landing light in the nose, modified wingtips and cabin heating.
D.H.89A Series 4
D.H.89A aircraft converted to two de Havilland Gipsy Queen 2 piston engines, fitted with constant speed propellers.[4][5]
D.H.89A Mk 5
One D.H.89A aircraft, powered by two de Havilland Gipsy Queen 3 piston engines, fitted with variable-pitch propellers.
D.H.89A Mk 6
One D.H.89A aircraft fitted with Fairey X5 fixed-pitch propellers.
Military transport version. Exported to Lithuania and Spain.
D.H.89B Dominie Mk I
Radio and navigation training version.
D.H.89B Dominie Mk II
Communications and transport version.


1944 de Havilland DH89a Dragon Rapide 6


  • Zonas Oeste y Norte de Aerolíneas Argentinas (Z.O.N.D.A.)
Dragon Rapide of VARIG preserved at Rio de Janeiro
British North Borneo
Crown Colony of Sarawak
Protectorate of Brunei
  • Valsts Gaisa satiksme
 New Zealand
 South Africa
 Spanish Republic
 Spanish State
 United Kingdom

Military operators

 Nazi Germany
 New Zealand
 Southern Rhodesia
 South Africa
 United Kingdom
 United States
 Kingdom of Yugoslavia

Accidents and incidents


Specifications (Dragon Rapide)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 8 passengers
  • Length: 34 ft 6 in (10.5 m)
  • Wingspan: 48 ft 0 in (14.6 m)
  • Height: 10 ft 3 in (3.1 m)
  • Wing area: 340 ft² (32 m²)
  • Empty weight: 3,230 lb (1,460 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 5,500 lb (2,490 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × de Havilland Gipsy Six inline engine, 200 hp (149 kW) each


Notable appearances in media

A 1986 Spanish film, Dragon Rapide,[22] covers its historical use by Generalissimo Francisco Franco during the preparation for the Spanish Civil War.[23]

See also

Related development
Related lists



  1. ^ Jackson, 1978, pp.362–363
  2. ^ Alpert, Michael BBC History Magazine April 2002
  3. ^ "Dragon Rapide G-AIDL".  
  4. ^ "Rapide Revival Flight p602 30 October 1953
  5. ^ "Rapide with Royal Urge", Flight, 20 November 1953: 676–677 
  6. ^ "Spanish Civil War Aircraft". Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "DH.89 Dragon Rapide" (PDF). Air-Britain. 
  8. ^ a b Jackson 1973, p. 462
  9. ^ "King's jockey is in missing plane". Dundee Courier (26847). 21 June 1939. p. 7 – via  
  10. ^ Henderson, Tony (6 November 2013). "Auction revives memory of jockey's death in County Durham plane crash". The Journal. Archived from the original on 13 November 2014. 
  11. ^ Jackson 1973, p. 463
  12. ^ Poole 1999, pp. 120–21.
  13. ^ Poole 1999, pp. 121–22.
  14. ^ Jackson 1973, p. 468
  15. ^ "Mersey Accident", Flight, 18 November 1948: 595 
  16. ^ Poole 1999, pp. 126–27.
  17. ^ ASN Aircraft accident 19-FEB-1954 de Havilland DH.89A Dragon Rapide G-AFMF, accessed 8 November 2011.
  18. ^ Humphreys 2001, p. 169.
  19. ^ "I dag er et trist jubilæum for dansk fodbold", Politiken, 16 July 2010, accessed 9 September 2011.
  20. ^ CNAPG Dragon Rapide Individual Aircraft History Page, accessed 9 September 2011.
  21. ^ "De Havilland DH 89 Dominie." National Museum of the US Air Force. Retrieved: 24 August 2015.
  22. ^ The Janus Museum (26 October 2007). "The Captain's Paradise". Archived from the original on 16 May 2008. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  23. ^ "Dragón Rapide". IMDB. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 


  • Hamlin, John F. The De Havilland Dragon Rapide Family. Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 2003. ISBN 0-85130-344-7.
  • Jackson, A.J. De Havilland Aircraft since 1909. 1978. Putnam & Company Ltd. ISBN 0-370-30022-X
  • Humphreys, Roy (2001). Kent Aviation, A Century of Flight. Stroud: Sutton Publishing.  
  • Jackson, A.J. British Civil Aircraft 1919–1972: Volume II. London: Putnam (Conway Maritime Press), 1988. ISBN 0-85177-813-5
  • Poole, Stephen (1999). Rough Landing or Fatal Flight. Douglas: Amulree Publications.  
  • Fresson, Ted (May 2008). Air Road to the Isles. Erskine: Kea Publishing.  

External links

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