De Havilland D.H.89 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 passenger airliner.

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 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.

Operational history

Prewar operations

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".[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

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.

Postwar operations

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.


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 Mk 4
One D.H.89A aircraft, powered by two de Havilland Gipsy Queen 2 piston engines, fitted with constant speed propellers.
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.



  • Zonas Oeste y Norte de Aerolíneas Argentinas (Z.O.N.D.A.)
Protectorate of Brunei
  • Valsts Gaisa satiksme
 New Zealand
  • Palestine Airways (British Mandate of Palestine)
  • Aviron
  • Aerocarga Asociados ACA
 South Africa
 Spanish State
 United Kingdom

Military operators

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

Accidents and incidents

  • 2 October 1934, G-ACPM of Hillman's Airways crashed into the sea off Folkstone, Kent causing the death of the pilot and the six passengers.
  • 26 January 1935, G-ACPO of Hillman's Airways, operating a mail flight from Aldergrove Airport, Belfast to Stapleford Aerodrome, Abridge, Essex via Speke Airport, Liverpool, Lancashire crashed at Derbyhaven, Isle of Man, whilst attempting to divert to Ronaldsway Airport during bad weather.[3]
  • 28 June 1946, VP-KCU crashed landed out of fuel near Lamu Kenya. No loss of life.
  • 15 April 1947, G-AHKR of British European Airways crashed into Slieu Ruy whilst operating a scheduled passenger flight from Speke Airport, Liverpool, Lancashire to Ronaldsway Airport, Isle of Man. There were only minor injuries amongst the six people on board.[4]
  • 10 June 1948, G-AIUI of Hargreaves Airways crashed at Cronk ny Arrey Laa, Isle of Man. Seven of the nine people on board were killed. The aircraft was operating a scheduled passenger flight from Speke to Ronaldsway.[5]
  • 10 July 1951, G-ALXJ of the Air Navigation and Trading Company crashed into the sea off Laxey, Isle of Man, killing the pilot. The aircraft was operating a scheduled cargo flight from Squires Gate Airport, Blackpool, Lancashire to RAF Jurby instead of its normal destination of Ronaldsway Airport, which was fogbound.[6]
  • 19 February 1954, G-AFMF crashed at Simonburn Common near Hexham. Pilot and 7 passengers escaped with minor injuries.[7]
  • 29 June 1957, G-AGUE of Island Air Services crashed on take-off from Ramsgate Airport, Kent on a local pleasure flight. The aircraft was written off, but all on board escaped uninjured.[8]
  • 16 July 1960, OY-DZY of Zonens Redningskorps crashed shortly after take-off from Copenhagen Airport, Denmark. The aircraft was chartered by the Danish Football Association to transport soccer players to a test match in Jutland. All eight passengers were killed; the pilot survived but had one leg amputated.[9][10]

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 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 fifty years into its passengers' future. Aircraft registered as G-ACZE appears in the 1990 ITV production Agatha Christie's Poirot, "Peril at End House". Dragon Rapides appear in several films including The Maggie, The Captain's Paradise, Fathom, and the 1995 film adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III. A Dragon Rapide was also seen in the 2004 movie, A Good Woman (film), starring Helen Hunt.

A 1986 Spanish film, Dragon rapide,[11] covers its historical use by Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

British Airways shows a Dragon Rapide in their 2011' advert To Fly. To Serve.[12]

See also

Related development

Related lists




  • 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
  • Jackson, A.J. British Civil Aircraft 1919–1972: Volume II. London: Putnam (Conway Maritime Press), 1988. ISBN 0-85177-813-5

External links

  • de Havilland Dragon Rapide at the Military Aviation Museum
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