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  • Writer's pictureroy blewett

De Havilland D.H.84 Dragon, DH.89 Dragon Rapide and D.H.90 Dragonfly

The Croydon Aircraft Heritage Trust's immaculate Rapide, ZK-AKY, taxies in at Wanaka in 2018.

The Dragon series of multi-engine biplane transports was developed from De Havilland’s highly successful range of Moth trainers and early airliners. Conceived initially as the Dragon Moth to fulfill an Iraqi Air Force requirement, the aircraft was a logical progression from the D.H.83 Fox Moth, a single-engine biplane with an enclosed cabin seating four passengers. The type quickly proved popular with operators and passengers alike, leading to development a scaled-up four-engine version, the D.H.86, aimed at fulfilling an Australian government requirement for a ten-seater aircraft capable of safe operation across the Java and Timor Seas. This in turn spawned the definitive aircraft of the series, the faster and more economical D.H.89, which was built in large numbers for civil operators and the Royal Air Force. Despite the D.H.89’s better performance, the D.H.84 was put back into production in Australia in 1942 to meet an urgent requirement for navigation training aircraft, its selection determined by the ready availability of Australian-built Gipsy Major engines. A healthy number of D.H.89s continues to survive alongside a smaller number of D.H.84s and D.H.90s, but sadly no D.H.86.

First flight: 12 Nov 32 (c/n 6000, E-9)

Production: 996, comprising 573 by DH in the UK, initially at Stag Lane but moving to Hatfield in 1934 following closure of the Stag Lane factory, 336 by Brush Coachworks at Loughborough (as a result of Hatfield production being switched to the Mosquito bomber) and 87 by De Havilland Australia at Bankstown, NSW. A further 2 were assembled from parts at De Havilland’s Repair Unit at Witney, UK.

First delivery: 16 Dec 32, to Hillman’s Airways (D.H.84 c/n 6000, G-ACAN)

Last delivery: Nov 47, to Fairey Aviation (D.H.89 c/n W.1002, G-AKJS)

Principal variants: D.H.84 Dragon Mk.1 - 7-seat passenger transport, powered by 2 De Havilland Gipsy Major in-line pistons (202 built, comprising 62 at Stag Lane and Hatfield and 87 in Australia);

D.H.84 Dragon Mk.2 - developed version with higher weights and longer range (53 built at Hatfield);

D.H.89 Dragon Rapide - 9-seat passenger transport, powered by 2 Gipsy Six pistons (203 D.H.89 and D.H.89As built, comprising 201 at Hatfield and 2 at Witney; first flight 17 Apr 34);

D.H.89A Dragon Rapide - improved version, powered by Gipsy Queen 3s;

D.H.89B Dominie - military version for the Royal Air Force based on the D.H.89A and delivered in two configurations, Dominie I for navigation training and Dominie II for communications (422 built, comprising 186 at Hatfield and 336 at Loughnorough;

D.H.89M – armed version developed for Coastal Command (5 built for export, Coastal Command selecting the Anson instead);

D.H.90 Dragonfly - re-engineered version powered by Gipsy Majors, optimised as a 6-seat executive transport (67 built at Hatfield, first flight 12 Aug 35).

Conversions: Rapide Mk.4 – re-engined version powered by Gipsy Queen 2 driving constant speed propellers allowing increased climb rate and cruise speed, an increase in maximum take-off weight;

Rapide Mk.6 – version featuring Fairey fixed-pitch propellers (some 24 known to have been converted).

DH Dragons survivors
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