Photo by Stefan
The sleek looks of the de Havilland
Dragon Rapide have dramatic appeal—even today, 75 years after making
the jump from its designer’s mind to a flying craft.
“In its time it was the Learjet of
airplanes, at least in England in the ’30s,” said Warren Denholm,
restorer of the Dragon Rapide making its first visit here to EAA
AirVenture Oshkosh 2010.
“If you had one of these, you really
had made it, and that was evidenced by the fact that the royal family
had them,” Denholm explained.
On display in the Vintage area, the Rapide is finished in the colors of
the King’s Guard and sports the registration number of the craft used
by Prince Edward.
The back of each seat is festooned with
the feathered-bloom crest of the Prince of Wales.
A royal working over
Originally located in Missouri by Gerry Yagen, president of the
Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the Rapide carcass
was shipped to New Zealand where Denholm and his crew completed the
Work began in January 2008, and the first
New Zealand flight came in March of this year.
After traveling to the United States,
disassembled and crammed inside a 40-foot cargo container, the craft
first flew on this side of the Pacific May 19.
“The surprising thing about this
airplane is how much it will carry,” Denholm said. “It will carry as
much as a Beech 18 on two 200-hp engines, and [the Beech 18] has 900 hp.
It’s remarkable what it will do on such low power.
“Of course, it doesn’t do it very
Power for the biplane twin comes from two
de Havilland Gipsy Queen III engines. Three engine cores came with the
airplane and provided enough parts to rebuild the two used in the
A key attribute of English de Havilland
airplanes is wooden construction. After being neglected for several
decades the very nature of wood meant the craft’s structure would
require quite a bit of repair.
“We had to build a new fuselage because
the wood was pretty degraded,” Denholm said, “but the wing woodwork
was pretty good.”
Like the fuselage, the craft’s wings are constructed entirely of wood,
with steel bracing.
“At some stage in its life it had some
bad repairs done,” Denholm went on to say. “It obviously had an
accident and had broken the wing off on one side.
“The repairs were not up to standards
so we spliced a new wingtip on.”
A different plane from a different day
Among the Rapide’s distinctive traits is its unique cockpit.
Cabin class airplanes typically have
side-by-side seats for two pilots, along with dual controls. The Rapide
pilot sits alone, inside a canopy that has more in common with a fighter
than a twin-engine people carrier.
Changes to the panel occurred as the
craft moved from military service to airline service and ultimately to
service as a sky-diving ride.
A new panel was constructed as part of the restoration that, except for
the modern avionics, represents the way it looked in 1944 when it rolled
off the de Havilland line.
According to Yagen, who flew the Rapide
from Virginia to AirVenture, the big biplane is a docile flier, but it
does not tolerate crosswind landings very well.
“It seems to want to lift a wing,” he
said. “It also tends to float—it is really hard to get down and
When it is not visiting air shows, the
royal Rapide will reside at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia