aviation pics


Go Back

de Havilland DH89 Dragon Rapide


Geoffrey de Havilland , aided by his brothers Ivon and Hereward, formed the de Havilland Aircraft Company Limited (de Havilland Co) on 25 September 1920. A number of Airco colleagues also joined the new company. A large field was rented in Edgware, Middlesex, at the end of Stag Lane. At an early stage it was decided to concentrate on the design and manufacture of aeroplanes for the almost nonexistent civilian market.

An early private customer in 1921 was Alan Samuel Butler. He commissioned de Havilland Co to build a three-seat tourer suitable for touring within the United Kingdom and on the Continent (this machine would become the DH37). When the landlord of the premises demanded that the company either purchase the field outright or move out, Butler immediately came to the rescue with a substantial investment, enabling de Havilland Co to be secdure in the knowlege of having a permanent home. Another wealthy individual who put money into the risky business of aeroplane manufacture was Lord Wakefield of Castrol Oil, who poured funds into de Havilland Co during the 1930s in the form of aircraft purchases for his British Empire Flying Club Sponsorship Scheme.

Many notable de Havilland models first took to the sky from Stag Lane, including the Fox Moth and Dragon Moth. However, the once quiet and fairly isolated area outside the North London suburbs was rapidly being overrun by the need for housing. In 1930 a green-field site, well outside London’s northern environs, was acquired at Hatfield in Hertfordshire. By then series production of the DH60G III Moth Major, DH80 Puss Moth, DH83 Fox Moth and the DH84 Dragon was in full swing at Stag Lane, but by the end of 1932 all airframe manufacture had been transferred to Hatfield.

Purpose-built factory premises at Hatfield ensured the continued and increased success of de Havilland Aircraft Co and the 1930s saw the company producing its renowned models in greater numbers than ever before. Serving the burgeoning training, air taxi and airline markets, the management team swiftly reacted to customer demand with the DH60 Gipsy Moth developing into the DH82 Tiger Moth, the DH80 Puss Moth metamorphising into the DH85 Leopard Moth, while on the transport front the Dragon family was enlarged with the addition of the unnamed DH86 four-engine airliner in January 1934 and just three months later by its smaller sister, the DH89.


The DH89 is a development of the DH84

After the DH84 Dragon had been in production for less than two years, a development of the design, the DH89 (initially known as the Dragon Six) appeared. The name Dragon Rapide was adopted in February 1934. A more efficient development, this was the type that became best known and respected throughout the world. It was a winner from the outset.

British-based and foreign-based aircraft

Besides numerous examples for British-based customers, aircraft were delivered to civil operators throughout the world (to among others Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia in Africa). The last civil delivery before the outbreak of war was the 203rd Dragon Rapide aircraft (construction number 6454).

First flight of the prototype and certification

The prototype of the DH89 was flown for the first time at Hatfield on 17 April 1934 and was flown to Martlesham Heath for certification trials during the first week of May 1934. The only problem encountered during testing was when the aircraft was conducting a high-speed trial and at about 175 mph (280 km/h) the nose buckled with a loud bang! As a direct result the DH89’s maximum permissible speed was restricted to 160 mph (256 km/h). A certificate of airworthiness was issued on 10 May.

King’s Cup Air Race

It had become traditional that new de Havilland models made their debuts at the King’s Cup Air Race. This very popular annual public event took place at Hatfield on 13 July 1934 and the first production example (G-ACPM of Hillman’s Airways Ltd) was entered in the race, averaging 254 km/h (158 mph) in the race.

Comparison to the DH84

The DH89 employed the same structure as the DH84, but had tapered wings, 200-horse power Gipsy Six engines and a faired-in underrcarriage. The Rapide was heavier than the Dragon, could carry up to eight passengers and had a higher cruising speed. However, the Rapide did not quite have the same landing performance as the Dragon, so in 1937 a version was built with trailing-edge flaps under the lower wing. This was the DH89A, which became the standard aircraft and many of the early examples were modified to conform to this variant.

Over 700 DH89s built

The DH89 remained in production for more than 10 years. Over 700 were built for civil and military customers. The type was produced during World War II as the Dominie radio-and-navigation trainer (for the Royal Air Force). A number of Dragon Rapides were also operated on Fairchild-produced floats by Canadian airlines, produced by de Havilland’s Toronto-based company.

Military use

Various air forces

Small numbers of the DH89M military variant were sold to Lithuania and Spain. Examples of the DH89 were also used by the Royal Australian Air Force, which impressed nine from civilian operators, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, to which nine Dominies were diverted from RAF stocks and which impressed a further five older aircraft, and the South African Air Force, which took delivery of 14 diverted Dominies and impressed three civilian aircraft.

Royal Air Force

In addition, the RAF acquired two aircraft in 1935: one as a VIP transport and one supplied as de Havilland’s contender for a coastal command and general-reconnaissance requirement. Wartime requirements for the training, general-transport and communication roles ensured contracts for in excess of 400 Dominies, as the type was known in British and Empire military service.

The de Havilland DH89B Dominie

By 1942 DH89B Dominie output at Hatfield was approximately 15 aircraft per month. However, factory space was required for increased DH98 Mosquito production and manufacture was transferred to Brush Coachworks Limited  at Loughborough, Leicestershire. Brush eventually built 336 Dominies. Two more aircraft, given the special construction numbers W.1001 and W.1002, were built up from parts at the de Havilland Repair Unit at Witney in Oxfordshire in 1947. After the war the last 100 Brush-built Dominies were delivered to the de Havilland Repair Unit at Witney and converted for civilian use as Dragon Rapides.


Designed as an eight- to ten-seat biplane airliner, the DH89 was powered by two 200-horsepower de Havilland Gipsy Six air-cooled inline engine, superceded in the DH89A by Gipsy Queens of the same horse power.. Construction was of wood, the fuselage being a box structure with spruce longerons and struts covered with plywood. The upper main plane was built up from two spars and girder ribs, braced by wire and covered with fabric. The lower main plane wing stubs as far as the engine positions incorporated tubular steel spars, and had outer panels similar to the upper main plane. Wings were braced by parallel struts. Split trailing-edge flaps and mass-balanced ailerons were provided. The tail unit was wooden construction covered by fabric, with a balanced rudder, and was braced externally. A fixed, faired, cantilever-type undercarriage incorporated Dowty shock absorbers and Bendix brakes.


Civilian versions

DH89: Initial production version.
DH89: from 1936, with the addition of a nose landing light, cabin heating and modified wing tips.
DH89A Mk 1: Introduced 1937 with small trailing-edge flaps outboard of the engine nacelles.
DH89A Mk 2: civilianised DH89B Dominie Mk I for pilot, radio operator and up to six passengers.
DH89A Mk 3: civilianised DH89B Dominie Mk II for pilot and eight passengers.
DH89A Mk 4: 200-hp Gipsy Queen 2 engines; de Havilland constant-speed propellers – increase in maximum takeoff weight to 6 000 pounds (2721.554 kilograms) and significant improvement in climb, cruising and single-engine performance.
DH89A Mk 5: one-off conversion carried out by de Havilland Co to its communications aircraft G-AHKA (c/n 6839).
DH89A Mk 6: aircraft using the Fairey Aviation fixed-pitch propeller.

Military versions

DH89M:  single prototype built for RAF for armed general-reconnaissance aircraft for Coastal Command.
DH89B Dominie Mk I: Navigation trainer.
DH89B Dominie Mk II: Communications aircraft.


de Havilland Co at Hatfield in Hertfordshire produced 391 DH89s (the first delivery taking place in July 1934 and the last in November 1942).

Brush Coachworks Limited at Loughborough in Leicestershire produced 336 DH89s (the first delivery taking place in May 1943 and the last in May 1946).

The de Havilland Repair Unit at Witney in Oxfordshire built up two DH89s (construction numbers W.1001 and W.1002) from parts in 1947.


6250 – 6341  DH89 (including some DH89M)
6342 – 6399  DH89A
6401 – 6456  DH89A
6457 – 6978  DH89B Dominie

[The construction number 6400 was allocated to the sole DH92 Dolphin between the two batches of DH89As.]


South African Air Force

The SAAF operated the de Havilland DH89A Dragon Rapide/Dominie. At least three Rapides were impressed into SAAF wartime service.

Aircraft impressed into SAAF service

1401               See ZS-AOM.
1402               See ZS-AME.
1560               See ZS-AKT.

SAAF Dominies: serials (it is assumed that the following aircraft were civilianised before being sold to civilian operators, Air-Britain 1981 lists all these aircraft as DH89A Dragon Rapides, but the same publication mentions that construction
number 6637 was not converted) –

1353:              DH89B Dominie; construction number 6507; delivery date 25 May 1941; ex-X7334; to ZS-BEF; F-OBIO; 5R-MAO (cancelled July 1967 on expiry of certificate of airworthiness).

1354:              DH89B Dominie; construction number 6508; delivery date 25 May 1941; ex-X7335; to ZS-BCS; VP-YNU; 9O-CJW; 9Q-CJW, withdrawn from use.

1355:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6512; delivery date 7 July 1941; ex-X7339; struck off charge December 1943.

1356:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6510; delivery date 7 June 1941; ex-X7337; to ZS-BCI, destroyed by fire Welkom, South Africa,  6 September 1952.

1357:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6619; delivery date 18 August 1942; ex-X7502; to ZS-BMV; VP-UBB; VP-KFI, scrapped October 1952.

1358:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6626; delivery date 18 August 1942; ex-X7509; to ZS-BEA, destroyed by fire Otjiwarongo, South-West Africa 22 February 1955.

1359:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6627; delivery date 18 August 1942; ex-X7510; to ZS-BCT; VP-KHF, written off Garissa in Kenia 23 January 1955.

1360:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6637; delivery date 18 August 1942; ex-X7520; sold 31 October 1946; registered ZS-BMW 1947, but not taken up; registration cancelled 9 August 1947; Air-Britain 1981 states the aircraft was not converted.

1361:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6628; delivery date August 1942; ex-X7511; written off Bloemfontein, South Africa, 22 October 1942.

1362:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6564; delivery date August 1942; ex-X7404; to ZS-BCR; CR-ADT, reduced to spares January 1958.

1363:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6477; delivery date 1 February 1943; ex-R9549; to ZS-BCD; VP-YKJ; F-OBKH, written off August 1961.

1364:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6680; delivery date February 1944; ex-HG695; to VP-YEZ, destroyed beyond repair 6 January 1955 at Victoria Falls.

1365:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6761; delivery date August 1944; ex-NF890; to VP-YFA; ZS-BZU, written off Mokhotlong, Basutoland (now known as Lesotho), 10 September 1954.

1366:               DH89B Dominie; construction number 6788; delivery date 22 September 1944; ex-NR689; to ZS-CAC; ZS-BZC, seized Cairo when in transit to Israeli Air Force, but later released.

Civilian-registered aircraft (the registrations of the aircraft illustrated in this article appear in bold type and are underlined)

ZS-AES:         DH89; construction number 6256; left Hatfield 29 December 1934, piloted by HN Hawker, in London to Cape Town race; registered 31 January 1935 to African Air Transport Limited; to VP-YBZ; Southern Rhodesia Air Service 302; VP-YBZ.

ZS-AKT:          DH89A; construction number 6380; registered 11 October 1937; impressed as SAAF 1560; restored as ZS-AKT; to OO-CJU; 9O-CJU; 9Q-CJU.

ZS-AME:         DH89A; construction number 6387; registered 22 December 1937; impressed as SAAF 1402; restored to register as ZS-AME; to VP-KHJ; ZS-DFL; CR-ADH.

ZS-AOM:         DH89A; construction number 6411; registered 30 August 1938; impressed as SAAF 1401; restored to register as ZS-CAB; to ZS-DDX.

ZS-ATV:          DH89B Dominie; construction number 6914; RAF serial NR850; returned to Brush for conversion to Mk 3 Rapide 29 August 1945; registered 12 April 1946.

ZS-ATW:         DH89B Dominie; construction number 6915; RAF serial NR851; returned to Brush for conversion to Mk 3 Rapide 29 August 1945; registered 12 April 1946.

ZS-AXS:         DH89B Dominie; construction number 6969; RAF serial TX311, but did not enter military service, instead struck off charge to de Havilland Co 15 April 1946 and converted to civilian Rapide standard at Witney; registered ZS-AXS 30 October 1946; to VP-YIU; CR-AEQ.

ZS-AYF:          DH89A; construction number 6429; registered G-AFLZ 21 November 1938; impressed as RAF Z7254, to de Havilland Co 11 November 1942 for seating modifications; to G-AHPX for Field Consolidated Aircraft Services Limited, Croydon; however, registration cancelled as not taken up and instead the aircraft was restored as G-AFLZ; civilianised by Fields for the Aircraft Operating Company of South Africa; British registration cancelled 12 August 1946; registered ZS-AYF 19 October 1946; to OO-CJS; 9O-CJS; 9Q-CJS.

ZS-AYG:         DH89B Dominie; construction number 6759; RAF serial NF888; struck off charge to Field Consolidated Aircraft Services Limited, Croydon; civilianised; to G-AHPV, registration cancelled 12 August 1946; registered in South Africa as ZS-AYG 30 October 1946, but crashed on delivery flight 31 October 1946.

ZS-BCD:         See SAAF serial 1363.

ZS-BCI:           See SAAF serial 1356.

ZS-BCO:         DH89B Dominie; construction number 6678; RAF serial HG693; assumed civilianised; to ZS-BCO; to Southern Rhodesia Air Force as SR24; VP-YOY.

ZS-BCP:         DH89B Dominie; construction number 6561; RAF serial X7401; to G-AHPY; ZS-BCP, registered 14 August 1946 to Owen Air Proprietary Limited; converted to DH89A Mk 4; later scrapped at Virginia Airport, Durban in South Africa and parts used for ZS-DLS (construction number 6773).

ZS-BCR:         See SAAF serial 1362.

ZS-BCS:         See SAAF serial 1354.

ZS-BCT:          See SAAF serial 1359.

ZS-BEA:         See SAAF serial 1358.

ZS-BEF:          See SAAF serial 1353.

ZS-BMV:         See SAAF serial 1357.

(ZS-BMW):     See SAAF serial 1360.

ZS-BYT:          DH89B Dominie; construction number 6834; RAF serial NR746; assumed civilianised, Air-Britain 1981 mentions this aircraft as a DH89A Dragon Rapide; to VP-YCP; ZS-BYT, but Air-Britain 2003 mentions that this registration was not taken up; to Israeli Air Force possibly as S-73.

ZS-BZC:         See SAAF serial 1366.

ZS-BZU:         See SAAF serial 1365.

ZS-BZV:          DH89B Dominie; construction number 6925; RAF serial RL943; to VP-YDE; ZS-BZV; OO-CJT; 9O-CJT.

ZS-CAB:         See ZS-AOM.

ZS-CAC:         See SAAF serial 1366.

ZS-DDH:         DH89B Dominie; construction number 6833; RAF serial NR745; assumed civilianised, Air-Britain 1981 mentions this aircraft as a DH89A Dragon Rapide; to VP-YCO; ZS-DDH.

ZS-DDI:           DH89B Dominie; construction number 6658; RAF serial HG659; however, did not enter military service; converted to Rapide by de Havilland Co at Witney; to VP-YCI; ZS-DDI; OO-CJX; 9O-CJX; 9Q-CJX.

ZS-DDX:         See ZS-AOM.

ZS-DFG:         DH89B Dominie; construction number 6667; RAF serial HG668; however, did not enter military service; converted to Rapide by de Havilland Co at Witney; to VP-YCN; ZS-DFG; VP-YMW; 9Q-CJK.

ZS-DFL:          See ZS-AME.

ZS-DJT:         DH89B Dominie; construction number 6498; RAF serial X7325; to G-AIHN; conversion to civil configuration; registered ZS-DJT as a Mk 4 on 21 April 1955.

ZS-DLS:         DH89B Dominie; construction number 6773; RAF serial NR674; converted to Rapide by de Havilland Co at Witney; G-AGZU; ZS-DLS, also see information against ZS-BCP; withdrawn from use at Baragwanath; registration cancelled 19 April 1971, aircraft later vandalised; remains to Oribi Airport in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; centre section, wings and tail transferred to SAAF Museum at Lanseria Airport June 1976 for possible restoration; see image in this article.

ZS-JGV:          DH89A; construction number 6831; supplied to the Air Council with military serial NR743; struck off charge on transfer to BOAC for operation by East African Corporation 1 July 1947; registered VP-KEF to EAAC 1947; to Seychelles-Kilimanjaro Air Transport Ltd 1960; reregistered 5H-AAN; allocated VQ-SAD or VQ-SAG February 1973, but not taken up; reregistered ZS-JGV.


Air-Britain 1981 means Civil Aircraft Registers of Africa; edited by Ian P Burnett; Air-Britain; 1981

Air-Britain 2003 means The de Havilland Dragon/Rapide Family; John F Hamlin; Air-Britain; 2003

Chronical of Aviation; JOL International Publishing; Bill Gunston, editor-in-chief and associate editors Captain Mark S Pyle (United States) and Captain Edouard Chemel (France), plus other contributors; first published in 1992 by Chronicle Communications Ltd, London, in 1992

Civil Aircraft Registers of Africa; edited by Ian P Burnett; Air-Britain; 1988

de Havilland Biplane Transports; Paul Hayes and Bernard King; a Gatwick Aviation Society publication in association with Aviation Classics; April 2003

85 Years of South African Air Force; Winston Brent – 1920 to 2005; African Aviation Series, No 1; Freeworld Publications CC; 2005

Jane’s Encyclopedia of Aviation, compiled and edited by Michael JH Taylor, with various contributors; Crescent Books, 1995

Air-Britain 2003 means The de Havilland Dragon/Rapide Family; John F Hamlin; Air-Britain; 2003

The illustrated Encyclopedia of Propeller Airliners; editor-in-chief Bill Gunston, with Dennis Baldry, Chris Chant and John Stroud and others as contributors; Phoebus Publishing, 1980

The SAAF Museum; Dave Becker; Aviation Society of Africa; approximately August 1977

The SAAF Museum; South African Air Force Museum Audio Visual Department; Airman Paul Vincent, Captain Dave Becker, Corporal L van der Walt and Airman J Ristow; no date

Copyright images 2017.

After Dragon Rapide construction number 6773 registration number ZS-DLS had been withdrawn from use it was vandalised. The remains of the aircraft were sent to Oribi Airport in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and then the centre section, wings and tail were transferred to the SAAF Museum at Lanseria Airport in June 1976. The remains are on display in one of the museum’s hangars at Air Force Base Swartkop and are seen on 10 August 2013.

The de Havilland DH89 Dragon Rapide was a direct development of the de Havilland DH84 Dragon, employing the same structure but having tapered wings, 200-horse-power Gipsy Six engines and a faired-in undercarriage. ZS-JGV is illustrated at Margate Airport (ICAO code FAMG) on 16 May 1985.

The Rapide did not quite have the same landing performance as the Dragon, so in 1937 a version was built with trailing-edge flaps under the lower wing. This version was the DH89A, which became the standard aircraft and many of the early examples were modified to conform to this standard. The machine is shown at FAMG on 19 May 1985.

The DH89 has two fuel tanks of 38 gallons (172.7514 litres) each and a range of 1 071 kilometres (DH89) and 1 030 kilometres (DH89A) respectively.

From 1936 a nose landing light, cabin heating and modified wing tips were added to the DH89.

The DH89A with the construction number 6831 was supplied to the Air Council with military serial NR743. The machine was taken on charge by 4 Radio School at Madley on 10 January 1945. Then it went to 5 Maintenance Unit at Kemble on 2 December 1946. Subsequently it was sold to BOAC on1 July 1947 for operation by East African Airways Corporation. It was registered VP-KEF to EAAC in 1947. On 6 July 1960 it was registered to Seychelles-Kilimanjaro Air Transport Limited, Nairobi. After that it was reregistered in 1964 as 5H-AAN in Tanzania to the same owner. In 1969 the machine was registered to A-D Aviation Company Limited, Nairobi. During 1971 it was registered to WJ Baker, named African Queen. Then it was ferried from Dar-es-Salaam to Mahé in February 1973 for Air Mahé. During March 1976 it was allocated the registration VQ-SAD or VQ-SAG, but this was not taken up. Thereafter it went to South Africa, where it was reregistered ZS-JGV to John English. The Rapide is depicted at FAMG on 17 May 1985.
© Copyright Aviation Pics. All Rights Reserved. Website designed and hosted by LIT Creations. You are visitor number: 467922