The DH88 was produced by De Havilland to ensure that a competitive British entry would be available for the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race between England and Australia. The race was sponsored by Australian confectionary giant Macpherson Robertson to celebrate 100th anniversary of the State of Victoria. Despite British successes in air races such as the Schneider Trophy, the UK aircraft industry did not have a suitable contender and so Geoffery de Havilland, who was determined that the race should have a British winner, took on the challenge.
Initial estimates placed the cost at around £50,000 per aircraft and with little prospect of individual customers nor a chance of any form of production run, the De Havilland Board based their decision to finance the project purely on prestige and any resulting research data.
Each aircraft was sold for £5,000 provided they were ordered before February 1934. Three aircraft were actually ordered for the race, the first aircraft being E-1 (G-ACSP) which flew on 8th September 1934, just six weeks before the start of the race.
Designed by Arthur Hagg, the cantilever monoplane was powered by two 230 hp Gipsy Six R engines, driving Ratier two position propellers that changed the pitch from fine to coarse automatically as airspeed increased. Two crew were seated in tandem behind three large fuel tanks providing a maximum range of nearly 3,000 miles and with the airframe featuring a retractable undercarriage. The light-weight construction resulted in it being made almost entirley made of wood, with metal only being used on load bearing components.
The three 'race entrants' were the black and gold liveried ‘Black Magic’ (G-ACSP) flown by Jim and Amy Mollinson (nee Amy Johnson); the green (G-ACSR), flown by Owen Cathcart and Ken Waller although the aircraft was actually paid for by racing driver Bernard Rubin, and the red and white (G-ACSS) ‘Grosvenor House’ flown by CWA Scott and Tom Campbell Black and was named by its owner (Mr AO Edwards) after the London Hotel where he was Managing Director.
The race started on 20th October 1934 from RAF Mildenhall and attracted a large entry of racing, commercial and private aircraft.
The intimate details of the race can be found elsewhere on the internet but an indication of the superior range of the Comet Racer was that both G-ACSP and G-ACSS flew to Baghdad non-stop. Although the Mollinsons led during the early stages it was G-ACSS Grosvenor House that reached Melbourne in first place after just 70 hr 54 min, closely followed by a KLM Douglas DC-2.
G-ACSP eventually retired when a piston seized after the Mollinsons were forced to use contaminated fuel, sourced from the local bus company in Jobbolpore.
G-ACSR came fourth and returned to England carrying newsreel film, completing the round trip in a record thirteen and a half days.
G-ACSS was taken charge of by the Air Ministry who flew it to Matlesham Heath for evaluation trials. It was repainted silver and redesignated (K-5084) before being written off during a heavy landing. The story does not end there however as although the wreckage was sold for scrap, it was eventually rebuilt and made various race and record attempts thereafter. It had been renamed as ‘The Burberry’ and Arthur Clouston and Victor Ricketts took it on an outstanding flight from Gravesend to Blenheim, New Zealand and back between 15th and 26th March 1938, covering the 26,450 miles in 10 days, 21 hours 22 minutes.
G-ACSR was renamed Reine Astrid before being sold to France as F-ANPY and where it broke several point to point records. This lead to a further aircraft being ordered as F-ANPZ although both aircraft were destroyed in a hangar fire at Istres in 1940.
G-ACSP (Black Magic) went to Portugal as CS-AAJ ‘Salazar’ where it subsequently also set record flying times between Lisbon and London. After it was retired it was found in a very sorry state in a barn in Portugal during 1979 and is now thankfully undergoing restoration somewhere in Derby.
The fifth and final DH88 was G-ADEF ‘Boomerang’ which was actually flown by Tom Campbell Black in an attempt on the record between London and Cape Town. It managed to reach Cairo in a record 11 hrs 18 minutes but the attempt had to be abandoned after the aircraft developed oil troubles. During 1935, it sadly crashed in the Sudan with the crew surviving by virtue of their parachutes.
The DH88 Comet Racer was by any measure a significant aircraft in the history of both air racing and aviation development becasue it demonstrated what could be achieved once a clear goal is set.
De Havilland could have continued on their corporate path, developing civil and military aircraft in great numbers Geoffery de Havilland could not resist that competitive urge to create another unique design and produce an aircraft which would beat the world.
|Powerplant||Two 230 hp De Havilland Gipsy Six R|
|Span||44 ft 0 in|
|Maximum Weight||5,550 lb|
|Capacity||Two crew – pilot and navigator|
|Maximum Speed||237 mph|
|Cruising Seed||220 mph|
Number Built & Survivors
|G-ACSP||‘Black Magic’ has been rediscovered is with the Comet Racer Project Group, Derby Airfield for restoration to flying condition.|
|G-ACSR||No longer extant.|
|G-ACSS||‘Grosvenor House’ rebuilt by de Havilland apprentices and has subsequently been restored to flying condition at The Shuttleworth Trust.|
|F-ANPZ||No longer extant|
|G-ADEF||‘Boomerang’ destroyed in the Sudan September 1935|
|NX88D||A full-size replica of G-ACSS is flying in the United States.|
|G-RCSR||A further full-size flying replica DH88 is being built in the UK by Ken Fern|