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De Havilland
DH90 Dragonfly

A clean and elegant luxury tourer, the last biplane to be designed and built by De Havilland.
Prototype De Havilland DH90 Dragonfly E-2 E-2, the prototype De Havilland DH90 Dragonfly
 
The DH90 Dragonfly was twin-engine luxury touring aircraft built at Hatfield during the 1930's.  It was effectively a scaled down and streamlined derivative of the DH89 Dragon Rapide, aimed at the wealthy private owner market which was extremely buoyant during the inter-war years.
 
The prototype DH90 Dragonfly E-3 / G-ADNA flew for the first time on 12 August 1935, powered by two 130 hp de Havilland Gipsy Major I engines. Production examples were designated DH90A and a total of 67 aircraft were built.
 
To achieve high performance on this comparatively low-powered aircraft, great emphasis was placed on aerodynamic refinements and this was reflected in the elegantly tapered high-aspect ratio wings and the stiffened centre-section structure that allowed bracing wires to be eliminated from the inner wing bay.
 
At the extreme detail level, the external footstep had an aerofoil section and was hinged to allow it to fly up in line with the wing trailing edge in flight.
 
The first aircraft (G-ADNA) flew from Hatfield on 12th August 1935 and utilised many of the construction methods of the DH88 Comet Racer which won the MacRobertson Air Race from London to Sydney in 1934. These 'specialised' production techniques were expensive in industrial terms and the sales price of £2,650 clearly indicated the target customers as the wealthy company owner / operator.

 

De Havilland DH90 Dragonfly VT-AIE owned by the Maharajah of Indope De Havilland DH90 Dragonfly VT-AIE of the Maharajah of Indope photographed in March 1937

 

The first deliveries were made in May 1936 with half of the initial 36 aircraft going to Executive Airlines and Exclusive Air Taxi organisations.
 
3 aircraft did however enter 'flying club ownership' with 4 others entering air force service in Denmark and Sweden.  By 1939, some seven aircraft had been transferred from private to commercial use for airline service at Croydon Airport, acting as Air Taxis between various city airports, much as the modern feeder airliners do today.  
 
Some were co-opted into regular Army Co-operation roles as night flying trainers whilst another group of seven were shipped to Canada where they were operated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - at least one aircraft was fitted with floats for specific purposes.
 
The majority of the aircraft that were built were sold in the export market where a number of aircraft operated in the charter / air taxi role.  
 
At the outbreak of the Second World War, 23 aircraft were seconded into RAF and Commonwealth Air Force service with just six surviving the hostilities and by the end of 1945 only 13 aircraft remained airworthy.
 
Silver City Airways continued to operate the Dragonfly until 1960 but just a decade later just 2 aircraft survived. Both of these ended up by circuitous routes in the United States, from which they were bought back to the UK for restoration.

 

De Havilland DH90 Dragonfly G-AEDT De Havilland DH90 Dragonfly G-AEDT photographed at Henstridge, Somerset

 

One of these has since been sold in New Zealand, leaving the two survivors at either end of the Antipodes. Both surviving aircraft have been re-engined with 145 hp Gipsy Major Mk 10 engines.

 

Specification

Powerplant Two 130hp De Havilland Gipsy Major 1
Span 43ft 0in
Maximum Weight 4,000 lb
Capacity  Pilot and four passengers
Maximum Speed 144 mph
Cruising Speed 125 mph
Range 900 miles

Survivors

Dragonfly                      
(G-AEDU/ex-N90DH)
Shipping  & Airlines, Biggin Hill, Kent.  UK
ZK-AYR (ex-G-AEDT and N2034) Privately owned and flown from Mandeville Airport, South Island, New Zealand

Other information