De Havilland DH86 Express

A fsuccessful our engine biplane airliner originally designed to meet the requirements of QANTAS.

De Havilland DH86 Express prototype E.2 Air to air photograph of the De Havilland DH86 Express prototype E.2 with single seat cockpit.

The prototype De Havilland DH86 (E-2 / G-ACPL) flew for the first time on 14th January 1934, powered by four Gipsy Six engines. Designed to meet the requirements of QANTAS airlines, the Australian operated rejected it due to its single-pilot configuration due to the potentially anticipated 'pilot fatigue' on longer routes.  The fuselage was promptly redesigned with a dual notice nose section.  


The first three aircraft however, were produced and delivered to Railway Air Services in a single pilot configuration. The fourth aircraft was supplied to Holyman's Airways of Launceston (Tasmania) and initially the DH86 was marketed as the 'Express' or 'Express Air Liner' although this name was soon discontinued.


Main production thereafter centred on the two pilot DH86, with revised nose and cockpit arrangements (two crew being a requirement for QANTAS / Imperial Airways). The original prototype returned to De Havilland and was modified to this two crew arrangement, before being delivered to Imperial Airways as ‘Delphinius’.


De Havilland DH86 Express VH-USC De Havilland DH86 Express VH-USC Canberra showing production two seat cockpit.


Some 29 two crew DH86 were built for QANTAS, Imperial Airways, Union Airways (New Zealand) and a number of independent British airlines.  Those delivered to Imperial were given the class anme Diana where they operated on European and Empire Routes including services between Khartoum and Lagos.



De Havilland DH86A Express G-ADUE De Havilland DH86A Express G-ADUE Dardanus.


The next development was the DH86A with new undercarriage legs and brakes, metal rudder and modified windscreen lines with twenty DH86A being built.


The DH86B appeared in 1927 with an enlarged tailplane with elliptical endplate fins, after which all existing DH86A were modified to this standard. Ten new-build DH86Bs were built, three of which were exported to WR Carpenter Ltd in Australia.


Total production comprised sixty-two aircraft made up of 32 DH86, 20 DH86A and 10 DH86B with most still flying commercially at the outbreak of World War II.  Those operating for Railway Air Services were seconded in miltary use as communications and navigational trainers.


De Havilland DH86B Express G-AEJM Air to air photograph of De Havilland DH86B Express G-AEJM showing revised tail surfaces.


Only a few DH86's survived the war and the last example was burnt out whilst in UK air charter service in 1958.

Variants & Numbers built

DH86 (single pilot)          3 aircraft G-ACPL, G-ACVY, G-ACVZ
DH86 (two pilot) 29 aircraft
DH86A Modified undercarriage, windscreen, rudder; 20 aircraft
DH86B Endplate tail fins and modified tailplane and ailerons; 10 new-build, all extant DH86A modified to this standard
Total:62 aircraft 32 DH86, 20 DH86A, 10 DH86B


  (DH86A with Gipsy Six I engines)
Powerplant Four 200 hp De Havilland Gipsy Six I engines
Span 64 ft 6 in
Maximum Weight 10,250 lb
Capacity  Two pilots and ten passengers
Maximum Speed 166 mph
Normal Cruising Speed 142 mph
Range 760 miles


No examples survive       Last flying aircraft G-ACZP damaged in landing accident at Madrid, 1958.

Other information