When thinking of classic 1930’s era biplanes, the deHavilland Dragon Rapide has to come near the very top for shear elegance and beauty alone. Such is the dedication to the type that there are a small number of these beautiful aircraft in flying condition around the world, but one organization in Duxford, England has just added a third example to its fleet, and it will soon be plying the skies above the Cambridgeshire countryside giving pleasure rides to those with a spirit of adventure and a romantic view of the past. Geoff Jones reports for us here on the developments with Classic Wings latest arrival…
CLASSIC WINGS ACQUIRES 3rd DRAGON RAPIDE
by Geoff Jones
Classic Wings flights from Duxford in a Dragon Rapide whether simply pleasure flights over some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain or in formation with a Supermarine Spitfire have become an institution at the Imperial War Museum’s airfield in Cambridgeshire. Such is the success and popularity of these flights that with two Dragon Rapide’s, G-AIYR (former RAF HG691) and G-AKIF already on their books, Classic Wings has taken the opportunity to acquire a third example, G-AIDL.
The latest acquisition, G-AIDL arrived at Classic Wings’ engineering facility in Clacton-on-Sea on October 13th after a brief stop at Duxford. The beautiful biplane, marked in its original Royal Air Force livery as TX310, was only recently based with Mike Collet’s Classic Air Force and flew up from its former base with Collet’s other operation, Air Atlantique in Coventry. Named ‘Nettie’ in its previous life at Coventry and when flying with the now-closed Classic Air Force at RAF St Mawgan (Newquay) in Cornwall, the Dragon Rapide was one of only two of the five Classic Air Force aircraft up for sale at Bonhams auction in Goodwood to sell on September 12th. It went under the hammer for £124,700.
Brush Coachworks in Loughborough built G-AIDL under license in 1946 under a Royal Air Force contract. She was one of the very last of the breed ever built, and although receiving RAF serial TX310, she never formally entered military service. The Dragon Rapide instead joined the civil registry as Eric Gander-Dower’s personal aircraft within his Allied Airways fleet in Dyce, Scotland. However, while under maintenance with deHavilland some time later, the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire seized the aircraft (presumably because of unpaid debts) and forced her sale by auction. The Dragon Rapide soon joined Fox’s Confectionery in Leicester, where G-AIDL flew frequently as a company aircraft over the next eleven years and on occasion distributed Fox’s famous Glacier Mints to holiday makers. From Fox’s Confectionery, the Dragon Rapide passed through a series of other corporate users before ending up in 1967 as a jump platform, alongside another of the type, with the Army Parachute Association in Netheravon, Wiltshire. She flew with the APA for ten years before joining other operations in a purely pleasure flying role at locations in England and Wales.
Mike Collet’s Atlantic Air Transport Ltd (Air Atlantique) acquired her in 1995 and the little biplane served in various branches of Collet’s empire over the years before he decided to retire from aviation and wind up his operations over the past year, putting a number of unusual vintage types up for sale at the recent Bonham’s auction.
Engineers at Clacton are currently giving G-AIDL a major inspection following her purchase. The aircraft will remain in its military colour scheme and is expected to join Classic Wings’ operational fleet at Duxford early next year where she will hopefully become a regular sight in British skies for many years to come.