by Nigel Hitchman & James Kightly
The team from Avspecs Ltd. has just flown de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide ZK-AKU following a multi-year rebuild effort at Ardmore Airport in Auckland, New Zealand. Ryan Southam took the vintage aircraft up for its first post-restoration flight on February 23rd, 2023. Southam is no stranger to the type, having already accumulated many hours in New Zealand’s other airworthy Dragon Rapide (ZK-AKY) and a rare DH.90 Dragonfly.
Like most Dragon Rapides, this aircraft rolled off de Havilland’s production line during WWII as a DH.89B Dominie, the type’s military variant. Built to a Royal Air Force contract as HG663, the Royal New Zealand Air Force took her on strength as NZ528 in November, 1943; she served in communications and navigation training roles. Demobbed in 1946, the aircraft underwent conversion into a Dragon Rapide for civilian service with the New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC), registered as ZK-AKU. NAC nicknamed the aircraft Tawaka and flew it on short-haul passenger routes until 1962.
Passing through several subsequent owners, the Dragon Rapide retained its New Zealand registration and even took part in the 1969 London-to-Sydney Air Race – retracing the route of the epic 1919 competition which had seen Vickers Vimy G-EAOU cross the finish line first. Under ownership of the NZ Historic Aircraft Trust, the aircraft returned to its RNZAF colors, but remained on the civil register. Arriving at Ardmore in these colors during September, 2020, ‘AKU’ has undergone a full refurbishment with the world-renowned experts at Avspecs Ltd., who finished the airframe in a livery reminiscent of its first civil colors. The test-flying has been quickly completed and the aircraft has received its formal airworthiness sign-off, AvSpecs will pack the DH.89 into a shipping container for the long sea voyage to the USA where it will take up residence with owner Charles Somers’ collection at McClellan airport in Sacramento, California.