Aircraft Between The Wars »

Rare de Havilland DH.84 Dragon

The de Havilland Dragon first went into production in 1930, and it was a modified version of a design which was initially intended to produce a light bomber for the Iraqi Air Force. Just over 200 aircraft of the type were built before production ended in 1937, and this aircraft is one of 87 DH-84s license built by de Havilland's Australian factory during World War Two.

The delightful Dragon takes to the air off a grass strip at Omaka Aerodrome, just as she would have done in the 1930s.  Photo: © 2007 Les Bushell (Image Supplied)

During the Second World War most Commonwealth counties were utilising the more powerful de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide/Domine as a twin-engine utility and training aircraft, but the Royal Australian Air Force decided to use the DH.84 Dragon as a navigational trainer instead. This was due to the fact that the Holden plant in Australia was already building Gipsy Major engines for the Tiger Moth production line, and these same engines could be used for the Dragon. After the war it went through a succession of civil operators in Australia before being struck off that register in 1953.

Despite the relatively small number of Dragons produced, they were never-the-less relatively important during the years of pioneering aviation between the wars. Amy Johnson (a pioneering English aviator) used a specially modified Dragon to fly from Pendine Sands in South Wales to Bridgeport, Connecticut (USA) in 39 hours. LIkewise the inaugural service of the Irish Airline Aer Lingus in 1936 was conducted by a DH.84 Dragon named Iolar ("Eagle" in the Irish language). For the 50th anniversary of that airline in 1986, a replacement Dragon was acquired, restored and then repainted as the Iolar.

In 1954 the Australian example of the Dragon seen here was imported into New Zealand by Clive Rolve of Rolvin Airways in Palmerston North, and spent the next 14 years in a variety of civil roles around New Zealand before being written off in an accident. It was used by the Nelson Aero Club for some time from 1954, and legend has it that the aircraft became New Zealand's first twin-engine air ambulance sometime in the 1950s.

The immaculate de Havilland DH.84 Dragon is seen here during a display at the Wings Over Wairarapa airshow held at Hood Aerodrome, Masterton, New Zealand.

After a number of minor issues over the years, the aircraft was finally grounded in 1967 when it suffered an engine failure on take off from Ardmore Airport in Auckland. It was given to the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, who stored it at Ardmore until 1983 when Stan Smith purchased it and relocated it to Dairy Flat north of Auckland for restoration. Over a 14 year period the aircraft was brought back to an airworthy condition, and its first post restoration flight was on the 23rd of April 1997—exactly 30 years to the day since it had ignominiously fallen back to earth at Ardmore on its final flight.

ZK-AXI is one of just four flyable Dragons left in the world, and is one of only three Dragons to have ever been operated in New Zealand. The first two were imported in 1935, and were used for civil transport, before being impressed by the RNZAF during the Second World War.

The Dragon returns after a successful display.   *Photo © 2007 Led Bushell (Image Supplied)

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