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G-AMSV Returns to Coventry

An old friend returned to Coventry yesterday when G-AMSV, in her striking Indian Air force livery, landed here for extensive maintenance by our engineers. Sierra Victor was part of the Air Altantique fleet here for many years. She'll...

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Baginton Air Pageant

The initial details for the Baginton Air Pageant are up on the website! As we don't have the space for a full-on air show attracting 20,000 or so people, we're aiming for low-key, themed days like this. A couple of thousand people,...

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Newquay Pleasure flights

We promised we'd be back to fly in Cornwall, and here we are. We'll be heading south with a Rapide and Chipmunk to spend a week at Newquay from 25th July, with a further visit planned in August. The flights are bookable in the normal...

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New Dakota Book

Geoff Jones just told me that his new book on the DC-3, released to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Dak's appearance, is now available. The cover sports a lovely shot of G-ANAF, shot by Simon Westwood before her radome goiter was...

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Nimrod Engine Run

We've just confirmed plans by NPT to run all four of the Nimrod's Rolls-Royce Speys on Saturday 9th May. We expect the thunder to start just after lunchtime. Come along and enjoy some audio power - and please dip into your pockets...

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de Havilland rapide: A stately classic

Throughout history only a handful of aeroplanes have introduced the majority of people to the air. In the inter-war years, Sir Alan Cobham’s flying circus and his fleet of Avro 504s gave a generation their first taste of flying. After the Second World War the de Havilland Dragon Rapide took over that honour. Whether it was a scheduled flight with one of the fledgling airlines or a joy ride from an airfield, beach or paddock, the Dragon Rapide (and the earlier DH84 Dragon) plied its trade the length and breadth of the UK.

Today, the Classic Air Force fleet of Dragon Rapides continues with this tradition, providing another generation with the chance to sample biplane elegance. Flying in a Rapide takes you back to the glamorous age of flying, when the wind whistled through the flying wires, when everyone had a window seat and flying was an exotic rarity.

The prototype DH89 took to the skies on 17 April 1934 as a successor to the DH84 Dragon and was ostensibly a twin-engined scaled down version of the four engined DH86 Express. Although originally marketed as the Dragon Six, the name was soon changed to Dragon Rapide and the aircraft was most often simply referred to as the Rapide.

Some 205 were produced before the outbreak of war, many of which were later impressed into military service to supplement the 500 or so ordered by the RAF as the Dominie trainer and transport.

After the war the Rapide was the backbone of many fledging airlines around the world and several hundred were still flying into the 1950s. Today, around a dozen survive in flyable condition and Classic Air Force, operated by Air Atlantique, has a pair Dragon Rapides in service with two more undergoing renovation. In order to operate in the busy 21st Century airspace, the aircraft have been modified to include modern ‘FM immune’ radios and ‘Mode S’ transponders. European legislation also calls for the aircraft to be fitted with strobe lights, outside air temperature (OAT) gauges and a multitude of cockpit and cabin placards offering a variety of health and safety warnings.

Keeping them aloft is a constant battle of spares parts availability and legislative discussions. They also require a certain type of custodian, as not only do they demand a highly skilled pilot, they also require technical input from engineers versed in the world of wood, fabrics and 1930s technology.

That said, despite getting on for 70 years old, our Dragon Rapides offer us little in the way of grief and are among the most reliable aircraft in our fleet. They also earn their keep both at ‘home’ in Newquay, offering scenic pleasure flights over the spectacular coasts and countryside of Cornwall, not forgetting at airshows around the UK and abroad.

It seems the public still appreciate the chance to fly in these beautiful vintage aircraft some 75 years after they first flew. Long may it continue!