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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedDragon Rapide: A royal ride back in time
By Randy Dufault
 

Photo by Stefan Seville

The sleek looks of the de Havilland Dragon Rapide have dramatic appeal—even today, 75 years after making the jump from its designer’s mind to a flying craft.

“In its time it was the Learjet of airplanes, at least in England in the ’30s,” said Warren Denholm, restorer of the Dragon Rapide making its first visit here to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2010.

“If you had one of these, you really had made it, and that was evidenced by the fact that the royal family had them,” Denholm explained.
On display in the Vintage area, the Rapide is finished in the colors of the King’s Guard and sports the registration number of the craft used by Prince Edward.

The back of each seat is festooned with the feathered-bloom crest of the Prince of Wales.

A royal working over
Originally located in Missouri by Gerry Yagen, president of the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the Rapide carcass was shipped to New Zealand where Denholm and his crew completed the restoration.

Work began in January 2008, and the first New Zealand flight came in March of this year.

After traveling to the United States, disassembled and crammed inside a 40-foot cargo container, the craft first flew on this side of the Pacific May 19.

“The surprising thing about this airplane is how much it will carry,” Denholm said. “It will carry as much as a Beech 18 on two 200-hp engines, and [the Beech 18] has 900 hp. It’s remarkable what it will do on such low power.

“Of course, it doesn’t do it very fast.”

Power for the biplane twin comes from two de Havilland Gipsy Queen III engines. Three engine cores came with the airplane and provided enough parts to rebuild the two used in the restoration.

A key attribute of English de Havilland airplanes is wooden construction. After being neglected for several decades the very nature of wood meant the craft’s structure would require quite a bit of repair.

“We had to build a new fuselage because the wood was pretty degraded,” Denholm said, “but the wing woodwork was pretty good.”
Like the fuselage, the craft’s wings are constructed entirely of wood, with steel bracing.

“At some stage in its life it had some bad repairs done,” Denholm went on to say. “It obviously had an accident and had broken the wing off on one side.

“The repairs were not up to standards so we spliced a new wingtip on.”

A different plane from a different day
Among the Rapide’s distinctive traits is its unique cockpit.

Cabin class airplanes typically have side-by-side seats for two pilots, along with dual controls. The Rapide pilot sits alone, inside a canopy that has more in common with a fighter than a twin-engine people carrier.

Changes to the panel occurred as the craft moved from military service to airline service and ultimately to service as a sky-diving ride.
A new panel was constructed as part of the restoration that, except for the modern avionics, represents the way it looked in 1944 when it rolled off the de Havilland line.

According to Yagen, who flew the Rapide from Virginia to AirVenture, the big biplane is a docile flier, but it does not tolerate crosswind landings very well.

“It seems to want to lift a wing,” he said. “It also tends to float—it is really hard to get down and land.”

When it is not visiting air shows, the royal Rapide will reside at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach.

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