Heller 1/72 Dragon Rapide

KIT #: 80345
PRICE: 11 euros
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Carmel J. Attard


Designed in the light of experience gained from production and operation of the DH Dragon and the DH 86 light transport, the DH 89 Dragon was powered by two 200hp Gipsy Six engines. It first flew in prototype form at Stag Lane on the 17th April 1934.

Production aircraft which had received name Dragon Rapide were delivered in 1934, the first customer including Hillmans Airways, Railway Air Services and Olley Air Service. From March 1937 small flaps were fitted to the trailing edges of the lower wing, outboard of the engine nacelles the type then being regarded DH-89A.

Civil examples of the Dragon Rapide were soon in large-scale use with operators around the world, some even entering service in Canada on floats or skis. The reliability and economy of the type generated significant sales for the mid- and the late 1930s and by the outbreak of WWII in 1939 almost 200 had been delivered to civil operators.

A DH 89M military version was developed to meet the Air Ministry G.18/35 Specification for a general reconnaissance aircraft to be operated by the RAF Coastal Command. A fixed forward firing machine gun was mounted in the nose to the right of the pilotís seat, and a ring mounting for a trainable machine-gun was installed in the roof, aft of the cabin door.

However the Air Ministryís large scale production contract was awarded to the more advanced Avro Anson, but two examples of the DH89M were built for Lithuania and three more aircraft with additional modifications were delivered to the Spanish Government for counter-insurgency service in Morocco. The latter had additional armament in the form of extra ventral gun to fire downward through the floor, plus an under fuselage pack for 26.5 Lb bombs.

The Air Ministry selected the Rapide as a communication aircraft, the first being purchased for use by the Air Council and operated by No24 Squadron at Hendon, UK. Civil examples of the Dragon Rapide were used to supply British forces in France in the spring and early summer of 1940 and many were impressed for communication duties particularly with Air Transport Auxiliary.

The Air Ministry acquired examples as wireless trainers, others by Electrical and Wireless Schools. The trainer version identified by the direction-finding loop in the cabin roof and was later designated Dominie Mk1 and the communication version Doinie MkII.  Of the 728 Dragon Rapides built before production ended in July 1946, 521 were to British Military Contracts mostly under designation DH89B.

Military DH89 figures included 65 aircraft used by the Royal Navy between 1940 and 1958, some impressed civil machines others transferred from RAF. After hostilities ended in 1945, several hundred war-surplus Dominies were supplied to the Air Forces of Belgium and the Netherlands or were stripped of military equipment for sale to civil buyers.

The last 100 production aircraft built by British Coach Works were undelivered because of the warís end, and these were finished to the requirement of civil operators by De Havilland repair unit at Witney to become the initial post-war equipment of operators like Iraqi Airways, Jersey Airways and KLM. At one period, during the 1950, BEA operated a large fleet of Rapides on its services to the islands around the UK coast.

The Rapide could carry 6 passengers; at one time there were 90 in commercial airliners with 30 airlines. From the far North to the Equator, from 1934 till now the DH Rapide was to enhance the life of many small airlines, parachute clubs and Aviation Enthusiasts, aircraft spotters and scale modelers.


Released by Heller as early as mid 1970 the kit was one of the better Rapides model then released and still remains so and Airfix re-issued the kit in recent years offering different decal options. Kit comes enclosed in a box with an art depicting a Rapide in military markings and mostly trainer yellow finish and the top surfaces in dark earth and dark green camouflage. It is attached to 6th Air Observer unit RAF UK 1940. Alternately one can build the Rapide with registration G-AKNY of Air Couriers Ltd 1937. There are 53 silver gray styrene items with 6 items being clear parts.

 It is a relatively easy biplane to build since the main planes are directly attached to the fuselage rather than resting solely on wing struts and inner fuselage struts. The single crew office is complete with rudder pedals, control wheel, crew seat, back bulkhead and cockpit floor while the passenger compartment has arrangement for 8 seating as well as a rear bulkhead. I like the surface panel detail and cross brace detail in all the control surfaces as well as the illustrated instructions to suggest way to apply the rigging arrangement.


Basically this is a straightforward kit to assemble and I came across no hitches during construction of this model. I have seen Rapide doing pleasure flights and in civil markings at RAF Leuchars, Scotland back in 1991 during the Battle of Britain Air Display and I decided to build my example as a civil short haul liner. Very little filler was needed; this was mainly at wing to fuselage joints. As for rigging I used invisible thread that I passed through predrilled holes and secured with a tiny drop of super glue. Care was taken when drilling the parallel front set of rigging. The clear parts were also dipped in Klear-Future liquid and were fixed to the fuselage using Klear in order to avoid the accidental spoiling of clear parts if liquid cement was used. 


 My choice fell on a camouflaged Rapide with registration G-AGJG during the time when it formed part of the fleet with Scottish Airways Ltd. The decals came from the Airfix Rapide. This decal sheet also carried the fancy red and blue flashes on upper wing trailing surfaces and on fuselage sides. This Rapide flew from Renfrew Airport, Scotland in 1943 so that it also wore the wartime camouflage of dark green and dark earth. Lower surfaces were silver/metal finish.


 This was the first time I built a Rapide and was very fitting with the twin-engine British aircraft types even though these I made mostly in military markings. I recommend this model to all those who hesitate to build biplanes as it is a rather easy example to make a start on these types.


 Reference: The encyclopaedia of World Aircraft by Paul Eden and Soph Moeng

 Carmel J. Attard

February 2015

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