Airfix 1/72 DH.89 Dragon Rapide

KIT #: 4047
PRICE: $18.00 or so
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Peter Burstow
NOTES: Kuivalainen photo etch used


First flown in 1934, the DH 89 Dragon Rapide was a faster version of the DH 84 Dragon. It shared features of the larger four engined DH 86 Express. A small eight passenger biplane, it was one of the most successful of the pre WW2 airliners, being able to operate profitably without subsidies. In 1936 small upgrades were made, including the addition of flaps, producing the DH 89A

 Around 500 of the military version, the DH 89B Dominie, were built for the RAF, used as a ambulance, trainer and communications aircraft. Total production was 731, the last few being assembled from spares. Post war many were returned to civil use and there were a number of conversions with newer model Gypsy engines. Many examples are preserved and some are still flying.

 There is a huge list of both commercial and military operators, before, during and after World War Two. It being operated by both sides during WW2. It was also used by many private and company owners.


I have two different boxings of this kit. Originally produced by Heller in the late 1970's, it was reboxed both by Airfix and by Tasman from New Zealand. I'll describe the kit in detail and outline the differences. The Heller boxing is in current catalogues, and the Airfix boxing is still around. There are about 60 parts in total. I downloaded a copy of the Heller instructions from the Heller site, for comparison purposes.

 Airfix: Large top opening box. Three sprues of hard silver-grey plastic, cleanly moulded with very slight flash and mould joint lines. Very fine raised line detail, with no fabric effect, which this kit needs. There is a prominent Heller badge on the inside of the port fuselage half. The sprues were loose in the sealed box, and a lot of the parts had broken loose, it remains to be seen if there is any damage. The clear parts were also loose in the box.

 Tasman: Slightly smaller top opening box. The same parts, in soft white plastic, bagged inside the box. Again very slight flash and mould joint lines. Clear parts in the same bag, with the cockpit canopy part broken off. The Heller badge is on the inside of the top wing top half, so a different mould. There are additionally a vac-formed cockpit canopy, a piece of tinted clear card, a white metal instrument panel and some stranded copper wire for rigging.

Common to both boxings:

 The cockpit has minor detailing of a seat, control column with separate yoke, and rudder bar, all to be attached to the floor. An instrument panel attaches to the fuselage half. A bulkhead divides the cabin space which has eight seats to be installed. The engine nacelle assembly is made up of seven parts and includes the wheel fairings and an exhaust pipe.

The clear parts comprise a cockpit canopy, two strips of cabin windows, and landing lights. The moulding is clear and thin, with well defined framing lines. Both canopies were slightly scratched, and the cabin windows had distortions and sink marks. The Tasman vac-formed canopy is very thin and clear, but the framing lines are not as sharp as on the the injection moulded canopies.

 The remaining parts are the three part top wing, and the single piece lower wing, the tail plane halves and a few stray aerials, tailwheel, lading lights etc. Rigging is rather complex as it is a two bay biplane, but should be attempted to enhance and strengthen the kit. Detail could be added to the cockpit and engines.

The main difference between the boxings is in the schemes and decals provided.

 Airfix: Three versions, a camouflaged Scottish Airways plane, a silver FAA example from 1960, and a Red and Blue civil registered plane from the King's Flight. The large decal sheet has lots of stencilling and other small markings.

Tasman: Five versions, two camouflaged USAAF planes, a camouflaged RAF ambulance aircraft, and silver RAAF and RNZAF examples. The Scalemaster sheet has insignia and serials, with one of the USAAF aircraft being named 'Wee Willie' and the RAF ambulance 'Women of the Empire'. I photoshopped the decal scan to enhance the white printing.

 Heller: Current catalogue kit has two schemes, camouflaged RAF and British civil. Older boxings may differ.

 Airfix & Heller instructions: An eight page A4 booklet with a short history, a page of warnings in about 12 languages, a 12 step assembly guide including detailed rigging information, and detailed 4 view profiles for the supplied options. Only Humbrol paint numbers are referenced, including several that need mixing. There is no reference to what the colours really are.

 Tasman instructions: Eight pages of A4, with a lengthy history, a long list of things to fix and detail on the kit, rigging information, comprehensive reference list, and small exploded diagram assembly instructions. It includes diagrams for detailing the cabin of an ambulance version. There are two pages of profiles, with notes and named colours. The main feature is four pages of pictures of a preserved aircraft with 42 internal and external detail photographs.

 I used the Kuivalainen detail set, KPE 72032, made by Eduard, it has 20 odd etched brass parts, some pre-painted, mainly detailing the cockpit, and includes external parts.


 Started in the cockpit for once, adding the nine seats, bulkheads and controls to the floor. A detail paint then added some of the etched details. I managed to get all the etched bits into the cockpit, with a few dramas, not sure of their value on such a small kit, but most are clearly visible. While this was drying I sprayed the wings and inter-plane struts and some other bits on the sprue. I wasn't sure which scheme I was going to use, but silver wings was a good bet. Then closed up the fuselage halves, didn't fit too well, needed to shave the rear bulkhead a bit. Used superglue for strength and ended up with a small step along the bottom.

Added the top half of the top wing first, seemed odd, but that's what the instructions said. Took the opportunity while I still had access to mask the cabin windows. Added the rigging to the upper wing lower halves as instructed. Then added the inter-plane struts and attached most of the rest of the rigging. Then joined the upper wing lower halves to the upper wing. Several large ejector pins on these parts had to be removed as they interfered with the fit. Offered up the lower wing, had to adjust the rigging a bit but it all fitted fairly well. Then rigged the fin and tailplane. 

Before painting, I added the nacelles and their struts, then added etched brass aileron and rudder control arms.


 After a lot of dithering I found a scheme, VH-BGP, a silver and red Dragon Rapide, that was based at the aircraft museum at Wangaratta. I have several photos of this aircraft, from the museum and taken at various airshows. I'm not sure if it's still around.

Sprayed overall silver, then dealt with all the seams that came back at me. Another wash then another spray of silver. Then hand brushed the red detailing. Was planning a decal stripe for the cheat line but colours didn't match too well. I used red 36 letters, from Altmark sheet A6, for the wing registration.

  The last things I did were to remove the masking, added the nose light and the final etched brass pieces, the window frames. Used Krystal Klear to glaze the cabin windows. A couple more paint touch ups to finish.


 A very difficult build of a elderly, but still available kit. Fit was not great, flash was a problem on most parts and lots of gaps to deal with. Many ejector pin marks interfered with construction or were visible and had to be repaired.

 The brass detail set added a lot of work, but the external fittings, especially the window frames, made a big difference to the result.

 Recommended for patient modellers who enjoy frustration. 


A.J. Jackson, British Civil Aircraft 1919-1972: Volume II. Putnam, London, 1973.


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