1640 hours on a very sunny Saturday October afternoon at Duxford aerodrome South Cambridgeshire. A call goes out on the Museum Assistants radio net that there are six places going on a flight in the Rapide; all six places allocated and I was not one of them – hello wait a moment though one of those chosen cannot go: “Addo do you want to go instead” No sooner said than done I was at the appointed gate of the airfield radio turned off lest some changes their mind.
Our flight (six IWM - Duxford Museum Assistants) was in DH.89A Dragon Rapide G-AGJG. This aircraft first flew with the Royal Air Force many years ago as X7344; before anyone asks no I’m not old enough to remember it in RAF service! The DH.89A in question was born in 1941, the aircraft is owned by father and son David and Mark Miller who base their aircraft along with an Auster and Hornet Moth at Duxford, Mark was to be our pilot for this trip.
DH89A Dragon Rapide G-AGJG/X7344 resplendent in its Scottish Airways colour scheme
My seat covered in new grey coloured fine calf skin was second from the front on the starboard side offering an excellent view of the wing, the Gipsy Queen engine and the struts. The exterior and interior of the aircraft is pristine and resembles that of when the aircraft was in service with Scottish Airways many, many years ago. It was strange to have to walk up a gradient to get to my seat even stranger still looking up at the ceiling prior to take off such is the angle of attack of the seats. There are even grab handles at strategic points along the roof to assist you getting to the seats. The condition of the aircraft reflects the many hours of loving care lavished on this aircraft by both David and Mark.
A quick check to see that we are all seated and belted the two Gipsy Queen 3 engines are fired into life; Mark taxied the aircraft towards runway 24 L at Duxford, this is the hard runway. After the checks on the engines Mark powers up to full power, the brakes off we speed off down the runway the rear of the aircraft lifting first so now it’s more like a “conventional” plane taking off and we climb slowly out of Duxford turning left towards the IWM-D film storage site at Hinxton. On our climb out albeit from a fairly low level it was possible to see the Diamond hangar at London – Stand Still (Stansted) such was the visibility that being at least 10 kilometres in a light haze this afternoon.
First place to look at was RHAG HQ at Royston level at 1,600 feet we pass by it on the left do a 180 turn and come back so that I can see the house, my wife in the garden and our next door neighbour in her garden. Neither of them waved either in a friendly manner or by gesture so we set off for Wimpole Hall the impressive driveway leading up to this house looking very elegant in the late afternoon sunlight. Wimpole Hall is a National Trust property and recently they have invested heavily in having the approach way to it refurbished and made to look as good as it does from the air. We had to pass right over Bassingbourn barracks en-route to Wimpole Hall but as always these days there was nothing visible bar the English Electric Canberra guarding the gate.
Hardwicke was our next “stop” on the journey where one of my colleagues lives; Nathalie was very quick to locate her house even though her trying to describe it to the rest of us left a lot to be desired but then not all of us had the privilege of being a Police Air Observer! From Hardwicke it was possible to see Cambridge-Teversham airport but even this looked desolate at this late juncture of the day.
From Hardwicke we followed the M11 south towards Duxford tuning right to join the field we did a fly-pass I guess so the Tower could confirm that the wheels were down and welded before turning left once again down-wind before turning base leg for finals over the village of Duxford where yet another of my colleagues recognised his house. As we’d turned base leg I recognised the shape and colours of a FedEx MD-11 running down-wind towards London – Stansted’s runway 23.
Our landing was rather bumpy as Mark had elected to land on the grass runway i.e. 24 R not the smoothest of landings as I said but then landing on grass is never a smooth option unless you are in a rotary winged aircraft when every landing is as smooth as silk or so the pilots would have you believe! Mark, certainly no need for an apology about the landing! Twenty eight minutes in a DH.89A Dragon Rapide enter the Addo log book bringing yet another type and possibly the oldest into the log.
Our thanks that is me, Nathalie, Alan J, Trevor, Fred and Steven to Mark and his father David Miller for allowing us the privilege of flying in the Rapide; for one of us it was a very special occasion. Trevor had never flown before in his 61 years on this planet and was to say the least “chuffed” that he’d done it in this aircraft, perhaps now his long suffering wife Lindsey can get him in a commercial jet and fly off on holiday but then again ……………
My personal thanks to Mark and David Miller for the privilege and particularly the experience of adding this aircraft to my personal passenger flying log book; now how many types that I haven’t flown in are left at Duxford?
Alan “Addo” Addison
List Owner – RHAG