The Sir Torquil Norman,1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)  Chassis no. 2048
Lot 314
1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)
Refer to department for estimate

Goodwood Revival

9 Sep 2017, 13:00 BST

Chichester, Goodwood

Lot Details
The Sir Torquil Norman,1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)  Chassis no. 2048 The Sir Torquil Norman,1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)  Chassis no. 2048 The Sir Torquil Norman,1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)  Chassis no. 2048 The Sir Torquil Norman,1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)  Chassis no. 2048 The Sir Torquil Norman,1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)  Chassis no. 2048 The Sir Torquil Norman,1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)  Chassis no. 2048 The Sir Torquil Norman,1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)  Chassis no. 2048 The Sir Torquil Norman,1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)  Chassis no. 2048 The Sir Torquil Norman,1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)  Chassis no. 2048 The Sir Torquil Norman,1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)  Chassis no. 2048
The Sir Torquil Norman
1943 De Havilland D84 Dragon Twin-Engined Cabin Biplane (to Mark 2 Specifications)
Registration no. G-ECAN
Chassis no. 2048
*Gypsy major engine
*Iconic aircraft
*One of only a handful still flying
*Completely restored 20 years ago


  • Imagine yourself kiting into sun-soaked Goodwood Aerodrome, approaching over the South Downs, letting down over Chichester Cathedral - slumbering there in the bright coastal light - then floating in over the perimeter, twin Gipsy Major engines throttled back, sinking down for the De Havilland DH84 Dragon's wheels to caress the Goodwood grass, and here you are for the Members' Meeting, the Festival of Speed, Glorious Goodwood or the Indian-summer September Revival...

    Here we offer the absolutely ideal vintage cabin biplane in which to just make such an elegant, discreet, yet sensationally evocative entrance to the Goodwood scene: Sir Torquil Norman's glorious twin-engined 1934 De Havilland DH84 Dragon cabin biplane.

    This iconic aircraft is one of only a handful of its type still flying anywhere in the world, and Sir Torquil had it completely and comprehensively restored some twenty years ago. The De Havilland DH84 Dragon originated in the early 1930s, the inspiration coming from two very different angles....

    When British airline pioneer Edward Hillman was operating the single-engined DH83 Fox Moth and wanted De Havilland to design a twin-engined 'big sister' to fly from the south of England to Paris as economically as possible. At the same time, the Iraqi Air Force had approached the company seeking an aircraft suitable for patrol and communication flying. So the Dragon was hatched.

    Hillman Airways was to receive its first DH84 Dragon in 1932. It cost £2,795 and carried six to eight people on scheduled flights from Romford, Essex, to Paris Le Bourget.

    Sir Torquil Norman's well-known and universally admired DH84 Dragon - 'G-ECAN' - dates from the Second World War years, having been built originally in 1943, by De Havilland Aircraft Pty Ltd in their plant at Bankstown Airport, Sydney. It is construction number '2048' and served in the Royal Australian Air Force as a navigational training aircraft, serial 'A34-59' before being converted postwar to civilian standard.

    We understand that it was subsequently operated under Australian civil registrations' VH-AQU' and later 'VH-DCX' and that it served for some time as a Flying Doctor Medical Service machine, based at Alice Springs.

    It passed subsequently into the Marshall Airways collection at Bankstown Airport, before being acquired by Sir Torquil at the turn of the last century in dismantled and long-stored form. Sir Torquil then had the aircraft painstakingly restored to flying condition by respected specialists Cliff Lovell, Henry Labouchere and Hants Light Plane Services of Chilbolton, Hampshire. They finally completed it in DH84 Mark 2 specification, and since completion it has become a familiar sight at air shows and Vintage fly-ins around the UK – having now completed some 450 flying hours on Vintech restored engines. G-ECAN is offered with Engine logs; Airframe log; old Australian logbooks available; and National aviation review certificate valid to 26 March, 2018.

    The highly successful, intensely practical - and gorgeously elegant - De Havilland DH84 Dragon design is regarded as the spark which triggered Sir Torquil Norman's late engineer brother - Desmond Norman - to create his highly successful Britten-Norman Islander twin-engined near-equivalent design in the 1960s, of which nearly 1300 have now been produced since 1965, compared to 115 UK-built Dragons followed by a further 87 of Australian manufacture.

    Sir Torquil Norman is a graduate of Trinity College and Harvard who earned his pilot's licence aged only 18 before performing National Service duties in the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm. He subsequently flew in No 601 Squadron, Royal Air Force, while enjoying further air time in his own Piper Comanche. Not content with perfectly serviceable aircraft, he took to launching himself out of them, enjoying skydiving in a pursuit much enjoyed and shared by his late wife, Anne.

    After eleven years working as an investment banker in the USA, Sir Torquil returned to the UK in the 1960s and from 1973 became chief executive of the Berwick Timpo toy company before - in 1980 - founding Bluebird Toys, celebrated makers of the Big Yellow Teapot House, the Big Red Fun Bus, and the very successful Polly Pocket dolls.

    A long-term resident of Camden, London, "on impulse" in 1996 he bought the derelict Roundhouse arts venue in Chalk Farm. As founder and chairman of the Roundhouse Trust he then raised over £30 million from public and private sources, including further personal support, to restore the crumbling Victorian former railway repair shed, which had been a major arts venue in the 1960s and '70s.

    He was instrumental in the restored Roundhouse reopening in June 2006 as a 1,700 seat performance space. Sir Torquil, was knighted in 2007 for his services to the arts and to disadvantaged young people. A longtime collector of historic aircraft, he is a tremendously respected figure within the Vintage aircraft community - and here we at Bonhams are intensely proud to offer his gorgeously evocative, and fully operational, De Havilland DH84 Dragon to the market...


    It was in 1931 that the illustrious De Havilland Aircraft Company Limited was approached by representatives of the Iraqi Air Force who were interested in commissioning a twin-engined cabin biplane for light patrol, bombing and transport use within their Middle Eastern area of operation. De Havilland's Chief Designer A.E. Hagg schemed a twin-engined version of the promising new single-engined DH83 Fox Moth cabin biplane. That design was proving a commercial success for Edward Hillman of Hillman Airways and he asked De Havilland to create for him a twin-engined version which could enable him to operate to Paris more economically and so reduce fare prices to grow his market.

    A.E. Hagg showed Hillman his sketches for the Iraqi project and the British airline pioneer promptly ordered four of the machines straight off the drawing board. They were two-bay cabin biplanes with high aspect ratio wing design, seating six passengers in "reasonable comfort" within a very well glazed spruce and plywood fuselage.

    A single pilot occupied the cockpit compartment, accessible through an aperture in the forward bulkhead. Power was provided by two 130-horsepower De Havilland Gipsy Major engines fared within neat nacelles on the lower mainplane. Standard Gipsy Moth-series mainplanes with tapered aileron surfaces were rigged as the folding outboard panels. All-up weight for the Mark I model was 4,200lbs, maximum speed 128mph, ceiling height 12,500 feet and a useful range of 460 miles. The subsequent Mark 2 - which is the configuration in which Sir Torquil's lovely example is offered here - weighed-in at 4,500lbs, could reach 134mph, had a ceiling of 14,500 feet and range extended to 545 miles.

    The first prototype De Havilland DH84 Dragon was first flown at the company's Stag Lane, Edgware, factory in north London, on November 24, 1932. The company's renowned chief test pilot Hubert Broad was at the controls, and the prototype aircraft promptly joined Hillman Airways the following month - registered as G-ACAN. While the single-engined DH83 Fox Moth was itself then proving a commercial success, the operating economics of the brand-new DH84 Dragon proved even more profitable for its new owners. The aircraft would cruise at 109mph with six passengers and 45lbs of luggage for each one of them, while burning only 13 gallons of fuel per hour...

    The remaining trio of Hillman Airways Dragons were delivered by April 1933 in time for the opening of the airline's cross-Channel service. It rapidly proved so popular that two more Dragons were added, and all six were speedily converted from six seats to eight by deletion of the rear luggage compartment.

    Over the following three years no fewer than 115 DH 84 Dragon cabin biplanes were produced for sale worldwide. Eight went to the Iraqi Air Force for patrol, light bombing and "local uprising suppression" duties, featuring two nose-mounted guns and another in a mid-upper position at the rear of the cabin - provided with a guard rail to prevent any over-enthusiastic gunner shooting the tail away.

    Military Dragons were also supplied to the Danish, Portuguese, Eireann and Turkish forces, while in 1933 Dragons replaced Fox Moths on Midland & Scottish Air Ferries and the Scottish Motor Traction Co Ltd air routes. Meanwhile, Northern & Scottish Airways worked the Western Isles with DH84s, Aberdeen Airways flew a DH84 from the east coast of Scotland and examples were also supplied to operators in Spain, Canada, Kenya, to the Bata shoe company in Czechoslovakia, to Egypt, Australia and beyond...

    A small yet elite selection of the DH84 Dragons were those acquired by private owners. The Prince of Wales - to reign briefly as King Edward VIII - had his own personalised Dragon equipped as a four-seater, registered G-ACGG. A Monsieur Jean Germain and his family had one example supplied to them in Morocco, which they flew to circumnavigate Africa in 27 days.

    Jim and Amy Mollison's special Dragon 'Seafarer' was equipped with cabin fuel tanks and strengthened undercarriage for an attempt on the world's long distance record, eventually flying from Pendine Sands, South Wales, to Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA in 39 hours, only for the exhausted crew to make an error upon landing due to darkness and fatigue, overturning the aircraft. Lord Wakefield of Castrol Oil fame provided a replacement Dragon - 'Seafarer II' - into which the salvaged engines and tanks were fitted - for an ultimately abandoned attempt to fly on to Baghdad.

    From airframe 63 in the production sequence, an improved version known as the Dragon 2 emerged. It featured fully-framed windows and faired undercarriage struts. W.D. Macpherson won the Oases Circuit Race in Egypt in one of these new variants in December 1933. Jersey Airways became a major DH84 customer - serving the Channel Islands - and the Dragons were assessed subsequently as being "invaluable on over-water journeys" while "In the remote areas of the Commonwealth they were the ideal work horses". Even floatplane versions became popular as in Canada, the US and South America.

    From 1937 a number of Dragons were used on British Army night flying contracts and between April and October 1940 - once the Second World War had begun - 17 DH84s were brought into service, and used for purposes including parachute-troop training at Ringway, and Castle Bromwich.

    A pressing requirement for radio and navigation trainers in Australia was then met very neatly during the War when De Havilland Aircraft Pty Ltd built a second generation of DH84 Dragons at Bankstown Airport, Sydney - using drawings and the surviving manufacturing jigs shipped out from England. The Dragon was preferred to the later Rapide for this training purpose because Gipsy Major engines were already being manufactured in Australia by General Motors Holdens Ltd in Melbourne, having been intended originally to fulfil the very extensive contemporary Australian Tiger Moth single-engined trainer contract.

    In addition to 11 British-built Dragons commissioned for Australian service, a further 87 were built at Bankstown - amongst which group the aircraft now offered here began its long career.

    Postwar, in 1946-47, 46 surviving Australian Dragons were registered to charter companies there. Seventeen of them remained in use until the mid-1960s. The last Dragon to fly in Australia was the second Bankstown-built example which eventually found its way to Sir William Roberts in Scotland, joining his famed Strathallan Aircraft Collection.
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