Story of de Havilland Aircraft Museum’s replica of the Comet Racer

PUBLISHED: 13:40 15 July 2020 | UPDATED: 17:06 15 July 2020

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum's DH.88 Comet Racer replica. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum's DH.88 Comet Racer replica. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

de Havilland Aircraft Museum

This week’s Curator’s Corner from the de Havilland Aircraft Museum looks at a replica of a famous racer that won an England to Australia challenge and gave Hatfield’s Comet Hotel its name.

The cockpit of the DH.88 Comet Racer. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft MuseumThe cockpit of the DH.88 Comet Racer. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

Alistair Hodgson, curator of the de Havilland Aircraft Museum at London Colney shares some of the Salisbury Hall-based museum’s special attractions and hidden secrets...

When I look at our de Havilland DH88 Comet Racer replica, I always feel its shape has that slight ring of 1930s Art Deco about it.

Although built in very small numbers, it was a highly significant aircraft for the company. Nothing like it had ever been seen before.

The DH88 was developed in response to the staging of an air race in 1934, between Mildenhall in Suffolk and Melbourne in Australia.

A display section of the wing showing the pioneering laminated construction of the DH.88 Comet Racer. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft MuseumA display section of the wing showing the pioneering laminated construction of the DH.88 Comet Racer. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

The Australian philanthropist Sir MacPherson Robertson had put up a prize of £15,000 for the winner of the 12,300 mile race and the board of de Havilland decided that they had to have a horse in the race.

The DH88 was the result, and the Hatfield-based company offered to build aircraft to order for any competitor, for a price of £5,000, which represented a considerable commercial loss.

The aircraft was built entirely from wood, with the wing being made from a unique planked construction that gave it great strength while allowing it to be very thin.

The aircraft had two specially designed de Havilland Gipsy racing engines and could carry two pilots, which would be essential for the very long stages of the flight to Australia.

Three aircraft were sold in time for the race: one to Amy Johnson and her husband Jim Mollison, one to racing driver Bernard Rubin, and one to the owner of the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

It was this aircraft, painted bright red and named Grosvenor House, that was first past the post in Melbourne in just over 70 hours, winning the prize.

The design encouraged de Havilland to pursue wooden construction in other aircraft designs, which eventually led to the Mosquito.

Our aircraft is a replica that was made for the 1991 Australian film The Great Air Race that told the story of the original race.

Because the original Grosvenor House is still in existence at the Shuttleworth Collection, we’ve rebuilt the replica as Bernard Rubin’s emerald green aircraft.

Come and see it and see if it evokes a feeling of Art Deco for you too!

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum has now reopened to visitors.

Visit www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk for more details.


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