Modelling > 1920s/1930s GB or Between the Wars GB

D.H.88 Comet Follow-Ons

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Fast Air Mail - the de Havilland D.H.88 RM Comet Mailplane

After a highly successful showing in the 1934 MacRobertson Race, there was great interest in de Havilland's twin-engined D.H.88 Comet racer. The French government bought one of the three racers - G-ACSR which was modified as mailplane F-ANPY. The French then ordered another Comet, F-ANPZ, built from the outset with a mail compartment in its nose. Not to be completely outshone, the Royal Mail belatedly followed suit. In early 1936, four purpose-built D.H.88 RM Comets were ordered from de Havillands.

In general configuration, the General Post Office's Comets were similar to France's F-ANPZ. The racer's 128 Imperial gallon fuel tank was deleted and replaced by a hinged-top forward-fuselage mail compartment. Although advised to make minimal changes, the General Post Office slowed delivery with modifications. For its 'Domestic' variant - the D.H.88 RM 'D Type' - the GPO insisted on omitting the navigator's position in favour of an increased mail capacity. This would prove unwise ... beyond incurring delays.

Another result of 'D Type' modifications was that the less-heavily modified 'Airmail' variant - the D.H.88 RM 'A Type' - would be delivered to the GPO first. The D.H.88 RM(A) remained a two-seater. For longer-range international airmail flights, the navigator was deemed essential. This reduced mail capacity by 120 lbs - the 'A Type' having no aft mail compartment'. However, pilot's generally regarded the D.H.88 RM(A) as having better handling than the single-seat 'D Type'.

Top De Havilland D.H.88 RM (A Type) Comet mailplane, G-ARML. The swiveling tailwheel was part of a 1938 upgrade programme.

Royal Mail livery for the Comet was all-over 'pillar box' red except for a black 'cheat line' along the top of the nose. [1] Markings consisted of the Royal Cypher and 'Royal Mail' titles in gold on the nose; British registration letters in white; and the Royal Mail Lines pennant on the tail fin. [2]

GPO Comet mailplane service began in the Summer of 1936 with G-ARML. After proving flights to Paris and Brussels, the first 'operational' flight was made from Croydon to Lisbon where 'late post' was delivered to the Royal Mail Lines' RMS Asturias before she steamed off to South America. [3]

With a range of just under 1,300 miles, the D.H.88 RM(A) had less than half the reach of the Comet racers. However, this was more than adequate for 'Continental' airmail routes. Lisbon was a 985 mile flight from Croydon. Most routes were flown in stages. The longest was the UK-Egypt route which was normally flown in four stages - Marseilles (625 miles); Bastia (Corsica, 204 miles); Malta (515 miles); and Alexandria (955 miles). The object of this routing was to avoid Italian airspace forbidden to British-registered aircraft. A variation on the UK-Egypt route was Croydon- Paris-Bastia-Malta-Alexandria. Other, locally-based aircraft flew the airmail on to Cairo for distribution.

While the international routes were considered a success - and a boon to British prestige - the 'Domestic' variant was another matter. Demand for 'internal' airmail proved quite limited - in most cases, rail delivery being almost as fast. After a few trial flights, D.H.88 RM(D) G-ARMA was put onto a new Croydon-Dublin route. By the Summer of 1937, the Dublin service was abandoned. G-ARMA was then used as a dedicated courier service for diplomatic mail to Berlin (580 miles from Croydon) and Rome (890 miles). These 'diplomatic pouch' flights continued until the Autumn of 1938 when Imperial Airways took over this service.

Top De Havilland D.H.88 RM (D Type) Comet mailplane, G-ARMA. Note the single-seat cockpit, rear fuselage hatch for additional mail, and revised cowlings. Also visible here are the DH-licensed Hamilton-Standard propellers distinct to the 'Mail Comets'. These metal-bladed, variable-pitch Hamilton-Standard types replaced the Ratier props used on earlier Comet.

Experience with the 'D Type' G-ARMA convinced the GPO board that the second airframe should be completed as a more utile D.H.88 RM(A) model. As a result, three 'Airmail' variants were built - G-ARMB (begun as a 'D Type'), G-ARMK, and G-ARML. Ironically, the 'Domestic' role was reprised during WW2. All three 'A Types' were employed delivering priority war correspondence around the British Isles. Although not impressed by the RAF, the wartime Comets worn khaki paintwork. The sole 'D Type' was robbed of parts to keeps its siblings flying. This fairly thankless tasking was also a hard slog. None of the 'Mail Comets' would survive the War.


[1] This 'cheat line' is sometimes mis-characterized as an 'anti-glare' panel. In fact, this paintwork was gloss black.

[2] Technically, the GPO's Comets fell under the control of the Royal Mail Lines Ltd.

[3] This allowed RML ships to take on mail posted 2 days after the vessel had left Southampton. Flying time to Lisbon at 220 mph was only 4.5 hours (although aircraft sometimes stage through Bordeaux). In this way, post from both the UK and Portugal could be delivered via RML to Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina.

Very tasty!!  Lead me not into temptation.


I am tempted to do a RAF one.  Would probably be armed with 1 20mm cannon and a pair of .303 MGs.  Idea would be for it to play the role of long range/long endurance 'heavy' fighter alongside the likes of the Gloster Gladiator. 


--- Quote from: apophenia on June 30, 2021, 08:40:05 AM ---
GPO Comet mailplane service began in the Summer of 1936 with G-ARML. After proving flights to Paris and Brussels, the first 'operational' flight was made from Croydon to Lisbon where 'late post' was delivered to the Royal Mail Lines' RMS Asturias before she steamed off to South America.

--- End quote ---

Of course, if the overseas version was floatplane, the floats could carry the displaced fuel, restoring the range, and the aircraft could alight in the harbour. or even deliver the mail to the ship while at sea, conditions permitting . . .  ;)



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