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Huge biplane airliner may fly againHuge biplane airliner may fly again

  • The Handley Page HP42 25-passenger biplane was considered the Concorde of its time.
  • The HP42 was the darling of royalty, celebrities, the well-to-do, and companies that wanted to use it to promote their products.
  • Only eight of the large biplanes were built.
  • The fashion industry posed models around it and passengers who had never flown had afternoon tea during a scenic flight around London before it had seatbelts.
  • None of the aircraft survive today.
  • The Handley Page HP42 cabin was based on the Pullman cars on the Orient Express train.
  • The Handley Page HP42 traveled at 100 mph and could reach a top speed of only 120 mph.

Promotion begins in 2015 for a fundraising campaign to build what was considered the Concorde of its time, the Handley Page HP42 25-passenger biplane.

Efforts are already in progress by England’s Team Merlin, the group that operated the Vickers Vimy after it had already appeared on the cover of National Geographic. The 130-foot-wingspan aircraft will be built by teams at three locations in England and assembled at two additional locations.

There were only eight built, four for service from England to Europe, and four to serve India and Africa. None of the aircraft survive today, although there is a propeller at one location and a propeller hub with Team Merlin. The group is establishing a museum for artifacts. While all the 28,000-pound aircraft were eventually destroyed either in windstorms while parked, hangar fires, or damaged beyond repair during hard landings, no civilian passengers were injured or killed. Eight lives were lost on a military flight after the aircraft were conscripted for war and have never been found.

This Concorde of the 1930s traveled at 100 mph and could reach a top speed of only 120 mph. It carried 24 passengers in a cabin based on a luxury Pullman railroad car that had been styled to resemble the Pullman cars used on the famous Orient Express train. No seatbelts were installed until a seaplane accident by another company operating a different model in the mid-1930s that resulted in all aircraft, including the HP42 fleet, belting its passengers.

If you don’t get to see it in person (the builders are looking for a sponsor to bring it to the United States), you’ll see it at the movies. Team Merlin official Neil Farley said two movie producers are writing the aircraft into scripts. (The sound of the Vimy appeared in Star Wars: Episode II.) The schedule for when it might fly depends on funding, but several sponsors have been found. More are needed to become a reality. A website is already in place.

The HP42 was the darling of royalty, celebrities, the well-to-do, and companies that wanted to use it to promote their products. The fashion industry posed models around it and passengers who had never flown had afternoon tea during a scenic flight around London before it had seatbelts. It was the flagship of Imperial Airways and spanned the mighty British empire from Africa to India. The modern HP42 is expected also to attract company sponsorship including the fashion industry.

“Together with over 20 years of research to find the necessary technical information for the build, the team have also arranged the entire infrastructure for the project from websites to hangarage, and pilots to paperwork, not to mention a builder for the project who has worked on hundreds of historic aircraft around the world,” Farley said in an email. “They will also be very shortly opening the world’s first Imperial Airways museum, situated in Wiltshire, to act as a main base for people to come and get involved with the project all year round. Ground exhibitions around the airshow circuit in the UK and overseas, as well as an educational programme to aim at new pilots and mechanics, is also planned, even prior to the aircraft flying.”

“The airliner is a replica as there are no major pieces of original airframe in existence, and we are giving a rough estimate of two-to-three years for the build but this timeframe can change depending on how much money we have to throw at the project. Main construction has not yet started although several test pieces have been made by one company to check their machining. Due to the size of the airliner, it would take a long time if everything were to be made on one site, and indeed some larger castings need specialist manufacturers to produce as well, so there are several sites for production, and also a couple of sites for assembly due to its size,” Farley said.

“Publicity is also going to be quite unprecedented as it doesn’t just touch aviation, as we have interest from all sectors including fashion, business, entertainment, sport, and lifestyle. In early 2015 our major promotional campaign will start which will push all those connected at the time, and this will coincide with the opening of our Imperial Airways Museum and public base. We are really looking forward to the start of construction which will be dictated by financial sponsors coming forward.”

Alton Marsh

Alton K. Marsh

Freelance journalist
Alton K. Marsh is a former senior editor of AOPA Pilot and is now a freelance journalist specializing in aviation topics.
Topics: Financial, Aviation Industry

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