River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Handley Page HP42

March 2012

Before the war (39-45 that is) we lived about 8miles from Croydon airport and on a couple of occasions I was taken to the airport to see the planes and I well remember seeing those huge (to my mind) biplanes. Recently I saw reference to them in a book and it occurred to me that there cannot be too many people now that have seen these planes. They were the Handley Page 42s, four engine biplanes with two engines on the upper wing and two on the lower wings, they also had a biplane-tailplane with three fins.

Built in response to a specification issued by Imperial Airways in 1928 they first went into service early in 1931. Four were built for European operations designated HP45 and four were built for empire operations,India–South Africa, HP designation HP42.

HP42s could carry 28 passengers with considerable baggage space. HP45s could carry 38 with reduced baggage capability. The engines were Bristol Jupiter air-cooled radials, on the HP42 they were unsupercharged 490hp units, but for the shorter range European operations the engines were supercharged giving 555hp at the expense of a higher fuel consumption.

Their maximum speed was 120mph with a cruising speed of 100mph and a range of 500miles. Whilst this looks rather pathetic by today’s standards it was, nevertheless, very useful performance for many tasks of the times. I know that Imperial did provide a service toAustraliabut I am not sure if they used these aircraft or their flying boats. Whichever they used I guess it would have taken best part of two weeks to get there.

The most remarkable fact concerning these Handley Page aircraft is that whilst they were in service throughout the 1930s they carried their passengers safely and with only one serious mishap, completing, so it is claimed, over 10million miles which must have involved of the order of 20,000 take-offs (and landings of course). A record that many contemporary aircraft might envy, and all the more remarkable considering the primitive nature of navigational methods, air traffic control, airport services, meteorological information etc at the time. In 1937 one of the aircraft was destroyed in a fire in an airship hangar.

At the outbreak of war the fleet was turned over to RAF transport command and by the end of 1940 all of the remaining seven aircraft had been lost:

Two were destroyed on the ground atBristolin a gale when they crashed into each other, March 1940, another was also destroyed on the ground in a gale atDoncasterairport, December 1940.

One caught fire after a forced landing and was damaged beyond repair, August 1940.

One had to make an emergency landing due to bad weather, it landed on a golf course and struck two trees and was damaged beyond repair, November 1939.

An inspection following a hard landing resulted in another being condemned due to structural corrosion and it was scrapped in 1941.

The one loss that resulted in a loss of life was in March 1940, on an RAF mission with eight people on board the plane disappeared. It was concluded that it must have fallen in theGulfofOman, no trace of the aircraft was found and the loss remains a mystery.

Ron Watts.

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