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When the Brabazon Committee published its recommendations for the shape of British post-WW2 civil aviation, they envisaged a small ‘feeder liner’ to service the needs of ‘hub and spoke’ airports; the winning design for the Type VB class of aircraft turned out to be the De Havilland D.H. 104 Dove, an eight-seater, powered by two De Havilland Gipsy Queen engines, which first few in September, 1945. There seemed to be a natural market for a ‘stretched Dove’, to act as a small airliner, or corporate transport.

The De Havilland D.H. 114 Heron – the prototype of which, G-ALZL, first flew on 10th May, 1950 – strongly resembled the Dove, because so many parts were common to both aircraft, including the nose, tail and outer wing panels. The biggest differences (other than the stretched fuselage, to accommodate the 15 to 17 passengers) was the fact that four DeH Gipsy Queen 30 engines each of 230hp were used, and in order to keep systems simple, a fixed undercarriage was fitted. As to be expected, orders from small airlines, and larger operators who wanted to operate regional services, flowed in. These included Japan Airlines, British European Airways subsidiary Scottish Airways, and the Norwegian domestic carrier, Braathens.

The 52 Heron 1′s were followed by no less than 98 Heron 2 aircraft with retractable undercarriages, which gave an increase of 20 mph in cruising speed, to 183 mph. British operators such as Dragon Airways Ltd out of Speke Airport, Liverpool, Cambrian Airways Ltd. from Cardiff, and Manx Airways Ltd from the Isle of Man ran domestic routes and services to near-European destinations; these were followed by larger international airlines such as Turkish Airways, Indian Airlines and New Zealand National Airways.

Just as the Dove had been taken into Royal Air Force/Royal Navy service as the Devon C Mk1/Mk2 and Sea Devon Mk20, the Heron was used by the RAF, especially in the VVIP communications rôle by the Queen’s Flight, which operated Heron C.2, C.3 and C.4 types, and the Royal Navy which had Sea Herons as ‘Admiral’s barges’. The Heron also attracted foreign military orders; the Ghana Air Force, Malaysian Air Force and the Luftwaffe all operating Herons at various times. VIP conversions came early, including aircraft for several royal households; both the Sultan of Morocco and the Saudi Prince, Talal al Saud, had Mk 2 Herons, and the Royal Flight of the Royal Jordanian Air Force also operated one.

One of the British airlines which operated the Heron on regional services was Jersey Airlines Ltd., which had routes linking Jersey, Guernsey, Gatwick, Bilbao and Paris. They operated a fleet of seven Herons from 1959 to 1961. The Heron Mk. 2B, G-AORG, (c/n 14101) seen above in the colours of Jersey Airlines Ltd., is parked on the tarmac at Baginton, Coventry Airport. Built in 1956, she was sold to the Royal Navy by Jersey Airlines in March, 1961, as ‘XR441′ (along with a sister aircraft, ‘XR442′). Following military service, she was acquired by a group of enthusiasts and named the ‘Duchess of Britanny’, and used for charter work and pleasure flights. Indeed, G-AORG appeared at the original version of the Great Vintage Flying Weekend.

Modernisation of the Heron with upgraded interiors and avionics was a natural progression, but there were also two major powerplant/airframe developments. Riley Aeronautics Corporation Inc. of Florida had already made conversions of the D. H. Dove, and followed this with a ‘Turbo-Liner’ Heron, powered by four turbo-supercharged Lycoming IO-540-G1A5 engines of 340 hp. Saunders Aircraft Ltd, of Montreal, Canada went further by stretching the fuselage to take a total of 24 passengers, removing the four Gipsy Queen engines and replacing them with two Pratt & Whitney PT-6A-27 turboprops of 715 eshp, and modifying the fin and rudder. The aircraft became known as the Saunders ST-27.

The Heron proved itself to be a versatile and willing workhorse; if you ever get chance to do so, take a step back in time to the gracious days of the 1950s, and book a flight!

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Originally posted to Kossack Air Force on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 04:01 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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