This aircraft commemorates the original Dragon EI-ABI which operated Aer Lingus’ first service from Dublin (Baldonnel) to Bristol on 27 May 1936. That original aircraft was sold in the UK in February 1938 and was lost during WWII.
This aircraft was built by De Havilland at Hatfield in early 1936 and its first flight was performed by Geoffrey de Havilland himself. Its Certificate of Airworthiness was issued on 18 April 1936, registered in the UK as G-AECZ, and it was operated by several small British operators until it was impressed into military service on 11 October 1939, being later allocated RAF serial AV982. It was restored to the civil register as G-AECZ on 18 June 1946, registered to Air Taxis Ltd of Croydon.
After going through several ownership changes it was sold in Ireland and placed on the Irish register as EI-AFK on 16 March 1950, registered to Joseph Cleary, Mullingar. It was registered to Darby Kennedy’s Weston Ltd on 1st August 1950, and that company used the aircraft for light charter work, parachute jumping and pilot training. It was taken out of service on 12 January 1959 and stored at Weston Aerodrome.
The aircraft was sold for a nominal sum to Aer Lingus in 1967, and it was repainted to represent the original EI-ABI. It was delivered to Aer Lingus at Dublin Airport on September 1st 1967 and was initially stored at Dublin Airport. In May 1976 it was cosmetically restored for static display in the Irish Aviation Museum in the passenger terminal building. With the approaching 50th anniversary of Aer Lingus, it was decided to restore the Dragon to flying condition and in summer 1985 it was moved to one of the hangars where a major strip—down and rebuild took place, which was undertaken by a team of volunteers in their spare time. Special arrangements were agreed with the authorities to use registration EI-ABI, the registration used by the original aircraft. It made its first flight post restoration on 10 April 1986 and its Certificate of Airworthiness was issued on 18 April 1986, coincidentally 50 years to the day after its first C of A had been awarded. The aircraft remained active for the next five years, attending various air displays and fly-ins as well as being used for Aer Lingus corporate events. It was stored from 1991 until 1996 when it was again restored to flying condition, and it remained active until August 2001, when it was again taken out of service. It resumed flying in December 2003 but was grounded again in November 2004.
Aer Lingus decided to make the aircraft airworthy again in time for the airline’s 75th anniversary celebrations on 27 May 2011, and so a major restoration effort commenced in January 2010, again undertaken by a team of volunteers. Every effort was made to have the restored aircraft in as close to the condition as it was for the passengers in 1936! The aircraft took to the air again on February 24th 2011 in good time for the important events in May.
EI-ABI is one of only two Dragons still airworthy in Europe, and in fact is the only UK-built example still active, as the other example is an Australian-built aircraft which was produced in 1942.