After its super-successful advertising campaign, the AA – that’s Britain’s Automobile Association, rather than the other AA – has been known as the fourth Emergency Service… despite the protests of the lifeboatmen and other vital bodies. It has a long and glorious history as a lobbying organisation and roadside rescuer of multitudinous motorists – but there’s more to the AA than jump-starting stranded bangers.
One thing that the AA has got tucked away in its history is a little legend in the form of its de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide – surely the most glamorous airliner of its time, and right up there with Concorde for lifetime honours. A large-scale replica hangs overhead the diners partaking of sausage, beans and chips in the Brooklands Museum cafeteria, but what on earth was the AA doing with such a thing in the days before Transit vans?
Built in 1944 as NR693, G-AHKV was demobbed from military duty and served with British European Airways from 1946. By 1954 Sky Neon Aviation was flying the aircraft at night over London with underwing neon advertising signs, which was doubtless rather a nervous occupation. Finally she was sold and re-registered to the Automobile Association in 1957.
She joined the AA’s other ex-forces aircraft, the Auster G-APAA, for active service from its hangar at RAF Fairoaks, where G-AHKV became the AA’s most famous aircraft.
Flown by wartime Mosquito pilot, Bill Lewis, she was used as a traffic spotter, monitoring congestion and incidents from the air. Updated to DH.89A Mk 6 specification, G-AHKV had sophisticated electrical and navigation equipment on board. She was also an air ambulance, repatriating AA members who had suffered accidents or illness while motoring in Europe, and also dropping supplies to snowbound villages in Scotland in the depths of winter.
Her career with the AA lasted until 1963. Once again she was sold on and flown until her airframe hours had expired… then, sadly, she was burnt at Birmingham Airport in 1969.
Nevertheless, the legend lives on whenever there’s a plate of sausages being devoured at Brooklands!