Title: Egypt. The air liner “Hannibal” on the Alexandria Aerodome
Photographer: G. Eric Matson, American Colony Photo Dept
The Handley Page H.P.42 and H.P.45 were British four-engine biplane airliners designed to a 1928 Imperial Airways specification by Handley Page of Radlett in Hertfordshire.
The H.P.42/45 were the land-based backbones of Imperial Airways and along with the airline’s later flying boats are well remembered. Eight were built, four of each type; all were named, with names beginning with the letter “H”. The three survivors were pressed into Royal Air Force service at the outbreak of the Second World War. No lives were lost in civilian service (a record thought to be unique for contemporary aircraft) but by 1940, all aeroplanes had been destroyed.
Design and development
The H.P.42 was designed for the long-range Eastern routes and the similar H.P.45 was built for the European routes. Imperial Airways called the H.P.42 the H.P.42E (E for “Eastern” routes – India and South Africa), while the H.P.45 was the H.P.42W (W for “Western” i.e. European routes). The H.P.42 and H.P.45 designations were Handley Page’s identifiers but the HP.45 was not commonly used during the flying lives of the aircraft. The H.P.42 was a large unequal-span biplane, all-metal except for the fabric coverings of the wings, tail surfaces and rear fuselage. The wings were braced by a Warren truss. The tailplane was biplane with three fins. The H.P.42 had four Bristol Jupiter XIFs of 490 hp (370 kW) each while the H.P.45 used four Jupiter XFBM supercharged engines of 555 hp (414 kW). Both had two engines on the upper wing and one on each side of the fuselage on the lower wing.
The crew compartment was enclosed—a new development—and there were two passenger cabins, one forward and one aft of the wings. The H.P.42E carried six (later 12) in the forward compartment and twelve in the aft. There was substantial baggage room. The H.P.42W seated 18 forward and 20 aft, with reduced baggage capacity.
The first flight was on 14 November 1930, by G-AAGX later to be named Hannibal, with Squadron Leader Thomas Harold England at the controls. The certificate of airworthiness was granted in May 1931, permitting commercial service; the first flight with fare-paying passengers was to Paris on 11 June of that year.
Imperial Airways wanted its airliners to land safely at low speed, which meant a large wing area (almost as much as a 767 that weighs more than 10 times as much). In 1951 Peter Masefield wrote, “The trouble about a slow aeroplane with a really low wing loading is the way it insists on wallowing about in turbulent air … One of the reasons that seven times as many people fly to Paris to-day, compared with 1931, is that the incidence of airsickness in modern aircraft is only one-hundredth of that in the pre-War types.” Another writer remembered “I had quite often been landed in a ’42’ at Lympne to take on sufficient fuel to complete the flight (from Paris) to London against a headwind — 90 mph was its normal cruising speed.”
When the H.P.42s were finally withdrawn from civil service on 1 September 1939 they had recorded almost a decade without any major accidents.
G-AAXE was originally named Hesperides, but was soon renamed after Hengist, brother of Horsa and legendary conqueror of Britain. Hengist first flew on 8 December 1931. It was later converted from a European to an Eastern aircraft. Hengist was caught in an airship hangar fire and burned at Karachi, India on 31 May 1937, making it the only H.P.42/45 not to survive until the Second World War.