Maharajah's bomber spreads its wings again
By Nigel Reynolds and Stephanie Condron


A rare First World War bomber which was discovered rotting in the elephant stable of a maharajah's palace was unveiled in its fully restored glory yesterday.

The RAF de Havilland DH9 is rolled out at Duxford

The de Havilland DH9 two-seat biplane is the only one in Britain and one of only six in the world.

Its saviour, Guy Black, an aircraft restorer, said yesterday that "it was a phenomenal find, like discovering gold".

The chance discovery was made by a British backpacker, a keen aircraft enthusiast, who photographed a cannibalised DH9 in a new museum at the Palace of Bikaner in Rajasthan in 1995.

On his return to Britain, he circulated his photograph of it and Mr Black, who runs Aero Vintage, a specialist restoration company in Sussex, got to hear about the discovery. Three years later he visited the palace in India.

The aircraft - built in 1918 and the first British bomber to house its bombs in its fuselage - had vanished.

Inquiries led him to the palace's former elephant stables. There, among piles of elephant saddles, was the airframe of the DH9, engineless, its timbers partly eaten by termites and much of its fabric covering missing.

Along one wall, Mr Black saw half a dozen DH9 wings. Several tailfins were nearby.

He said: "I could not believe my eyes. The DH9 was the most manufactured bomber of the First World War - they made more than 2,000 of them - but they are as rare's as hen's teeth now and there wasn't a single one in a collection in Britain."

Mr Black had found the remains of three DH9s that been given by Britain to the Maharajah of Bikaner in the early 1920s to help him establish an air force under the post-war Imperial Gift Scheme. Mr Black bought two of the rotting hulks. D5649, the plane he restored and sold to the Imperial War Museum for nearly 1 million was unveiled at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, yesterday. The Imperial War Museum, by luck, had a DH9 engine to instal in the restored plane.

Mr Black said: "We haven't tried to fly it. I think we probably could but the museum won't allow it."

He hopes to restore the other hulk to make fit for flying in the next two years.

DH9s were used to drop bombs on the Western Front but they did not have a glorious war.

Their engines were extremely unreliable. Many DH9s had to ditch behind enemy lines because of engine failure.

Mr Black said: "I felt immensely proud seeing it being wheeled out at Duxford today. You couldn't wipe the smile from my face."

A rare First World War RAF bomber which was discovered in an elephant stable by a backpacker in India is to go on display at the Imperial War Museum


The two-seat bomber, the de Havilland DH 9, is the only one of its kind in Britain and has undergone a 500,000 restoration

Guy Black, the director of Aero Vintage, a specialist restoration company, inquired about the wreckage of the plane and was shown to the elephant house at a former maharajah's palace in Rajasthan

Mr Black said: “There among the saddles and other paraphernalia were piles of WWI wings and tails and other things. I could not believe my eyes”

Some 2,000 de Havilland DH9s were made but it is thought that there are just six left in the world

This plane had been transferred to India as part of the Imperial Gift Scheme and subsequently to the State of Bikaner with at least two other DH-9s