Updated: Oct 20, 2019
Introduced in 1931, the Handley Page HP.42 (for long-range eastern routes) and HP.45 (for European routes) were huge four-engined biplanes that were then the world’s biggest airliners.
They soon became the backbone of Imperial’s land-based fleet. In an era where good airports with long runways were still rare, they had been designed to land and take off at low speed and from short grass strips. When the HP.42s were finally withdrawn from civilian service on 1 September 1939, they had recorded almost a decade without any major accidents or fatalities. Like the flying boats, they carried a steward who served drinks and meals to passengers sitting in wide, deeply upholstered seats similar to those you would have found in a first class railway carriage.
These huge, lumbering biplanes were soon a familiar sight in the skies around Croydon and quickly became part of the mystique which surrounded Imperial Airways. The Maharaja of Jodhpur loved flying so much, that on his visits to London he regularly chartered Imperial Airways’ HP.42s for cocktail parties in the sky above London! A passionate pilot himself (he commissioned Rajasthan’s first airport), history remembers him for constructing the Umaid Bhawan Palace. Now a luxury hotel, it was the last great private palace to be built in India.
As the media regularly pointed out, perhaps this flying business was here to stay after all!