It is not intended to produce a comprehensive history of these aircraft as the subject has been well documented by others, particularly regarding Black Magic from construction up until the time of sale to Portugal. With this in mind we therefore refer you to the following publications :-
“DH88 de Havilland Racing Comets” by David Ogilvy Airlife publications Ltd ISBN 1 85310 011 0″. For details of the MacRoberston Air Race : “Mildenhall to Melbourne” by Stewart McKay ISBN 978-0-9563981-0-9
Web sites covering the life of Amy Johnson and Black Magic, accessible from the Links section on this site.
Below is a short resume of why the Comets were conceived and why it is felt that rebuilding Black Magic to airworthy condition is so important.
In 1934 Geoffrey de Havilland was worried that an acknowledged aviation lead in Britain could slip away unless prompt action was taken. The England to Australia “MacRobertson” air race focused international attention and a wide range of impressive entrants was likely to be forthcoming. He decided to design and produce a highly specialised long-range twin engine racing aircraft that would incorporate a number of innovations with few compromises for comfort or simplicity. In a perilously short space of time a wholly new aircraft – the DH 88 – was designed and three aircraft were built speculatively. De Havilland was successful in selling all three, albeit at a discounted rate. Not surprisingly these aircraft – named Comet – attracted the most famous and competent pilots of the time. The first of the aircraft to fly was registered G-ACSP, named “Black Magic” and was bought by Jim and Amy Mollison (nee Johnson) who were both independently recognised as world record holders in their own right. This combination started the race as favourite.
Unfortunately they did not finish the race, although its sister aircraft came first and third which proved the soundness of the concept. Black Magic did establish a record for the fastest time from England to Baghdad – not bad for its first competitive flight done in one hop.
Later two further aircraft were built, one being sold to a company in France together with G-ACSR the third Comet aircraft to be produced. These (F-ANPY and F-ANPZ) are wrongly and commonly reported being destroyed together at Istres at the start of World War Two in a hangar fire. (Please see our FAQ section for details) The final aircraft G-ADEF “Boomerang” registered to Tom Campbell Black was lost over Sudan when the crew encountered difficulties and had to bale out. Only G-ACSS “Grosvenor House” and G-ACSP “Black Magic” remain, with “Grosvenor House” already restored to airworthy condition by the Shuttleworth Trust and flying at Old Warden.
“Black Magic” was eventually sold to the Portuguese Government, registered as CS-AAJ “Salazar” and for many years the aircraft was simply “lost”, only to be rediscovered after more than 40 years of neglect and obscurity. The aircraft existed in a sorry state of repair and now deserves to be rebuilt and flown. It is part of the national aviation heritage.
We have discovered that in 1936 Amy Johnson was attempting to buy “Black Magic” / “Salazar” from the Portuguese authorities for a ‘Johannesburg Race’. This exciting information has come to us via letters Amy had written to Lord Swinton and Colonel Jellicoe, seeking their assistance. Copies of the letters were sent to us by the RAF museum (for which we are grateful). Obviously Amy was unable to re-purchase Black Magic, but we wonder how close she came to obtaining it. We do know that the original asking price by the Portuguese was excessive. Can anyone shed some light on this? We are wondering if there are records and further correspondence held by the families of Lord Swinton and Colonel Jellicoe. Can anybody help us trace the descendants of either?
We also wish to acknowledge the interest shown by the Science Museum whom we will keep informed of the progress of the rebuild.