When a Virginia Commonwealth University professor asked recently to go to England at state expense to do research on chaucer and three community college instructors applied for a state-paid zoological field trip to the Dominican Republic, Virginia's cost-conscious Republican Gov. John N. Dalton personally intervened and said no.

However, Dalton is not letting his economy policies interfere with his own foreign travel. He and three aides traveling at state expense will leave Sunday for an 11-day European tour to Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Vienna, Brussels and London to recruit foreign investment in Virginia.

Yesterday as Democratic state legislators began sniping at Dalton's recent travels, the governor found himself on the defensive at a Richmond press conference.

Asked about his decision to dispatch two state automobiles to Key Biscayne, Fla., to shuttle him and aides to education meetings there, Dalton said: "I don't think the people of Virginia expect their governor to travel to Florida on a bicycle or motorcycle."

But the legislators said they saw Dalton's travel differently. "It's ridiculous for the governor to require an airplane, a limousine and a state police car when commercial transportation is available." said Sen. Willard J. Moody (D-Portsmouth), chairman of the Senate's Democratic caucus. The Democrats said the governor's actions are all the more troublesome because Dalton himself recently began a policy of personally reviewing any state employe's overseas trips that are to be made at state expense.

"I think it's outrageous," Sen. Adelard L. Brault, the Senate majority leader from Fairfax County said. "You mean he sent those cars all the way to Florida just to carry his luggage? Don't they have taxicabs running in Florida?"

Dalton said yesterday that both Moody and Brault voted for the appropriation to purchase the state's 10-year-old executive airplane that he used and added: "I don't think the people of Virginia expect the governor to leave the airplane sitting in the hanger."

Because the Dalton party filled the state plane to capacity, there was no room for luggage, Dalton said. Two state policemen left a day before the flight, driving one of the governor's limousines, a Lincoln Continental, and a standard state police car filled with luggage, he said.

Dalton said the cars were used in Florida to transport him and his party and other state education officials between the Miami airport and the Sonesta Beach Hotel in Key Biscayne, a drive that he said takes about 30 minutes.

Dalton and his party, which included Mrs. Dalton, three senior legistors and their wives, flew to Florida June 6 just after the governor laid down strict guidelines for out-of-state travel by state employes. Those rules require approval from a cabinet secretary or the governor's office whenever more than five employes from one agency attend a meeting more than 300 miles outside state boundaries.

The Dalton transportation arrangements for the Florida trip apparently cost the state far more than use of commercial transportation would have. At $165 an hour, the state's billing rate for the plane and two pilots, the 8 1/2-hour round trip cost $1,402.50 for air time alone.

Round trip coach fare on one of the nine flights a day between Richmond and Miami by Eastern Airlines is $190, or $760 for the four state officials on the Dalton plane. Had they flown by a commercial plane, the officials' wives would have been requried by state regulations to pay their own fares.

In addition to plane costs, the state paid for meals and lodging for the two pilots in Florida, and the costs of operating the limousine and police car between Richmond and Key Biscayne.

Dalton said he believes it it reasonable for a governor to have two security aides and use of his own cars at meetings he attends. He said he has noticed that other governors have their cars driven to out-of-town meetings, such as the national governors' conference. He also said other governors have brought from four to 20 security aides to meetings in Virginia and Washington.

Dalton also defended his European trip at his press conference yesterday, saying that such recruiting tours by Virginia governors during the last 10 years have "produced 19,000 jobs at industrial plants built in Virginia by foreign companies."

Dalton said state industrial development director J. Frank Alspaugh, who will accompany him, "has got me going from early in the morning to late at night" seeing foreign business executives on the tour. In addition to Alspaugh and Dalton, Larry Murphy, administrative aide to the governor, and C. K. Highsmith, a state policeman, will make the trip at state expense. Mrs. Dalton and others will make the trip at their own expense, a Dalton aide said.

The governor also defended a trip to Puerto Rico this week by Secretary of Administration Charles B. Walker and three gubernatorial aides to attend staff meetings of the Southern Governor's Conference. Dalton said it was necessary to send four officials because the schedule "had seeveral meetings we needed to participate in going on at the same time."