Sometimes you see an aircraft and do a double-take. Visually the machine is so unusual that you figuratively scratch your head. The first sight of a De Havilland DH83 Fox Moth will do that to you!
This aircraft is an absolute wonder of economy and efficiency; it is true to say that if not for the Second World War, many more would have been built. In March 1932, the prototype DH 83 Fox Moth, designed by A. E. Hagg, took to the air. Intended to be a cheap ‘four passengers plus pilot’ machine, capable of charter or ‘feeder’ airline services, it kept the cost of acquisition low by using Tiger Moth components, including undercarriage, wings, tail unit and engine mounting. Just like the ‘Tiger’, the engine was the ever-reliable De H Gipsy III of 120 hp, or Gipsy Major of 130 hp. These proven components would be married to a new, plywood-clad fuselage, with a cabin built to carry up to four passengers on short flights, or three passengers for up to 360 miles at 96 mph. This was an amazing performance, considering that this was all done on 130 hp! Later, Canadian machines – produced postwar, and known as the DH 83C - would have the Gipsy Major 1C, producing 145 hp.
One of the unusual aspects of the DH83 was the fact that the pilot sat above and behind the passenger cabin, in an open cockpit (larger airliners of the 1920s sometimes had open cockpits for the pilots, e.g. Armstrong Whitworth AW 154 Argosy Mk 1). About 30% of British machines and many Canadian produced Fox Moths had a very attractive sliding cockpit hood for the pilot – looking rather like a smaller version of a Spitfire Mk XVI teardrop canopy; Canadian DH83C aircraft had to suffer the severe winter weather, of course (some Tiger Moths had ‘winter canopies’, too!) Some early Fox Moths performed notable feats; G-ABUT was flown to first place in the 1932 King’s Cup Air Race, and in 1934 John Grierson left Rochester, Kent and flew to Ottawa, via Iceland, Greenland and New York (on floats). You might have expected some military sales, but only the Brazilian Navy, Royal New Zealand Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, and the Spanish Air Force used small numbers. When WW2 broke out, eight Fox Moths were impressed, and used by the Air Transport Auxiliary, the Royal Navy, and other organisations as communications and ferry machines.
There are three surviving DH Fox Moths on the British Civil Aircraft Register. The two British-built examples have both made a miraculous recovery. G-ACCB was flown for many years off the sands at Southport, Merseyside, until ditched off the beach on 25th June, 1956. It was recovered and rebuilt. G-ACEJ, the ‘flagship’ of the Tiger Club, suffered a horrid accident at Old Warden when struck by a landing Beech C23 Musketeer (G-AYWS). It was burnt-out, yet enough survived to form the core of another re-built airframe…and it flies to this day!
The aircraft you can see above is a splendid example of the Canadian-built DH83C (G-AOJH, c/n FM.42), 52 of which were built from 1946 onwards, mostly for use by ‘bush’ pilots, although some were exported to India, Pakistan and Southern Rhodesia. G-AOJH was one of the Pakistan-registered machines (as AP-ABO). It touched down at Southend-On-Sea, Essex, on 24th September, 1955, after an epic flight from Karachi, Pakistan, to start a new life with the Blackpool & Fylde Aero Club at Squires Gate, Blackpool Airport, Lancashire.
We are lucky, indeed, to have had the chance to see such an historic example of a classic air transport aircraft in flying condition.