In a previous diary about the de Havilland DH.83c Fox Moth, a Kos member commented on the plethora of variations on a Moth theme, which Sir Geoffrey de Havilland used to name the many members of his Moth family of aircraft. It is true to say that these influential machines were both highly successful and aesthetically pleasing.
From 1925 to 1939 – and on through the Second World War – on two sites, first Stag Lane and then Hatfield - the De Havilland Company designed and produced a series of interelated light aircraft which were to change aviation forever.
So ubiquitous did these revolutionary aircraft become that soon every small, single-engined aircraft was being refered to as ‘a Moth’ (rather like how, post-war, a vacuum-cleaner was refered to as ‘a Hoover’, in the U.K.). There was some truth behind this, as at one point over 6o% of ALL British-registered single-engined aircraft WERE Moths.
Geoffrey de Havilland wanted to build a practical light aircraft; despite the success of the DH 53 Hummingbird at the Lympne trials, he felt that the formula, which usually meant using a lightweight motorcycle engine, would lead nowhere. Taking half of a WW1 Renault V-8 aero-engine, and mounting it on a new crankcase, Major F. B. Halford of the Aircraft Disposal Company Ltd of Croydon created a new engine called the Cirrus, which produced about 60 hp. Fitting this to a fuselage of plywood sheets, secured onto four spruce longerons and braced by cross-members, the basis for the new de Havilland DH 60 Moth was formed. The biplane wings had spruce spars and folded back for towing and storage. The aircraft was an instant hit; the prototype, G-EBKT, flew on 22nd February, 1925 from Stag Lane, and the orders flowed in. The Royal Aero Club and the Director of Civil Aviation, Air Vice Marshal Sir Sefton Brancker, KGB, AFC, RAF, (later to be killed in the tragic crash of the ill-fated airship R.101) launched the Light Aero Club scheme, whereby clubs offering flying instruction were formed around the country and equipped with DH Moths. The first five clubs were The London Aeroplane Club, Newcastle Aero Club, Midland Aero Club, Lancashire Aero Club, and the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club. Thus was the British flying club movement born.
DH 60 variants were powered by Cirrus, Genet and Cirrus Hermes engines, but it wasn’t until the amazing DH Gipsy engine was developed that the Moth family came into their own. The D.H. 60G Gipsy Moth (first flown in 1928) rapidly evolved into a world-beating long-distance aircraft, including such feats as the first solo flight by a woman between England and Australia (May 5th -May 24th, 1930) by the famous Amy Johnson in her Gipsy Moth ,’Jason’, G-AAAH, which is now displayed in the Science Museum, London.
By arranging the Gipsy engine to run inverted (in the Gipsy II) de Havillands were able vastly improve the vision of the pilot, and also reduce the chances of the propeller tips striking the ground during take off. The resulting aircraft was called the DH.60G III Moth Major, and began to be ordered by flying clubs during 1932. During the 1930s de Havillands produced a whole family of light aircraft, including the DH.80A Puss Moth (1930), DH. 60T Moth Trainer (1931), DH.83 Fox Moth (1932), DH.85 Leopard Moth (1933) carrying between two and four persons.
Above you can see a classic example of the D.H. 82A Tiger Moth, parked in the sunshine at Hullavington, Wiltshire. The RAF had already taken delivery of earlier versions of the Moth line, as the DH.60T Moth Trainer, but they were unhappy about the chances of a successful emergency parachute jump being made being made from the front cockpit due to the closeness of the centre section struts and the flying wires. Consequently, the wings were moved forward by 19" and then swept back to give the distinctive 'Tiger Moth' look. Powered by various marks of the Gipsy Major engine, usually the Major IC of 145hp, it cruised at around 90mph. This was ordered in huge quantities as the standard trainer of the RAF, and was also built in Australia, New Zealand and Canada during WW2.
One major drawback was the relatively short range of 275 miles. In the dark days of 1940, some really desparate anti-invasion measures were undertaken. Not only were hundreds of Tiger Moths converted to a carry a load of 8 x 20lb Cooper bombs - the prefered weapon of the RFC/RAF Camels during WW1, when attacking trenches - but experiments were carried out regarding the carriage of a long scythe which would fold down below the fuselage, to slice through the parachutes of German 'Fallschirmjäger'; this was proved, but not implimented. These almost certainly suicidal sorties would be flown by the instructors of each Tiger-equipped Elementary Flying Training School.
This aircraft was one of those Tigers built by Morris Motors Ltd, from 1942, when Tiger Moth production was moved out of Hatfield due to every inch of space being needed for building the DH. 98 Mosquito. G-BFHH is now owned by Peter Harrison and Martin Gambrell and is in immaculate condition. If you look carefully, you can make out 'Mod. 112', the fitting of anti-spin strakes, which from November, 1941 eased some fairly major spinning problems (these were finally cured by the removal of the aileron mass balance weights).
After the war, literally thousands of Tiger Moths were disposed of by tender, and they became the staple of flying clubs all over Europe. You could even buy a brand-new engine, still in its delivery crate for the sum of £5! It is safe to say that the D.H. 82A sustained private flying in the difficult early post-war years. There are many surviving Tigers, and both the famous Tiger Club and the De Havilland Moth Club will ensure that Moths of all types will grace our skies for many years to come!