In 2006, it was decided that we would stage one of the Great Vintage Flying Weekend events at the former RAF Keevil in Wiltshire. Keevil was used by the RAF on D-Day, and Stirling aircraft left from here on the night of June 5/6th, 1944, to drop paratroopers over DZs near Ranville, in Normandy.
The weather was terrible on the first day, and we had few expectations for the Sunday. As it happened, we had a great day with rare visitors such as a Spitfire PR.XI and a HAL Pushpak (see diaries on both of these). GVFWE ’06 at Keevil was a little difficult to stage, as the grass surface was rather uneven in places. Visually it was an interesting setting though, and despite high winds and rain during the ‘set-up’ phase, it attracted a wide range of vintage and veteran aircraft.
As we were winding down the event, I decided to check out the status of the few aircraft remaining, and came across this beautiful example of the de Havilland DH87B Hornet Moth. The DH87 first flew in 1934, and the company hoped that there would substantial sales for this aircraft as a military trainer - it has side-by-side seating and a bifurcated control column, and is powered by the very popular de Havilland Gipsy Major engine of 130 hp. The hoped-for military sales didn't happen, but because of its comfortable cabin, and its 600 mile plus range and 105 mph cruise, it became a popular tourer. The original DH87A had strongly tapered wings, which gave problems during the 'flare' on landing, leading to a possible tip stall and a harsh 'arrival'! The company corrected this, offering a trade-in for new, square-tip wings, so that now the only DH87A's left are non-flyers in museums.
This superb example of the DH 87B Hornet Moth, ‘W9385′, is in wartime camouflage and coded ‘YG – L’. The standard early-WW2 RAF colour scheme of 'Dark Green' and 'Dark Earth' upper surfaces, is completed with a startling coat of 'Insignia Yellow' over all undersurfaces, as you can see. This is the correct scheme for all trainers and second-line aircraft at this time.
The aircraft had been delivered to Fairey Aviation Ltd in August 1936, and had been used as a company 'hack'. Whilst with Fairey's it became the very first aircraft to land at the brand new Ringway Airport (now Manchester International, EGCC) on 17th May, 1937 - it returned on the 50th Anniversary, and was parked in front of the 1960s era Terminal 1 for a photo-opportunity.
On the outbreak of war, like many other private aircraft, it was impressed by the Royal Air Force, as 'W9385'. There then began probably the most dangerous phase of its existence, in that it was used by No. 3 Coastal Patrol Flight, RAF Hooton Park from February 1940 onwards, on so-called anti-submarine 'Scarecrow Patrols'. Unarmed light aircraft, such as Tiger Moths and Hornet Moths, were sent out in all weathers to patrol coastal waters at low level and 'scare' U-boats into diving by their presence. Engine failure would have made crew survival very unlikely. After intensive wartime use at RAF St Athan in South Wales (by No. 4 School of Technical Training and No. 39 Maintenance Unit, both on site) it wa released to yet another aviation company, Vickers Armstrong Ltd, in February, 1945, for use as a company transport.
Sold, along with hundreds of other light aircraft which had been used by the RAF at one of the famous post-war sales at RAF Kemble, it eventually ended up at the Old Warden base of the Shuttleworth Trust, where it formed part of their Collection for no less than 34 years. A decision to rationalise the Shuttleworth Trust's assests meant than G-ADND, as she now was, was sold to David & Sylvia Weston in 2005.
The Hornet Moth may be known to a only few people compared to its much more illustrious brother, the Tiger Moth, but it is still a handsome and delightful member of the Moth family.