De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk: A' pet' to fall in love with

Every pilot has a favourite aircraft type. The De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk is not one of those aircraft that you fall in love with at first sight. But once you get to know the advantages of the two-seater trainer, you never want to part with it again.

Jamie Chalkley  |  05th July 2023
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Jamie Chalkley
Jamie Chalkley

Jamie Chalkley literally grew up around Warbirds... and crop spraying! Quite the contrast! Not content...

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De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk


One of my personal flying highlights took place during a late December afternoon back in the 90’s, embarking on my first ‘tailwheel solo’ in a De Havilland Chipmunk. It was just approaching twilight with a near perfect 6 or 7 kts straight down runway 32 at Goodwood Aerodrome. Having just finished about 45 minutes of circuits, my instructor pulled back the canopy and climbed out into the chilly winter air. He gave me a smile followed by a reassuring nod as he slid the canopy back closed. With that, I released the brakes and taxied out. The departure and climb out all went to plan and I made the turn onto crosswind leg and then again downwind. I had completed my pre-landing checks by the halfway point which gave me long enough to take in the experience. 

And I’m so glad I was given the benefit of that time to absorb the moment. The sun was low and a rich orange colour, like one of those organic egg yolks, just perched on the horizon. Chichester and its magnificent cathedral was bathed in long shadows, like a dark duvet being pulled over the city ready for bed. As I dipped my wing to make the right turn onto base leg a shaft of light split from the sun's rich yolk and ran up the wing cutting through the RAF roundel on its path. Right at that moment, it was perfect, and felt timeless. That surely looked the same just at that moment as it might have 40 years earlier given the same place and conditions. The flight finished with, what I remember anyway, a gentle three-point landing, and as I taxied back in to pick up my now near frozen instructor, he gave me another nod and this time added a thumbs up. “YES!” I thought. “This is what it’s all about!”. And from that moment on… I loved flying the “Chippy!”

’m quite sure there’s many pilots out there with their own special moments. And they’re great to share. But what was so special about this one for me? The light, the conditions, the impressionable stage of my flying career? Or the aircraft? I suspect all of these, but the last part; ‘the aircraft’ was, I think, absolutely essential to how it all felt. I’m not sure it would have been quite the same if I had been in a number of other types. Still special, but not the same. 

So, yes – the De Havilland Chipmunk; I’m definitely a fan! But what’s so special about it? And no need to just take my word for it, ask the King!  

Fit for a King 

An undeniable classic, the De Havilland Chipmunk; a semi or full aerobatic training aircraft that essentially came along to replace the Tiger Moth. And it quickly became a firm favourite amongst the many that flew it. Indeed the late Prince Philip, a keen aviator, declared the Chipmunk to be his favourite aircraft to fly. And our newly crowned King Charles III actually learnt to fly in one, and went solo on 14 January, 1969. With 116 still on the British register today, there’s much to celebrate about this still popular type. But where did it come from…?

The Chipmunk was born from De Havilland Canada, a company created in 1928 by the British De Havilland Aircraft Company, to build training aircraft for the Canadian military when a new primary trainer was called for to replace the now aging Tiger Moth. Unlike its wood and fabric bi-plane predecessor, the De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk in contrast was an all-metal airframe with a low-wing monoplane. Circuits and bumps were handled by its forgiving conventional type landing gear and the aircraft left the ground thanks to the power of its 145 hp De Havilland Gipsy Major engine. The wings actually had a fabric covering the wing area aft of the spar and of course had fabric covered flight control surfaces. Strakes were fitted to the rear of the fuselage to help delay the onset of spin conditions and stall breaker strips were fitted along the inboard leading edges to ensure any stall would first originate inboard rather than outboard. 

The man behind the drawing board was Wsiewołod Jakimiuk; a Polish pre-war engineer. His prototype first flew on 22nd May, 1946 from Downsview Airport in Toronto, Canada, piloted by Pat Fillingham; an English test pilot (with over 120 types to his name!) and winner of the King's Cup in 1953, flying a Chipmunk no less! 

Following a successful flight testing program, some 217 production aircraft were built in Canada. But the British forces wanted in on the action as well; so under agreement with De Havilland the Chipmunk was produced in the UK under license (by the original De Havilland Aircraft Company based at Hatfield near London). The UK production line turned out over 1,000 aircraft! Interestingly there were a further 66 aircraft also built under license in Portugal! 

Following a loyal service with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), and at least twelve other air forces around the world, and having turned out many new pilots, the Chipmunk was progressively phased out of military training. But this was much to the delight of hundreds of civvy street operators who welcomed them with open arms finding much loved home in the world of recreational flying, private and competition aerobatics, and some action in the aerial work category with crop spraying and glider towing, and of course much to the good fortune of myself, civilian tailwheel training!  

Yes, you can fly one! Yes, you can own one! 

There are a number of tailwheel operators across Europe, and with a little help from Google you’ll find more than a few offering the wonderful Chipmunk on their fleet. If you catch the bug you might even want to consider owning and keeping one for yourself. It’s a genuine classic aircraft that is adored by its owners, pilots and students. And as with any vintage or classic aircraft, being part of its ‘future history’ is something many owners are keen to play their part in. The delightful Chipmunk pictured in this story is a 1950 built aircraft that was assignedthe military identification number: ‘WB569’. The aircraft has a comprehensive maintenance record and has been meticulously maintained by one of the UK’s leading warbird and vintage aeronautical engineering companies. It’s beautifully presented and a joy to fly! 

If you have an active interest in flying vintage and classic aircraft, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better type than the Chipmunk. It offers not just great value for money, but a whole lot of timeless fun, and certainly an aircraft to admire from both inside the cockpit and out!

 

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