Vintage Aircraft Overview: The Tiger Moth

This month we’re looking at an aircraft that’s a couple of hundred knots slower than the Spitfire that was previously featured. Jamie Chalklie provides an overview of the Tiger Moth's roots…

AvBuyer  |  25th November 2021
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    Vintage Tiger Moth aircraft aerial view

    In case speed isn’t your thing (or maybe you just prefer the idea of flying a ‘cabriolet’!), I thought it would be remiss not to mention the aircraft that were the wheels to most WWII Spitfire pilot’s very first landing — the much-loved Tiger Moth. So, getting right into the piano wire and linen sheets of it all, where did it begin? Actually, on a hill, in 1909...!

    Geoffrey de Havilland, born in 1882, was a graduate from engineering school with a passion for flight. He and a mechanic friend by the name of Frank Hearle built their first ‘flying machine’ with a twin prop system powered by a 45-horsepower engine.

    He climbed amongst the struts, the piano wire braces and some tightly spread linen and flew thirty-five yards from the top of a Hampshire hill. It was more of an arrival than a landing, but he climbed out relatively unhurt in his high-breasted suit determined to improve matters.

    Six months later and one propeller less, he had another go. And another. Each time learning and improving. And, of course, the actual piloting of the craft could only be self-taught. Nothing came easy!

    A Few Years Later…

    The pair persevered and by the time WWI broke out they had an actual combat aircraft in service, the DH2. It could climb to over 10,000 feet and had a top speed of 93 mph. And still they continued their work.

    On one occasion, when asked about his design work across the growing fleet, Geoffrey de Havilland added (at the end of a more detailed reply): “…I like a thing to look right”. This reminds me of last month’s reference to Beverly Shenstone’s remark about his elliptical wing design for the Spitfire: “…and it looked nice!” Perhaps the old adage of ‘if it looks right, it flies right’ is true after all!

    The de Havilland Aircraft Company quickly established itself as a major player in aircraft design, development and production. 

    Its base in 1920 was at Stag Lane Aerodrome, Edgware, London and would you believe it if I told you that a young lady by the name Amy Johnson would happen to stumble across the airfield after moving south to London!

    She booked a lesson with the De Havilland School of Flying and paid the equivalent of £5 for a one hour trial lesson. Two years later, at the age of 26, she departed Croydon Airport in her DH60 Gipsy Moth, registration G-AAAK (you can still look it up on G-INFO!!), on her epic flight to Australia. To this day, a truly impressive achievement.

    Photos (C) Clare Hartley

    Birth of the Moth Generation

    The Moth generation (named after an actual moth because the wings on the DH60 folded back resembling the insect that de Havilland was reported as having a keen interest in) was an extremely interesting time for aircraft development.

    A most unexpected aircraft appeared on the scene as a 6-seater (plus pilot) called the Giant Moth and was operated mainly in Canada and Australia. Two examples even had a toilet fitted! The passengers sat inside a comfortable cabin area, while the pilot sat out on top in an open cockpit. I’m not sure where the toilet was!

    The Tiger Moth

    Then came the DH82 Tiger Moth. This aircraft conducted its first flight from Stag Lane on 26 October 1931, with de Havilland Chief Test Pilot Hubert Broad at the controls. Soon after, production was underway of one of the most popular training aircraft ever built. Especially in the Royal Air Force, where the aircraft went on to be used extensively as the RAF primary trainer.

    In 1934, the aircraft received an engine upgrade to the 130 horsepower Gipsy Major and in 1937 overseas manufacturing started, with de Havilland Canada being the first to start a production line.

    Between 1931 and 1944 nearly 9,000 Tiger Moths were built, and they remained in RAF service until eventually being replaced by the de Havilland Chipmunk in the early 1950s.

    Our picture aircraft is a very beautiful 1939 example wearing its RAF markings ‘R5172’. The photographs were taken just a few weeks ago by Clare Hartley. They were taken on the same day as last month’s spectacular air-to-air sequence of MH415, the Mk. IX Spitfire (also photographed by Clare).

    The de Havilland Tiger Moth is an absolute delight! If you want to get back to the grass roots of flying and truly call yourself a stick and rudder pilot, the Tiger is just the aircraft and is a terrific flying machine to spend your time in. To anyone that hasn’t had a go in an open cockpit bi-plane, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

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