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De Havilland DH60 Gipsy moth - England - Finish Air force - 1920's - rgistration G-AUIJ


Captain de Havilland had other interests than aviation, and one of them was insects, notably butterflies and moths. Moths, or most of them, fold their wings back along their bodies when at rest, and de Havilland arranged for his pH. 60 to do the same, so you could tow it on the road behind a car, and keep it in an ordinary garage. All the DH 60 then lacked was the dignity of a name. But surely there was one ready-made! The Moth.

The Captain made the Moth's first flight on February 22, 1925, and even he seems to have been surprised at how nicely it flew. As was a remarkable gentleman, Sir Sefton Brancker, not long after. Sir Sefton was director of Civil Aviation, and he took the powerful step of starting five government-sponsored flying clubs and ordering a grand total of ninety Moths to equip them. It was the beginning of private flying on any appreciable scale in Britain or, indeed, the world. (The Taylor/Piper Cub was still ten years in the future.)

The prototype Moth had (I think) a blue-painted fuselage and clear-doped, gauzy, dragonfly-like wings, and so did the first few turned out thereafter, but soon silver was adopted as the standard finish, Moth-silver being a kind of British parallel to Cub-yellow. The eThaust pipe, which ran along the left side of the cockpit and burned your left wrist if you weren't careful, was moved to the right side-I know not why-where it burned your right wrist. A little of the vertical fin was taken away and given to the rudder to lighten the load on your feet, and the luggage locker was moved to behind the rear cockpit, and that was all. The Moth was now perfect.

Its performance might seem modest enough by today's standards, but for a private airplane in the 1920's it was progress. The Cirrus Moth cruised at about 80 mph, with a rate of climb of maybe 500 feet per minute, and a fuel consumption of four and a half gallons per hour. All this was a giant step forward from the pitiful flutterings of the ultralight airplanes of the Lympne trials. The Moth in flight was very quiet and not uncomfortable, and the purchase price of £830, while far from being within the reach of all, was certainly within the reach of many. You could operate a Moth for under a pound an hour, and this modest expenditure, further reduced by the Government's generous and enlightened subsidies to the flying clubs, made flying intensely popular in no time at all. The Moth was an extremely practical airplane and, more important, it was quite reliable.

Its development continued steadily. Soon there was the Cirrus II Moth with the engine lowered an inch or two to improve the pilot's rotten forward view; and the Genet Moth, with a rather uncertain 75-hp radial engine of that name; and the Hermes Moth, with a new kind of Cirrus uprated to a tremendous, breathtaking 105 horsepower.

But soon there came a problem. Owing to the Moth's very success, the supply of war surplus Airdisco engines and, therefore, of the Cirruses that were made from them began to dwindle. Further, the company making the conversions found the work not notably profitable and began to lose interest. The Cirrus was a cornerstone of the Moth's success; what was Captain de Havilland to do? Nothing for it but to make his own engine, with Halford's help.

Although General Motors might disagree, one of the quickest ways to develop an engine, both mechanically and in the public's eye, is through racing, and this was the101route de Havilland chose to follow. After his racing engine had established itself, while putting out some 135 hp, he planned to manufacture it in a form derated to nearer 100 hp. A racing airplane would be needed. Quickly de Havilland came up with D.H. 71, named Tiger Moth, but no relation to our later heroine of the same name. Two D.H. 71's were built in the traditional great secrecy. They were low-wing monoplanes of the sleekest lines designed to have the smallest possible cross section that could enclose de Havilland's test pilot Hubert Broad, who fortunately was fairly narrow.

Halford's new engine was a pippin. For its 135-hp output it weighed, at three hundred pounds, only fourteen pounds more than the old Cirrus. The handling of the D.H. 71 kept Hubert Broad busy, and it was not a notable racing success, although one did capture a world speed record in its weight class at 186.47 mph. And it did prove out the new engine. De Havilland chose for the new powerplant the name Gipsy, and the airplane thus powered became the Gipsy Moth.


With the 100-mph Gipsy Moth, the high tide of success for de Havilland began to be a flood. His company, which in 1924 employed but a few hundred people and was capitalized at under £49,000, grew by 1930 to a business worth almost half a million pounds and employing fifteen hundred people. Production rose from less than one airplane a week to better than three a day. The Moth was making de Havilland rich, and he was able to reduce the machine's price progressively. By 1929 it was down to a mere £650. Eighty-five out of a hundred private airplanes in Great Britain were Moths of one persuasion or another. When His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (now the Duke of Windsor) purchased one, a Moth became absolutely the thing to have, and the society glossies were full of pictures of Sporting Characters and Bright Young Lady Pilots setting off for weekends in the country in their 103 Moths. Any kind of private airplane in England became, in general parlance, "a Moth," in the same way that, later in the decade, any small airplane in America was "a Cub."

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