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The things people did in their Moths! In the United States the fair and intrepid Laura Ingalls looped a Moth 344 times in succession to set some dubious kind of record. People flew all over the world in them. But surely the boldest Moth adventurer of all was Francis Chichester, in whose life the Gipsy Moth has played a big part. A native Englishman who proved troublesome in his youth, Chichester was shipped off to the Dominions, New Zealand to be exact, where in quite a short time he made a small fortune in the timber business. Returning to England, his pockets jingling, he took flying lessons and, once he had a license, bought a Moth. After a shakedown cruise around Europe, but still with less than a hundred hours of flying time, he set off on a solo flight for Australia. At this date (1929) only one other pilot had ever flown solo to Australia. Chichester made it after some terrifying adventures, which so little daunted him he next set off to be first across the Tasman Sea that separates Australia from New Zealand. For this adventure his Moth was set on floats, and Chichester had to devise a new technique of astronavigation to find the two tiny islands which were to be his stepping-stones. In the lagoon at one of them his Moth sank, but he fished it up and over the course of a year or so rebuilt it, unaided by professional hands. It was his intention to continue on around the world. He got as far as Japan, where a wire stretched between two hilltops plucked his Moth from the skies and almost sent Chichester to his grave. For his recent circumnavigation of the world he chose a sailing boat, but was faithful enough to his earlier love to christen her Gipsy Moth III. She was met, sailing into Plymouth Harbor at the end of her fantastic voyage in 1968, by a Gipsy Moth airplane, flying low over the waves. One wonders how Sir Francis felt at the sight.

Where Chichester had led, others followed. In 1930 an ex-secretary named Amy Johnson flew another Gipsy Moth to Australia. Her airplane, registered G-AAAH and named Jason, is to this day hanging from the ceiling of the National Aeronautical Collection in London. By the end of 1930 nearly two thousand Moths had been sold and delivered. The success of the species was such that de Havilland was to some extent hoist with his own petard, and obliged to call everything he designed a Moth. There was the Giant Moth (more of a Giant Myth really), a big 500-hp biplane transport seating eight in a cabin pins the chauffeur in a breezy cockpit behind them; the Hawk Moth, a high-wing monoplane intended for air taxi work and superficially resembling Lindbergh's immortal Ryan; and a host of others.

It was soon time to develop the Gipsy Moth further. The first improvement had been a welded steel-tube fuselage variant, the Metal Moth, manufactured side-by-side with the spruce and three-ply structure. Then came wider let-down cockpit doors and a luggage locker enlarged to hold a set of golf clubs, for the Moth could land and take off easily from almost any fairway. An enclosed coupe top was a popular option on Moths going to Camida. So equipped, one flew the first air mail iiflo Newfoundland. The Gipsy Two engine, pulling 120 hp, came along, and so did a strengthened Metal Moth called the Moth Trainer, intended to whet the interest of the military. The area most needing improvement in Moth design-forward visibility-remained. Just where you wanted to look, while taxiing and during the short takeoff run, and especially on landing, the sky was filled with the Gipsy's cylinders and clattering valve gear. Nor could the engine be lowered without bringing the propeller tips too near the ground. The solution was to invert the engine, and this was done in 1930 with the engine called Gipsy Three, which first powered a new high-wing monoplane, D.H. 80, soon named the Puss Moth. Upped to 130-hp output, the Gipsy later became the Gipsy Major, and the Metal Moth, powered by it, became the Moth Major.

The Tiger Moth, the most massively successful Moth of all, came about because the Royal Air Force, while nibbling at the Moth Trainer, was unhappy about the poor accessibility of the front cockpit. Service crews all wore parachutes as a matter of course, and getting into or out of the front, or instructor's, cockpit of a Moth meant clambering under the top wing and through the cat's cradle .of supporting struts and wires. Difficult enough on the ground while you were wearing a parachute, but quite impracticable if you had to bail out quickly in the air. Could de Havilland do something about this? De Havilland, with prospects of a big RAF order in mind, found that he could. No abstruse calculations in a design office took place, though. Instead, a Moth was dismantled in a small shed and jury-rigged as needed. The top wing was moved forward eighteen inches, then four inches more. Fine, you could get in and out of the front cockpit even with a chute strapped to your bottom. But the center of gravity was now behind the center of pressure. So all four wings were swept back nine inches at the interplane struts, the rear spars were shortened, and new struts fitted. Pencils flew furiously across the backs of old envelopes. Still not quite enough was the verdict, and so the upper wings were angled back an additional two inches. That was it.

After the first few Tiger Moths had flown (the name was borrowed from the earlier D.H. 70 racing airplane), it was found that this sweepback had brought the lower wing tips too near the ground, and so to raise them the interplane struts were shortened. Which explains why to this day the lower wings of a Moth have more dihedral than the upper pair.Thus cut and fitted, an already sweet-handling design was rendered sweeter, for the increased dihedral and wing sweep added to the Moth's lateral stability, as well as vastly improving the pilot's view.


The excellent inverted Gipsy was installed in other designs, as well: the Leopard Moth (which had a sad history of structural failures), the Fox Moth, the Hornet Moth, the twin-engined Dragon, and so on. (There never was a small aero engine as reliable as the Gipsy Major. Certainly it is more so than the modern flat opposed power plants.)

The RAF's order for a new basic trainer would be large, and de Havillands had plenty of competition from such now-forgotten machines as the Blackburn Bluebird and B.2, the Avro Cadet and Tutor, the Robinson Redwing, and the Hawker Tomtit. Trials were held, supported by a great deal of advertising from the competing manufacturers in the aviation press, at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath. Thirty-five D.H. 82 Tiger Moths were ordered as a result. In retrospect it seems that one point in the Tiger's favor was that it was not so easy to fly as some of its competitors, and in truth it does a creditable job in magnifying many kinds of sloppiness in piloting technique without allowing them to become dangerous. The airplane had and still has some obvious faults. "The shaking and juddering while ticking over," one RAF instructor noted, "the dreadful aileron control, the effort required to put up an inverted formation at the Hendon Display, the difficulty in operating in any sort of wind; no brakes and the tail skid tearing up great chunks of grass field!" He might also have commented on the extraordinary draftiness of the cockpits, but being no doubt a rugged, outdoors Englishman he probably didn't even notice.


De Havilland DH82A Tiger moth - England - Royal Air Force - 1941 - registration R-5130

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