De Havilland D.H.82 Tiger Moth
|TRAINER/SPORTING AIRCRAFT||Virtual Aircraft Museum / United Kingdom / De Havilland|
The success of the de Havilland Moth as a civil trainer led, inevitably, to the development of a military version known as the D.H.60T Moth Trainer. Compared with the earliest civil versions the D.H.60T was strengthened to allow it to operate at a higher all-up weight, and it could also carry four 9-kg (20-lb) practice bombs under the fuselage. It could also be fitted with a camera gun, or reconnaissance cameras, and was therefore suitable for various training roles. To aid escape from the front cockpit in emergency, the rear flying wires were angled forward to the front wing root fitting, and the cockpit doors deepened. However, centre-section struts still surrounded the front cockpit, and in a new trainer which was developed to Specification 15/31 these were moved forward to provide improved egress. To offset the effect of resulting centre of gravity changes caused by staggering of the wings, the mainplanes were given a small amount of sweepback. An 89kW Gipsy III inverted inline engine was installed, the sloping line of the engine cowling providing improved visibility from the cockpit.
Eight pre-production aircraft were built, still designated D.H.60T, but bearing the name Tiger Moth. These were followed by a machine with increased lower wing dihedral and sweepback. This aircraft, designated de Havilland D.H.82, was first flown at Stag Lane on 26 October 1931. An order for 35 was placed to Specification T.23/31, and first deliveries were made to No. 3 Flying Training School at Grantham in November 1931 . Others went to the Central Flying School in May 1932, and a team of five CFS pilots displayed their skill and the inverted flying capability of this new trainer at the 1932 Hendon Display. Similar machines were supplied to the air forces of Brazil, Denmark, Persia, Portugal and Sweden and two, with twin floats supplied by Short Brothers, were built to Specification T.6/33 for RAF evaluation at Rochester and Felixstowe.
De Havilland then developed an improved version, with a 97kW Gipsy Major engine, and plywood rear fuselage decking in place of the fabric covering of the initial production aircraft. This was designated D.H.82A and named Tiger Moth II by the. RAF, which ordered 50 to Specification T.26/33. Tiger Moth Us had hoods which could be positioned over the rear cockpit for instrument flying instruction, and were delivered to Kenley between November 1934 and January 1935. Others were supplied to the Bristol Aeroplane Company, the de Havilland School of Flying, Brooklands Aviation Ltd, Phillips and Powis School of Flying, Reid and Sigrist Ltd, Airwork Ltd and Scottish Aviation Ltd for the Elementary and Reserve Flying Schools which these companies operated under the,RAF expansion scheme. No fewer than 44 such schools were in operation in August 1939, although 20 of them closed when hostilities began.
Pre-war licence manufacture of the Tiger Moth included aircraft built in Norway, Portugal and Sweden, and by de Havilland Aircraft of Canada, whose prewar output included 227 D.H.82As. The company later built 1,520 of a winterised version, designated D.H.82C, which had a 108kW Gipsy Major engine with a revised cowling, sliding cockpit canopies, cockpit heating, wheel brakes and a tailwheel in place of the standard skid. Skis or floats could be fitted if required, and some examples were powered by a Menasco Pirate engine when Gipsy Majors came into short supply. A batch of 200 D.H.82Cs was ordered by the US Army Air Force, with the designation PT-24, although they were diverted for use by the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The outbreak of war saw civil machines impressed for RAF communications and training duties, and larger orders were placed. A further 795 were built at Hatfield before the factory was turned over to de Havilland Mosquito production, when the Tiger Moth line was re-established at the Cowley works of Morris Motors Ltd, where some 3,500 were manufactured. De Havilland Aircraft of New Zealand built a further 345, and in Australia de Havilland Aircraft Pty produced a total of 1,085.
On 17 September 1939, just two weeks after war had been declared, TV Flight of the British Expeditionary Force Communications Squadron (later No. 81 Squadron) was despatched to France. Throughout the winter and the following spring, the unit's Tiger Moths operated in northern France, providing valuable communications facilities until the Dunkirk evacuation, when surviving aircraft were flown back to Britain.
Preparations were also made for the Tiger Moth to be used in an offensive role, to combat the threatened German invasion. Racks designed to carry eight 9kg bombs were fitted under the rear cockpit or, more suitably, beneath the wings. Although some 1,500 sets of racks were made and distributed to the Flying Schools, none were used operationally. Rather earlier, in December 1939, six coastal patrol squadrons were formed, five of them equipped with Tiger Moths. However futile this may seem, it was considered that despite an inability to attack, the sound of any engine might deter a U-boat commander from running on the surface and thus reduce his capacity to attack shipping.
In the Far East a small number of Tiger Moths were converted for use as ambulance aircraft, the luggage locker lid being enlarged and a hinged lid cut into the rear fuselage decking, providing a compartment some 1.83m long which could accommodate one casualty.
It was in a wartime trainer role, however, that the Tiger Moth made its greatest contribution. The type equipped no fewer than 28 Elementary Flying Training Schools in the UK, 25 in Canada (plus four Wireless Schools), 12 in Australia, four in Rhodesia (plus a Flying Instructors School), seven in South Africa, and two in India. After the war 22 Reserve Flying Schools and 18 University Air Squadrons flew Tiger Moths, most reequipping with the de Havilland Chipmunk between 1950 and 1953.
Mention should be made also of the D.H.82B Queen Bee radio-controlled target aircraft, which was essentially a version of the Tiger Moth with a basic structure of wood: it had the Moth Major fuselage, Tiger Moth wings, Gipsy Major engine, a wind-driven generator to provide electrical power, and a larger-capacity fuel tank. The prototype was flown manually on 5 January 1935, and 380 were built subsequently.
More than 8,000 Tiger Moths had been built by the end of the war and, as can be imagined, there were large numbers to be disposed of as war-surplus. The RAF transferred many for civil and military use to Belgium, France and the Netherlands, but in the UK and elsewhere they became available in quantity on the civil market. In addition to obvious use as trainers, or for sport and pleasure, they found unexpected employment. Many gave valuable service in an agricultural duster/sprayer capacity, a role which proved to be of great importance to New Zealand.
A number were the subject of conversion schemes, usually to provide enclosed accommodation. The most ambitious was that carried out by the British company Jackaroo Aircraft Ltd, which involved widening the fuselage to seat four passengers in side-by-side pairs; open cockpit and enclosed cabin variants were included in the 19 Thruxton Jackaroo conversions completed by the company in the period 1957-9. It was once said that the initials D.H. stood for Durable and Hefficient, and that is particularly true of the Tiger Moth. In 1991 large numbers remain in use worldwide, veritable treasures that are difficult to acquire and likely to appreciate in value and continue to provide pleasure for many years to come.
Phil Hall, e-mail, 16.02.2021 Vincas