The De Havilland Moth family of aircraft – the types that launched an aviation revolution

By: shortfinals

Feb 15 2012

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Category: aircraft, Aviation, British Isles, England, Great Britain, military, Museums, RAF, Royal Air Force, Second World War, warbird, Wiltshire


Focal Length:9.2mm
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From 1925 to 1939 – and on through the Second World War – on two sites, first Stag Lane and then Hatfield – the De Havilland Company designed and produced a series of interelated light aircraft which were to change aviation forever. So ubiquitous did these revolutionary aircraft become that soon every small, single-engined aircraft was being refered to as ‘a Moth’ (rather like how, post-war, a vacuum-cleaner was refered to as ‘a Hoover’). There was some truth behind this, as at one point over 6o% of ALL British-registered single-engined aircraft WERE Moths.

Geoffrey de Havilland wanted to build a practical light aircraft; despite the success of the DH 53 Hummingbird at the Lympne trials, he felt that the formula, which meant usually meant using a lightweight motorcycle engine, would lead nowhere. Taking half of a WW1 Renault V-8 aero-engine, and mounting it on a new crankcase, Major F. B. Halford of the Aircraft Disposal Company Ltd of Croydon created a new engine called the Cirrus, which produced about 60 hp. Fitting this to a fuselage of plywood sheets, secured onto four spruce longerons and braced by cross-members, the basis for the new de Havilland DH 60 Moth was formed. The biplane wings had spruce spars and folded back for towing and storage. The aircraft was an instant hit; the prototype, G-EBKT, flew on 22nd February, 1925 from Stag Lane, and the orders flowed in. The Royal Aero Club and the Director of Civil Aviation, Air Vice Marshal Sir Sefton Brancker, KGB, AFC, RAF, (later to be killed in the tragic crash of the ill-fated airship R.101) launched the Light Aero Club scheme, whereby clubs offering flying instruction were formed around the country and equipped with DH Moths. The first five clubs were The London Aeroplane Club, Newcastle Aero Club, Midland Aero Club, Lancashire Aero Club, and the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club. Thus was the British flying club movement born.

DH 60 variants were powered by Cirrus, Genet and Cirrus Hermes engines, but it wasn’t until the amazing DH Gipsy engine was developed that the Moth family came into their own. The D.H. 60G Gipsy Moth (first flown in 1928) rapidly evolved into a world-beating long-distance aircraft, including such feats as the first solo flight by a woman between England and Australia (May 5th -May 24th, 1930) by the famous Amy Johnson in her Gipsy Moth ,’Jason’, G-AAAH, which is now displayed in the Science Museum, London.

By arranging the Gipsy engine to run inverted (in the Gipsy II) de Havillands were able vastly improve the vision of the pilot, and also reduce the chances of the propeller tips striking the ground during take off. The resulting aircraft was called the D.H.60G III Moth Major, and began to be ordered by flying clubs during 1932. During the 1930s de Havillands produced a whole family of light aircraft, including the D.H.80A Puss Moth (1930), D.H. 60T Moth Trainer (1931), D.H.83 Fox Moth (1932), D.H.85 Leopard Moth (1933) carrying between two and four persons. However, it wasn’t until the RAF forced a revision of the Moth biplane’s wing planform (Air Ministry Specification 15/31), to enable the front-seat passenger to have a reasonable chance of escaping the aircraft by parachute, that the immortal D.H. 82A Tiger Moth was born. This was ordered in huge quantities as the standard trainer of the RAF, and was also built in Australia and Canada during WW2.

Above you can see a classic example of the D.H. 82A Tiger Moth, parked in the sunshine at Hullavington, Wiltshire . This aircraft was one of those Tigers built by Morris Motors Ltd, in 1942, when Tiger Moth production was moved out of Hatfield due to every inch of space being needed for building the D.H. 98 Mosquito. G-BFHH is now owned by Peter Harrison and Martin Gambrell and is in immaculate condition.  After the war, literally thousands of Tiger Moths were disposed of by tender, and they became the staple of flying clubs all over Europe. You could even buy a brand-new engine, still in its delivery crate for the sum of £5! It is safe to say that the D.H. 82A sustained private flying in the difficult early post-war years. There are many surviving Tigers, and both the famous Tiger Club and the De Havilland Moth Club will ensure that Moths of all types will grace our skies for many years to come!

4 comments on “The De Havilland Moth family of aircraft – the types that launched an aviation revolution”

  1. Ah! A concise and illustive summary 🙂 Now — what about the Fox Moth? I’ve seen photos and a few are still flyng, so what about the Fox Moth? And thanks for answering the question as to whu inline and V engines are usually inverted!


  2. Dear Joe, thank you for the kind words. I covered the only active, Canadian-built, D.H.83C Fox Moth on the British Register in the following post, although there are a couple more of the type still flying in New Zealand!




  3. I remember reading it now! Please pardon my senior moment. I do like this aircraft design very much, thanks 🙂


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