A Flying Enthusiast recalls some of the light aeroplanes with which pilots enjoyed themselves in the hey-day of the Vintage sports car
To begin with, I should like to excuse myself for writing this article, but there is possibly a good deal to be said for introducing a different subject to you motor enthusiasts; it may cause you to realise that other forms of mechanised sport exist besides motoring. Until I came to live in this part of the country my knowledge of motor-cars was limited to the “box” variety (I believe that is the correct expression), and I even thought that the main purpose of motor-cars was to provide a comfortable and comparatively speedy method of getting from A to B. However, for nearly a year I have had to listen to non-stop discussions on the relative merits of various old and new cars, mostly from a performance and design point of view, so that now I am convinced that cars must have something which up to the present has escaped me. Since I have listened with comparative patience to the afore-mentioned discussions I feel I have a right to retaliate by writing about civil aeroplanes in order that some of you should suffer! Now I would explain that I am essentially an aviation enthusiast, and before the war, whereas you were probably at the nearest race or trial, I was at the local aerodrome. Readers who are now in the R.A.F. probably have a fairly good knowledge of British military aircraft, but they may be interested to know something about the aeroplanes which amateur pilots were flying long before the war. They may like to draw comparisons between these aeroplanes and modern masterpieces such as “Stirlings,” “Spitfires,” “Typhoons,” etc.
It is probably true to say that one of the finest and most popular civil aeroplanes which ever appeared was the D.H. “Moth.” In 1925 Captain G. de Havilland foresaw the need for a light 2-seater aeroplane, and the D.H. 60 was designed. This was a biplane of wood and fabric construction, powered with a 65-b.p. Mark I Cirrus engine. A number of D.H. 60s had 80-h.p. Mark II Cirrus engines, and several of these were later converted to 90-h.p. Mark IIIs for demonstrations and sporting events. These engines were developed by Major F.B. Halford in collaboration with Captain de Havilland. As most readers will know, Major Halford has been largely responsible for the design of the new Napier “Sabre” engine, for which he was awarded the O.B.E. Eventually, with the introduction of the 100-h.p. “Gipsy I” engine, the D.H. “Gipsy Moth” made its appearance. Sometimes a 120-h.p. “Gipsy II” was fitted, and later the D.H. “Moth Major” appeared, with a 130-h.p. “Gipsy Major” inverted engine. The “Moth” family enjoyed tremendous popularity and appeared in many different forms. It could be supplied as a seaplane with floats, and at least one appeared as an amphibian with only one float in the centre and small stabilising floats on the wing tips. “Moths” were still being used up to the outbreak of war, and it is a development of this type, the D.H. “Tiger Moth,” which is the standard elementary trainer in the R.A.F. Incidentally, the D.H. “Tiger Moth” of to-day is not the first de Havilland aeroplane to bear that name. In 1927 a single-seater low-wing monoplane with a 100-h.p. D.H. engine appeared and was called the “Tiger Moth.” This aeroplane broke a light ‘plane speed record of that day by flying 100 km. at an officially timed speed of 186.4 m.p.h.
An aeroplane which was nearly as popular as the “Moth” was the Avro “Avian.” This aeroplane was very similar to a “Moth” and appeared at different times powered with Cirrus “Genet,” “Genet Major,” or “Gipsy 85” engines. It was a 2-seater biplane with folding wings, a very important factor when space has to be found very near the aerodrome. It was in an Avro “Avian” that the late Bert Hinkler flew from Croydon to Australia in 154 days in 1928, a feat which would still be considered remarkable in a similar aeroplane. For those people who are interested in bargains the following may be interesting. A rather early Hawker type of light aeroplane was the “Tomtit,” a 2-seater biplane with 130-h.p. A.S. “Mongoose” engine or a 105/115-h.p. Cirrus “Hermes.” It was intended as a training aeroplane for the R.A.F., but I do not think it was ever used as such. A Midland aeroplane club had three of these aeroplanes, which they used for the more advanced members. Shortly after the outbreak of war these same three aeroplanes, together with a spare engine and sundry parts, were offered for sale, the whole lot for £50. One often hears of vintage cars being found by enthusiasts at the back of barns or on refuse dumps. The finder usually acquires the car and by various means gets it on to the road, much to the disgust of all respectable road-users. I have only once found a vintage aeroplane under similar circumstances, a Westland “Woodpigeon” in a very dilapidated condition. This single-seater biplane was getting what shelter it could under a tree in the corner of a field and the cows, etc., had apparently been carrying out an investigation into the taste of doped fabric, for there were many inspection holes which were not put there by the manufacturers. The engine was an Anzani, but I can remember no details of it. Apparently a “Woodpigeon,” powered with an A.B.C. “Cherub” engine, was built in 1924 by Westlands and was entered in a light, aeroplane competition in that year, but achieved little success. It reappeared in 1925 with an A.B.C. “Scorpion II” engine. Since it appears that only one of these was made, it would seem that the one I saw was the original with yet another change of engine. Another aeroplane which was fairly popular and which was in use up to the beginning of the war was the B.A. “Swallow.” It was a 2-seater low-wing monoplane and appeared in many different forms, the most usual being with a 75/85-h.p. Pobjoy “Cataract” or a 90-h.p. Cirrus II engine. The “Swallow ” was one of the most gentle and docile of aeroplanes, being so very stable that it was almost impossible to spin it.
Although not in the class of aircraft usually referred to as aeroplanes, I would like to mention the B.A.C. “Drone.” This remarkable aeroplane was a very light high wing pusher monoplane, powered with either a Carden Ford, which is a modified Ford Ten, or a Douglas flat-twin engine. It was sometimes described as an auxiliary-engined glider and certainly looked the part. The first time I saw a “Drone” was when one was demonstrated by R. Kronfield, the glider expert, who was particularly associated with the development of this type of aeroplane.
Subsequently I saw a “Drone” crashed by a very amateur pilot, who was uninjured, even though the damage was such that all four longerons and two main wing spars were broken. Everyone felt that it was a complete write-off, but an enthusiast bought the bits and appeared at a later date with a very good-looking “Drone,” which he looped to show his confidence in the repair work.
How many of you remember the Comper “Swift”? This was an extremely small high-wing single-seater monoplane, usually with an 85-h.p. Pobjoy, a 50-h.p. Salmson, or 40-h.p. A.B.C. “Scorpion” engine. It was very fast and manoeuvreable, having a top speed of about 145 m.p.h. I can hear many of you saying this is very slow compared with a “Spitfire,” but don’t forget the difference in horses and in fuel consumption. You must remember that when you are flying a civil aeroplane as an amateur pilot. it is you who is buying the petrol and not the Government….
It was in 1938 and 1939 that a number of new civil aeroplanes began to make their appearance, due to the stimulus that civil aviation had received after the formation of the Civil Air Guard. I do not think that there were more than one or two that were very impressive, and nothing appeared which could beat the D.H. “‘Tiger Moth” for general utility. Perhaps the best of all these types was the D.H. “Moth Minor,” another product of de Havillands. It was a 2-seater, low-wing monoplane with a 90-h.p. D.H. “Gipsy Minor” engine. It could be used equally well for touring as for instructional work, and was fitted with landing flaps in order to shorten the approach. Unfortunately, the take-off was not too good, and I think it would have been difficult for a private owner to operate from anywhere but a very large field or an aerodrome.
The Americans were responsible for introducing one or two new types over here and one of the first of these was the Taylor “Cub.” This was a 2-seater highwing monoplane with a 37-h.p. Continental engine and had been a tremendous success in America. Some time in 1939 a British firm began production on another similar American type which was even more successful in England than the Taylor “Cub.” This new aeroplane was the “Taylorcraft,” a side-by-side 2-seater high-wing monoplane with a 55-h.p. Lycoming engine. It was very easy to maintain, the fuselage frame was of welded steel construction, the wings were of wood and fabric and the engine was very accessible. The take-off was fairly good and must be very much better still in the later version, which is fitted with a Cirrus engine.
Since the stalling speed of an aeroplane, and therefore the landing speed and takeoff speed, varies as the square root of wing loading, the following comparisons between various types of aircraft may be of interest :—
Wing Loading lb./.sq. ft.
Avro “Avian” … … 5.87
“Moth Major” … … 6.39
B.A.C. “Drone” … … 3.72
Hawker “Tomtit” … … 7.35
Comper “Swift” (Pobjoy) … … 8.68
“Taylorcraft” (Lycoming) … … 7.18
“Taylorcraft” (Cirrus) … … 8.38
B.A. “Swallow” … … 0.97
D.H. “Tiger Moth” … … 7.40
Taylor “Cub” … … 5.45
Messerschmitt Me. 109F … … 35.2
Junkers 88 A6 … … 41.8
Hawker “Hurricane II” … … 29.4
Bell “Airacobra” … … 34.65
After this war there will probably be many who will want to continue flying and many who will be prepared to buy their own aeroplanes. There is not likely to be any shortage of aerodromes, and even if any such difficulty should arise there is nothing to prevent a private owner operating from any reasonable field, provided he is flying only for the fun of the thing. One big snag with private ownership is the question of the aeroplane’s Certificate of Airworthiness. Before an aeroplane can fly it has to have this certificate, which is granted only after a careful inspection has proved the airframe and engine to be absolutely airworthy. It has to be renewed each year, and, although the Certificate only costs £5 5s., the bill which has to be paid for all the replacement parts ordered by the inspector may be a good deal more, especially if the aeroplane is in the vintage class. Taking the long view, this is really a good rule and prevents many accidents; it might even be a good idea to apply this rule to motoring.
Despite the fact that there may be one or two snags, I think that private ownership is quite a practical proposition and one does not need to be a millionaire to run a light aeroplane; the “Taylorcraft” was marketed at £500. A group of half-a-dozen people sharing running cost and doing their own maintenance work would, I think, find it quite reasonable to run a light aeroplane between them.
Having had my say and having probably bored you to tears, you are now at liberty to turn the page, return to your motor-cars and forget all about aeroplanes. While you may dream of the end of the war in terms of so many gallons of petrol, I shall dream of a certain “A” Licence which will be renewed as occasion demands. – 15167.