A Memorable Racing Aeroplane

Sometimes as a change from thinking about racing cars I think about fast aeroplanes. There have been many fascinating racing machines such as the Gloucestershire Mars-Bamal, the Bristol Bullet, the Bristol 72 Racer, the Nieuport Goshawk, and the Martinsyde Semiquaver, among the early King’s Cup competitors, and even the hastily converted DH4R with a 450 h.p. Napier Lion engined perched high up on its nose, which won the 1919 race, as recounted last month. There were the fabulous Schneider Trophy racing seaplanes and later the little TK4 and the Comper Swifts, not to mention the Type 323 Speed Spitfire of 1939 which was thwarted in its attempt on the World’s Air Speed Record by the outbreak of war. There were all those, and many more.

One racing aeroplane (actually, two) were built that I like to remember is the DH71 Tiger Moth. It was a low-wing monoplane, not to he confused with the better-known DH Tiger Moth biplanes. The De Havilland Company built the two airframes at Stag Lane in 1927, for high-speed research. There was considerable secrecy over the project but it was intended also to use the aeroplanes for testing the prototype of the engine which Major Halford had designed to replace his well-liked Cirrus light aeroplane power unit.

While the general design of these Tiger Moths followed that of the DH Moth biplane, they were superbly streamlined single-seaters. The pilot entered by hinging down half the cockpit decking, and the 16 3/4-gallon fuel tank was ahead of him, shaped to the lines of the slim fuselage. Even the bungee rubber of the undercarriage was enclosed, to reduce drag. For the same reason the engine’s finned crankcase was snugly in line with the underpart of the fuselage. The all-up weight was 905 lb.

One Tiger Moth, G-EBQU, was given the new 135 h.p. DH Gipsy engine, the other, G-EBRV, the normal 85 h.p. Cirrus II motor. Lady Wakefield and Lord Wakefield entered these respective machines for the 1927 King’s Cup Race, the pilots being C.D. Barnard, and H.S. Broad who had done the test-flying. Indeed,thie cockpit had been built around him. The first Tiger Moth had been tested with a Cirrus engine not much more than a month before the race, after which the prototype Gipsy was installed, the certificate of airworthiness being issued to it the day before the race. In the event, it was withdrawn. The other Tiger Moth was up on handicap, having averaged 166 m.p.h. from the start at Hucknall to Spittlegate but the aeroplane didn’t like the bumps and refused to fly level, so Broad was obliged to return to Hucknall and retire.

However, the wing span of the second machine had been reduced by 3′ 6″, to 19′, and with it Broad set a class record for 100 km. of a closed circuit, at 186.47 m.p.h., in 1927, at a time when this little aeroplane was far faster than most RAF fighters. It would do 193 m.p.h. flat-out. He also tried for the World’s altitude record but had to give up at 19,191 feet, due to having no oxygen, when the Tiger Moth was still climbing strongly. The faster machine, painted yellow, was shown at the 1928 Hendon Air Display but the aerodrome was too rough for it to be flown. It also appeared on the DH stand at the 1929 Olympia Aero Show before being shipped to Australia the following year. Alas, while practising for the Mascot races the Gipsy stopped on take-off and the machine crashed into a street from a very low altitude, killing its pilot, David Smith.

The other machine lay disused at Stag Lane from 1928, until in its engineless state it was used to advertise the 1933 King’s Cup contest, outside the DH factory. It was then again suspended from a flight-shed roof, but now at Hatfield, and it perished in a 1940 air-raid on the factory. — W.B.