Heritage: The Tiger Moth

 

When the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Fleet Air Arm was established in 1947 the immediate need was to secure a home base and training aircraft. On 15 December 1947, a disused RAAF airfield at Nowra, south of Sydney, was transferred to the RAN as the main air base for the Fleet Air Arm (FAA). After restoration of the airfield and buildings, on 31 August 1948, the air station was commissioned as HMAS Albatross – also known as RANAS Nowra.    

With the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney arriving in May 1949, with her Hawker Sea Furies and Fairey Firefly aircraft, the priority was to start aircrew training. As recruiting had attracted numerous ex-RN FAA, RANVR, RAF, RAAF and RNZAF pilots and observers, the pressing need was for training aircraft. To ease the situation Air Board transferred various surplus RAAF aircraft held in category ‘D’ storage to the RAN. 

The RAN Tiger Moths

The RAN acquired three DH82 Tiger Moths from the RAAF free of charge. The first serial A17-382 was transferred on 13 October 1948; the second A17-590 on 25 February 1949, and the third A17-692 on 30 March 1954. These sturdy aircraft variously served the RAN for the best part of a decade with the last aircraft sold to Tamworth Aero Club in August 1958.

At Nowra, the Tiger Moths were utilised for refresher courses, and non-operational pilots who needed to keep-up their flying hours, and as general-purpose two-seaters. They were also used to instruct junior maintainers in aircraft servicing. An additional two delisted airframes were obtained for apprentice training at HMAS Nirimba, at Schofields, near Sydney. At Nowra, where a Navy gliding club operated at weekends the Tiger Moths were often used to launch gliders.      

 

DHA Tiger Moth 82A details

Type: Bi-plane two seat primary trainer
Manufacturer: De Havilland Australia
Length: 7.29 m (23 ft 11 in)
Wingspan: 8.94 m (29 ft 4 in)
Height: 2.68 m (8 ft 9 in)
Max. take-off weight 803 kg (1770 lbs)
Empty weight: 506 kg (1115 lbs)
Max. speed:95 knots, 175 km/h (109 mph)
Cruising speed: 80 knots, 148 km/h (92 mph)
Max. range:261 nm, 483 km (300 miles)
Endurance: 3 hours
Ceiling: 4267 m, (14,000 ft)
Propeller: Fixed pitch laminated timber 1.8 m (6′)
Construction: Fuselage steel tubing with fabric and plywood. Wings and tailplane, wood with fabric covering.
Engine: DH Gypsy Major 1, four cylinder, inline, inverted, air-cooled, 97 kw (130hp)*

*The inverted engine allowed the propeller to be higher without the cylinders blocking the view over the nose.

Apart from the Tiger Moths, additional category ‘D’ aircraft were transferred to the RAN, including 16 airworthy CAC Wirraway trainers and two Douglas C-47 Dakotas for training and transport. Other non-flying aircraft sent to Nowra included 15 Supermarine Spitfires for instructing maintainers and aircraft handlers, and four delisted Vultee Vengeance airframes for fire crew training.

Basic Training Aircraft

Workers at the De Havilland Aircraft Mascot Tiger Moth factory in Sydney preparing fuselages. AWM photo

The RAAF used Tiger Moths as primary trainers for many years. Between 1949 and 1955, RAN trainee ab initio pilots enrolled at one of the RAAF’s Basic Flying Training Schools would begin their flying lessons in Tiger Moths before moving on to the more powerful CAC Wirraway trainers. 

The Tiger Moth two-seater trainer was a relatively simple, easy to fly biplane, but required skill to fly them well. The aircraft had no flaps, no brakes, no electric starter, few instruments, and used a tail skid. With its open cockpit and the wind in your face it was ‘old school flying’. 

The Tiger Moth had auto-slats on the upper wing which extended when the wing was close to the stall – an effective warning device. Slats were locked in the shut position with a lever in the cockpit for taxiing over rough ground or for aerobatics and spinning (Note: private operators often removed slats to cut maintenance costs). Anti-spin strakes on the fuselage were a modification on some Tiger Moths. For blind flying instruction a canvas hood could be used over the rear cockpit. 

The DHA Tiger Moth

The Tiger Moth was first built in the UK in 1931. During WW11 the Australian De Havilland Aircraft Co at Mascot, near Sydney, manufactured 1070 Tiger Moths, with engines built by GM-H at Fishermans Bend, Melbourne. Of those 732 went to the RAAF with the remainder exported to other overseas training schools. Although the Tiger Moths were the RAAF’s basic trainers a number were painted in camouflage colours and used by Army cooperation units in New Guinea during WW11. At the end of the war many of the delisted RAAF Tiger Moths were sold to civilian aero clubs while others were purchased for agricultural crop-dusting or spraying.

Tiger Moth Accidents

Like other aircraft the Tiger Moth had its share of accidents. Two RAN personnel lost their lives in fatal accidents involving this type: Lieutenant Ernest Charles Gray who was killed in a training accident at East Sale in a service aircraft, and Lieutenant Commander Reg Wild DFC who lost his life when his Sea Fury struck a civilian Tiger Moth in the airfield circuit at Wagga.

Exit the Tiger Moths

In 1953 The RAN acquired two Auster J-5Gs which took over much of the work the Tiger Moths were doing especially in liaison, communications and basic flying duties.  

This photo appears to be of A17-892 but in fact is of an ex-RNZAF Moth painted to resemble it. It was taken at the Richmond Air Show in 1991 and is the only image in our library where one of the RAN’s front line aircraft of the time (in this case a Fairey Firefly) is shown side by side to the Moth. Image by Ian McDonell.

A Brief History of Tiger Moth A17- 692

This former RAN Tiger Moth is now part of the RAAF Museum’s collection at Point Cook, near Melbourne. Built by De Havilland Australia as serial No. 824 for South Africa or Rhodesia, it was allocated RAF serial No. DX781. When Japan entered WW11 the aircraft was released to the RAAF, becoming A17-692 on 24 November 1943. During the war it served at No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Narromine, NSW, and No. 10 EFTS Temora, NSW.

Following WW2, A17-692 served at the Central Flying School, East Sale and No. 1 Basic flying Training School at Uranquinty, before going into storage at Tocumwal on 10 July 1953. It was then issued to the Royal Australian Navy on 30 March 1954, serving at HMAS Albatross, until being struck off charge on 8 August 1958.

The aircraft was then sold to the Tamworth Aero Club where it was registered VH-TWA on 31 September 1958. The Aero Club sold it to Mr. B. Dower and Mr. R. Gillespie who re-registered it VH-AWA on 17 March 16 June 1965. Mr. R. Naughton then acquired the aircraft, initially in partnership with Mr. J. Mason. Naughton operated A17-692 until his death in 2004.

Airframe logbooks from 1961 indicate the aircraft had some major repairs, but lay-ups were not overly long, and the aircraft has remained in reasonably continuous service throughout its life. Research by Museum staff indicate that A17-692 may be the last Tiger Moth operated by the Australian Military. (Source RAAF Museum).

Above Left. The Gypsy Major engine for Australian Tiger Moths was produced under licence by GMH.  It was mounted upside down in the aircraft to improve forward view and give enhanced ground clearance.  Right. A cutaway drawing of a DH82 Moth shows a conventional structure.  Like all of De Havilland’s early designs it used wood (in this case Sitka Spruce) as the material of choice as it was cheaper than metal and required lower plant requirements in terms of specialised tooling, and less skilled labour. It was also easier to repair and provided natural resilience in terms of structural integrity.  Click on either image to enlarge. 


Anecdote: Flying Tiger Moth A17-692 

Having returned from the UK where I learnt to fly sailplanes, I naturally joined the RAN Gliding Club. It was decided to take the sailplanes to Uranquinty, where there was still an RAAF base, to compete in the Australian Championships. Each competitor, as a team, could fly from where they liked. Uranquinty was an ideal choice. Being the only power pilot in the team, I was the obvious choice to fly our one and only Tiger Moth that was used for towing and retrieving the sailplanes.

So on the 3rd January 1956, I flew the ‘Moth’ from Nowra to Uranquinty, refuelling at Canberra (I must have had a head wind) it took me a total of 3 hours to get there. Anyway, the next day, I started the engine and found it to be very rough running and I asked the ground crew (RAAF) to see if they could fix it. They did and found a bent valve guide, so a test flight was needed. It ran very smoothly, so from a height of 5-6000 ft I decided to return to the airfield and get ready for some gliding.

The quickest way down I thought was to put it into a spin. Having previously spun it to the right I decided to ‘go left’ (or it may have been vice-versa). At the appropriate height I decided to recover from the spin, but the aircraft had other ideas. Needless to say, I was not happy about this, I opened the left-hand hatch and was about to leave the stupid aircraft, when, I gave the engine a couple of bursts of power and much to my relief it stopped spinning. I then flew very sedately back to base with my feet shaking like mad. I may have had difficulty in getting out of the aircraft anyway as I had a bulky dinghy pack strapped to my parachute.

On my return, I mentioned my problem to a member of the ground crew who said to me, “no wonder, as it has not been modified with ‘anti-spin strakes’”. That was the last time I ever intentionally spun an aircraft and I flew until the end of 1990. After this episode I towed and retrieved the sailplanes, landing under power lines, in farmer’s fields and having a great time in general until I returned to Nowra on the 15th January – never to fly a ‘Tiger’ again. (Article by John Champion; from ‘Slipstream’ Vol 21, No.4, 2010).

The Adventures of Tiger Moth A17- 590

Tiger Moth A17-590 was delivered to the RAAF from the De Havilland Australia factory on 15 July 1942, then in August it was assigned to RAAF 33 Squadron and moved to Townsville where the squadron was operating. 33 Squadron was initially equipped with Empire flying boats, but with the bombing of Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 and the capture of Rabaul in January 1942 and Japanese forces moving into islands north of Australia, 33 Squadron together with a collection of lighter aircraft including DH Dragons, Avro Anson and Tiger Moths, relocated to Port Moresby in late 1942 serving as a transport squadron, resupplying troops.

A17-590 was one of three Tiger Moths moved to Port Moresby, then on 20 November 1942, A17-590 was transferred to RAAF No 1 Rescue and Communication Squadron.  1RCS provided support services including search and rescue, freight transport (77 kg for a Tiger Moth), reconnaissance and casualty evacuation. This was demanding work given the nature of the climate, terrain and remote locations it flew to, so it was not long before A17-590 found itself in trouble, damaging the propeller and lower starboard mainplane while landing at Cape Rodney 200 km south east of Port Moresby.

After repairs A17-590 was allotted to No 10 Repair and Salvage Unit, based at Milne Bay servicing forward airfields, where, on 2 April 1943, Sergeant Ritson while flying between Milne Bay and Mullins Harbour encountered engine trouble and with the aircraft rapidly losing height he made an emergency landing in a clearing where the starboard wing hit a tree stump and the aircraft went up on its nose. After receiving spare parts repairs were carried out at nearby Gurney Airfield and A17-590 was returned to No 1 Rescue and Communication Squadron. In November, the aircraft was reallocated to No 9 Rescue and Communication Unit where it continued flying until October 1944 when it was returned to No 5 Aircraft Depot (5AD RAAF Wagga) for storage and complete overhaul.

A New Life With the RAN

A17-590 remained at 5AD Wagga until transferred to No 2 Central Recovery Unit (RAAF Richmond) in March 1946 where the aircraft was kept in storage. After assessment it was moved to 2AD Richmond to await disposal. On 27 January 1949 approval was given for the free issue to the Department of the Navy. On 25 February Tiger Moth A17-590 was transferred to the RAN where she entered a new phase as a general purpose and utility aircraft serving with the Station Squadron at HMAS Albatross, the RAN Air Station at Nowra NSW.  

References:

National Archives of Australia
ADF Serials
‘Slipstream’ archive
Wikipedia


More Anecdotes

I read the latest edition of Slipstream with great interest, particularly Terry Hetherington’s request for info on the RAN Tiger Moths; and to see a photo of my old aircraft, 207 the morning after Typhoon Ruth.

I flew one of the Tigers at Nowra a couple of times in late 1954, on the 1st and 6th of December. Unfortunately I didn’t record the serial number, must have meant to fill that bit in later but never got round to it; pity! On the second trip I took Bill Caws up for some aeros; you may recall he was the AEO who drowned sometime later. 

Looking at 692 with a magnifying glass it appears to be fitted with a tail skid. As I recall we had no trouble taxying, and used the runways for take-off so assume the Nowra aircraft had the tail wheel mod and is most likely the one in the lower photo; all a bit of a guess as it is some 56 years ago!

Whilst on the subject of the Nowra Lighties, I also flew the Austers a few times, even took one into Mascot; wouldn’t get away with that nowadays.

Regards, Norman Lee


I have just read your article on RAN Tiger Moths in this edition of FAAA Slipstream. I was at Albatross in 1953 / 54 as a NAME and in a small way involved with these aircraft. At ARS we had one, the only one I ever saw at Albatross; most of the time it was just parked at the back of the hangar and did no serious flying.  In my time it flew only on a couple of occasions.  On these times the pilot was a Lt Dalosso of 724 Sqd; he may have been a two and a half.  He took LCDR Goodheart RN from the gliding club to the Kiama area searching for a suitable slope soaring site, where they hoped to glide from.

I remember on one day it went U/S due to a rough running engine, which resulted in the need for a top overhaul, which was carried by Geoff Strickland, a PO at that time.  This aircraft was definitely painted silver as in the photo of -692; this photo appears to me to be outside ARS hangar.

This is probably not much help to you, but I have a soft spot for DH 82 and your article brought back some memories.   Regards, John Wakefield ex R49453 NAME (not CPO} 15 Oct 2010.


I joined the F.A.A. in January 1951 and did a Naval Airman Mechanic (Engines) course (No E9) at the old T.T.S in one of the old hangars; D, E, or F from memory. Part of the syllabus was ground running of the Tiger Moth, which was painted mostly yellow as I remember.

 To start the engine it was necessary to swing the prop and we took turns in perfecting this art.  I still vividly recall the ex R.N Chief blasting us to get our feet right and walk away from the prop.  Bruce (Kanga) Bounds is the only remaining member of that class that I know of.  Also Jim Lee was in the next class (E10) and could tell you if they still did it as part of the course.  Hoping that this info is of some help. Yours Aye, Bill Strahan. Ex NAM(E); Leading Pilots Mate; LAM(E); Mech 2; Mech1; CPOATA. (1951-57, / 59-76) 19 Oct 2010