Committing to the purchase of the Tiger Moth was step 1. But exactly “who” is this airplane I’m going to spend several years restoring? The owner refers to it as A17-307, that was the serial number painted on its firewall (we don’t know when) and also the serial number noted in its logbooks from India. Did I mention it was found in India? More on that in a bit.
So, I look up A17-307 online. There are about 4 good manufacturing/production lists for Australian Tiger Moths on the internet, and none of them entirely agree on, well, pretty much anything. But one of them was quite certain that A17-307 had been wrecked and written off in 1947. The others, while not making note of the crash, at least showed that to the best of their knowledge it vanished without a trace, never to reappear.
Next, I did what I’ve learnt is always the best course of action when researching a new and esoteric topic… I asked the experts for help. One plea went to Stuart McKay, the world’s leading authority on the Tiger Moth aircraft (and the man who literally wrote the book on them… several times over). I also reached out to the head of the US branch of the de Havilland Moth Club, Ian Grace, who happens to be local to me. On top of that, during my searches online I had found a few other folks who each had done extensive research into the histories of de Havilland aircraft, so they got an email as well. Finally, I asked the internet at large by way of the Key Publishing forum, which in my opinion is the single greatest collection of aviation and historical knowledge ANYWHERE on the planet. They ALL stepped up to help, each one contributing new evidence to help put the pieces of my puzzle together. I just can’t say enough wonderful things about this community of de Havilland aircraft enthusiasts. And the results are in…
The aircraft I will be restoring is in fact A17-370. A simple typo, which undoubtedly occurred during her time in India, had me chasing the wrong airplane for a good week.
A17-370 was built at the Mascot factory of de Havilland Australia in early 1941. She was taken on charge with the RAAF on May 24, 1941, when she was immediately sent to storage in Canberra. It was only briefly however, and on September 6, 1941 she was allocated to 1 E.F.T.S. (Elementary Flying Training Squadron) at Parfield Aerodrome, in South Australia near the city of Adelaide.
At Parfield she was used as a primary trainer for young Australian pilots expecting to face a Japanese invasion soon. The pace of operations must have been frantic, and she was sent in for a major overhaul at 1 E.F.T.S. only two years later, on July 28, 1943. Either they were too busy or lacked the needed resources, but a month later they canceled that plan and sent her instead to Victorian & Interstate Airways, Ltd. for the overhaul. She arrived there on August 23, 1943.
Victorian & Interstate Airways was, at this time, playing the same kind of role that was played in the U.S. by Grand Central Aircraft Manufacturing Co. These were civilian maintenance operations contracted to the military to maintain, overhaul and upgrade service aircraft. After the war, both companies went into the business of de-militarizing the same aircraft and selling them into new civilian lives. Grand Central were responsible for the 1953 overhaul of the DC-3 belonging to Historic Flight Foundation, on which I cut my teeth as a historical researcher.
In their post-war role, V.I.A. touched nearly every Australian Tiger Moth there ever was, so nobody was surprised that I found one of their data plates on the tail of my aircraft. What was surprising, however, was the date. September 27, 1943. Although nothing else on the data plates can be tied to a specific aircraft, that date alone is very convincing evidence that we are indeed looking at the right airplane. A17-370 was fully overhauled and completely re-covered and returned to service on October 28, 1943.
Fresh from the overhaul, A17-370 went back to 1 E.F.T.S. and resumed the job of training young men to fly and fight. Then, disaster! On February 28, 1944, another Tiger Moth (A17-695) taxied into her nose-first. There was damage to her nose, prop, cowlings and interplane struts. Typically after damage of that kind the aircraft would be sent off to a depot or contractor (like V.I.A.) to be rebuilt. According to the records however, she was ordered to be repaired by the line mechanics of 1 E.F.T.S. Presumably short on spare parts and time, they seem to have done their best to bash her panels back into shape, simply welding shut the huge gashes or adding patches where too much material was missing. This again points to evidence on the aircraft itself, which still bears the scars of that 1944 collision.
Tough as a trooper, A17-370 kept flying and training until finally retired to storage on April 2, 1945. After the war the RAAF sold off their surplus of aircraft, and most were bought up by the Associated Aero Clubs of Australia. This was a joint venture of pooled resources by clubs all across the country to secure as many aircraft as possible. Most of these aircraft were converted for civilian use and put to work in civilian flight schools, but not A17-370. It went back into storage, the surplus of the surplus.
The next blip on the radar by A17-370 came in June of 1949. She was issued a civilian registration in India as VT-CUO and exported there by ship. She flew for the government of India for 5 years performing various odd jobs, and then was sold to the Air Technical Training Institute on November 11, 1955. They were a flight and technical school based out of what was then known as Dum Dum Airport. They kept flying her until 1973 with no records of any crashes or other incidents. A VERY lucky little Tiger Moth.
Dum Dum was one of the key terminus airports for the U.S. Army Air Corps flying ‘the Hump’ during WWII and had many large abandoned hangars from that time. Today it is called Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. The Air Technical Training Institute is still there, and it was in the back corner of one of those WWII hangars that her Canadian benefactor located A17-370 in the late 1990s. This began several years of negotiations and bargaining before he could finally buy her and bring her to Canada. His hope was to restore the aircraft himself, with the help of an A&P mechanic, but sometimes life throws curve balls and it never ended up happening.
So now, 75 years old, A17-370 has another chance to return to the skies. It will be an honor to continue this story and share the history that this aircraft can tell.
(You may have noticed that none of these historical images are of A17-370. I’m still looking! If you have any leads on images, please let me know!)