Monthly Archives: January 2016

Dreaming up a cowling

Sorry for the long hiatus, had to deal with a family medical emergency.  But this project was on my mind the whole time.  Mostly I’m still stuck on the engine, and wondering what it would look like with that Honda motor installed.  It’s the closest fit that’s readily available in that it’s a vertical 4-cylinder, but rather than mounting the prop at the top it mounts it in the middle.  I decided I needed to visualize what that might look like.

Honda engine comparison

It may even need to be a little more drastic than this, but I won’t know until I REALLY get serious and order the plans for the kit so I have exact dimensions to work with.  While it’s definitely not the traditional Tiger Moth “face,” it really doesn’t look too bad to me.  I think it could be done well, and look “right.”  (this sketch really doesn’t, but it’s just a quick mock-up)  So that has me really leaning towards going with the Honda option.

During my “break” I also got to visit a de Havilland Chipmunk undergoing restoration.  It would have originally had a Gypsy Major engine as well, but long ago it was modified to accept an IO-540, which is a horizontally opposed 6-cylinder motor, much like the Corvair engine I was thinking about for this project.  In order to accommodate the engine, the entire nose of the Chipmunk had to be changed, and a new fiberglass (or, in this case, composite) cowling fitted.  It’s a great engine, performs well, but I have a hard time getting past the looks.  I like that traditional de Havilland Gypsy Major “face.”


Modern kit, modern capability?

Obviously part of the appeal of a kit Tiger Moth is the old-fashioned look and feel of flying in the 1930s.  But as technology has advanced, flying has only become safer and more enjoyable (and certainly warmer during the winter!).  The question then becomes: how much modern capability should be built into this modern replica?

755SPpanelIn order to handle regular flight in bad weather, most modern aircraft have a huge array of technology crowding the instrument panel.  Modern navigation and communication radios, digital clocks, electronic flight displays, even modern engine instruments would all look “alien” in the cockpit of a Tiger Moth.  I’ve no intention of regularly cruising around in the clouds in my R-80, the point of an open cockpit is the view, after all, but the weather here can change in the blink of an eye.  It would be irresponsible to not include enough modern instrumentation to safely handle whatever weather I may occasionally be forced to deal with.

Spitfire Cockpit - Credit to Liz MatzelleThis isn’t a new problem,.  For as long as people have been restoring vintage aircraft each one has had to decide to what degree they should modernize the panel.  In the case of multi-million dollar warbirds, such as those at Historic Flight, the answer is not much.  The only concession made to modern requirements in our Supermarine Spitfire is a small modern radio/transponder unit that is mounted near the floor on the left side of the cockpit.  It’s difficult to get to and a pain to use, but it’s also almost completely hidden from visitors.  When embarking on a cross-country flight, the pilot will also carry with him a portable hand-held GPS system.  But the instrument panel of a Spitfire already contains early versions of all of the instruments actually required by the FAA for flight in inclement weather, such as an artificial horizon and turn coordinator.  The Tiger Moth was not so advanced.

Replica SPAD Instrument Panel concealing modern instruments zoomIt turns out that at least some aircraft builders have received permission from the FAA to conceal modern flight instruments behind “doors” on the instrument panel.  The door can be camouflaged using non-functional faces of old instruments or controls no longer needed.  Here is an example of a SPAD replica that utilizes such a door.  The only question then remaining is one of space available on an R-80 panel.

Other modern technology that will pose some challenge: modern navigation and landing lights, ballistic recovery system (debatable, but something to look into), heat for the cockpit, and possibly an enclosed canopy that could be fitted for winter flying.  These to be tackled in future entries.

Historical Hack

Historic Flight Foundation Spitfire sm - credit to Liz MatzelleLast fall I traveled to the UK to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  One of the reasons why I couldn’t pass up the opportunity was that the Spitfire from Historic Flight (where I volunteer) was also overseas for the same reason.  Conducting research into the past life of our Spitfire is one of my favorite hobbies, and in the course of doing so I’ve developed quite a strong affinity for the men of 312 (Czech) Squadron, RAF, in which it first served.  Today it is restored to the colors it wore while flying in the Czechoslovakian Air Force immediately following WWII, in the hands of many 312 Squadron veterans such as Karel Posta.

Daydreaming about what paint jobs might be appropriate for this Tiger Moth project, I wished that I could track down an original Tiger Moth with some tie to 312 Squadron.  Either one belonging to a training unit they passed through, or one that would have shared the airfield with them at some point.  In the end, I stumbled upon one better.

As it turns out, most aviation squadrons were usually granted one or two “spare” aircraft for utility purposes.  These could be used for ferrying personnel or supplies, recurrent training, or simply as an enjoyable diversion from missions against the enemy.  The aircraft are commonly referred to as the squadron’s “hacks.”  Sometimes they would be old tired aircraft of the type flown by the squadron but retired from combat duty, but more often they would be of a completely different type.  Transport, utility, or training aircraft most commonly.  I came across a plastic model kit released many years ago depicting a de Havilland Tiger Moth belonging to the 312 Squadron during 1944!


This ‘Moth had been in service with a different squadron beforehand, and so it wore an FY squadron code rather than the DU of 312 Squadron.  It is also known to have crashed and been destroyed after only a few months with 312.  But it still fits the bill.  And, I hope, if they had one Tiger Moth they may have had others.  I have sent off an inquiry to an excellent Czech aviation researcher hoping for more information, but if you know of any other Tiger Moths that might have served in 312 Squadron, please do let me know!