Monthly Archives: April 2016

Mystery Paint

81_1One of my goals is, of course, to document as much of the history of A17-370 as possible.  For each year it would be nice to know where it was, what it was doing, what equipment it had installed, and last but not least, what its paint job looked like.  This final point is key because when the restoration is finished I need to have some historically correct scheme in mind to paint her up in.

Most of this will be discovered through paperwork, but there are also hundreds of minuscule clues on the airplane itself that I will discover during the deconstruction phase.  For the most part, the paperwork gives little or no clue about what paint scheme was applied to the airplane, so all of the tangible and specific evidence I have to work with right now is what’s on the plane itself.

26 Attachments for blind flying hoodDuring her period as a derelict, pretty much all of the fabric has been removed and thrown away.  This is par for the course with an old airplane but it sure makes a restorer’s life more difficult!  There are some little bits and pieces still hanging on where they were sandwiched into the structure or glued directly to it, but most of these are only one or two square inches and only show the rust-red dope that seems to be everywhere.

The fabric that was glued to the fuselage plywood is still intact however.  It shows a dark green over “trainer yellow.”  There may be some other grey/blue layer beneath that also, which I initially thought was silver, but now I will have to make a note to take a second look on my next visit.  But that’s the general theme of what paint survives… rust-red dope, then yellow, and then green on top of that.

Entire sample - smWhich is why the sample of salvaged fabric handed me by the previous owner yesterday was such a surprise.  There is definitely some kind of a blue stripe along one edge.  It’s sort of a dark robin’s egg blue, and seems pretty consistent in color (not streaky as if it were heavily faded).  I really don’t understand the layers I’m looking at here.  It seems that there is none of that rust-red dope.  The blue lies directly on the fabric, and the brown lies over top of everything, either over the blue or directly on the fabric, depending on where you look.  I can’t even tell if the brown color here is really a paint… or just some kind of dope/varnish?  It seems semi-transparent.  I’m wondering if there is some chemical test I could run to determine what each of these layers is… and whether there is some difference between Australian and Indian paints or dopes that might help me identify at least when this paint was likely applied.  That will help give me a better clue as to what design the blue stripe may be a part of.

Cropped sample - 300dpi

Identity Crisis

A17-307 on the rear side of the firewallCommitting 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.

51DXuY3ZlDL._SX378_BO1,204,203,200_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.

P02881.009A17-370 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.

P028012_001.sizedAt 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.

a53169Victorian & 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.

IMG_0144 cropped

IMG_0145 cropped high contrastIn 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.

TIGER_MOTH_A17-370_Page_2-cropFresh 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.

VT-DOXThe 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.

Capture 1Dum 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!)

An Unexpected Journey Begins

About a month ago, as everyone knew I had hit a bit of a wall on this project, a friend messaged me the following:

First tip-off - small

This was the ad, in its entirety:

Barnstormers Ad - Small

Mission is very near Abbotsford, which is due north of me not even two hours away.  I did a little more digging and found the project was also listed for sale with the DH Moth Club, and there I found an email address (I’m not very comfortable calling strangers up on the phone, just not my thing).  Within an hour of that first tip I had sent off an email requesting information and photos.  Another hour after that and I had photos and an aircraft history in my inbox, and I was very intrigued!

Capture 1 Capture 2

A trip to visit the aircraft was arranged the next day, and so it was that the Saturday after first hearing about it, I was poring over a real “barn find” Tiger Moth.  I spent the week “cramming” as much knowledge of the type as I could in my head, and brought with me a checklist complete with drawings of the major assemblies so I could judge how complete it was and what condition everything was in.  Below you will find a photo gallery from my first inspection.

To try to make a long story short, I spent the next two weeks scrambling to find a way to secure this aircraft.  I was utterly convinced that it represented an amazing opportunity to restore and fly a real Tiger Moth, and everything fell into place beautifully.  With a great deal of support from my friends and family, and having made several new friends along the way, this past weekend I entered into a formal agreement to purchase this 1941 de Havilland Tiger Moth.

It’s going to be a crazy adventure and a huge challenge but a tremendous accomplishment when all is said and done.  I’ll post a lot more information and this blog will follow the entire process.  Wheee!