Just Winging It

I’ve nearly got the shop ready to start some real work on the airplane.  It’s been a lot of boring drudgery organizing shelves and setting up toolboxes, but in between I can always pause for a few minutes and look over the project.  Every time I look at that airplane I discover something new.  It’s so cool!

The one discovery I definitely wanted to tell you about is the story told by my wings.  I only have two right now, the port lower and starboard upper, the other two are safe in Abbotsford until the rest of the airplane is paid off.  These wings had been hung high up on the walls in Abby and I was never able to get a close look at them.  Once I got them to the hangar and put them on the wing rack, I immediately started looking for data plates.

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As I’ve mentioned, just about every bit of the airplane has a modification plate on it from Victorian & Interstate Airways, where it was overhauled in 1943.  They stripped all of the fabric off and refurbished the entire airplane before putting it back into service.  The only part I had which didn’t have a V.I.A. plate on it was the port aileron.  It has a generic RAAF modification plate, and I know exactly why:  the port wings were badly damaged when A17-695 taxiied into my airplane in 1944, and the aileron had to be replaced with one that they had on hand at No. 1 E.F.T.S.  It was a spare, basically.

Because of that, I was anxious to find out if either of my wings were not original to the aircraft either, particularly the port lower.  Had the entire wing been replaced in 1944?

As always, history is complicated.

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The port lower wing… is absolutely original.  The Victorian & Interstate Airways modification plate has a date of September 20, 1943, exactly matching the documented history of A17-370.  After the incident with A17-695, it must have been repaired or substantially rebuilt, but they kept the main spar where the plates are mounted.  Personally I can’t find any evidence of repairs, it looks like a factory-built wing to me, but perhaps I’ll uncover some as I disassemble it.

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The starboard upper wing, on the other hand, is another story.  And that was a complete surprise!  It doesn’t have a V.I.A. modification plate, but rather, one that says “GAL.”  That totally threw me off… what on earth could GAL stand for?  And what could that have to do with A17-370?  Was this wing from a different Tiger Moth altogether?

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The interesting thing, and the real clue, was the date on that plate.  June 5, 1943.  A17-370 went to V.I.A. in August, that doesn’t make any sense!  In June it was serving at 1 E.F.T.S., not being overhauled…  Another look at my transcript of its service records put an end to the mystery, and revealed just how complicated the history of a wartime aircraft can be.

Initially, when A17-370 reached 2,000 hours and required an overhaul, it was allotted to an outfit called Guinea Airways at the end of July, 1943.  A little over two weeks later, an entry says “Above allotment cancelled” and it is instead allotted to Victorian & Interstate.  I had interpreted that to mean it never made it to Guinea Airways, or perhaps it went there but they were too busy to look at it, so it went to V.I.A.  Now, I suspect that Guinea Airways (Ltd.) actually did begin to overhaul A17-370, but were stopped after only a couple of weeks for some reason.  In the rush to get 370 to V.I.A. to finish the overhaul, G.A.L. grabbed a spare starboard upper wing, probably one that had been completely overhauled, and installed it on 370.  I presume 370’s own wing would have taken too long to finish the overhaul, and when it was done it was probably installed on some other Tiger Moth.

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So, someone out there has “my” wing.  And I have someone else’s.  It was war, and they did what they had to.  I’m dubious of anyone who claims an airplane that saw several years of service during wartime had a nice, simple history and is actually 100% original.  I’m actually relieved, the coincidence required for this to be any other airplane than A17-370 is beyond belief.  I’m as sure of its identity as a person can be, when no aircraft data plate is to be found.  And, so far, there’s been no sign that any of its parts were mixed up in India or even when it was in storage after the war (aside from the instrument panels).  Everything else on the airplane either came out of the factory on the airplane, or was swapped out during WWII.  Told you it was cool, eh?

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