The de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth is a 1930s biplane designed by Geoffrey de Havilland and built by the de Havilland Aircraft Company. It was operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and many other operators as a primary trainer aircraft. In addition to the type's principal use for training, the Second World War saw the RAF Tiger Moth operating in other capacities, including maritime surveillance, defensive anti-invasion preparations, and even some aircraft that had been outfitted as armed light bombers.
The Tiger Moth remained in service with the RAF until it was succeeded and replaced by the de Havilland Chipmunk during the early 1950s. Many of the military surplus aircraft subsequently entered into civil operation. Many nations have used the Tiger Moth in both military and civil applications, and it remains in widespread use today as a recreational aircraft in several different countries.
The starting point for the Tiger Moth was in fact the successful Gypsy Tiger with successively more capable engines being developed until the company had produced a viable prototype. The resulting bi-plane was initially a modification of the standard Gypsy Tiger and later became the first aircraft to be referred to as the Tiger Moth. Further improvements on the Tiger Moth were first incorporated into a military trainer variant of the de Havilland DH.60T Moth.
The DH.60T Moth had several shortcomings and was subject to several alterations, including the adoption of shortened inter-plane struts in order to raise the wingtips after insufficient ground clearance was discovered while it was undergoing trials at RAF Martlesham Heath. As a result of the RAF trials, a favourable report for the type was produced, which in turn led to the type soon being formally adopted as the new basic trainer of the Royal Air Force (RAF). A single prototype, designated as the DH.82 Tiger Moth, was ordered by the British Air Ministry who were seeking a suitable training aircraft.
One of the main changes made from the preceding Moth series was necessitated by a desire to improve access to the front cockpit, since the training requirement specified that the front seat occupant had to be able to escape easily, especially when wearing a parachute. Access to the front cockpit of the Moth predecessors was restricted by the proximity of the aircraft's fuel tank directly above the front cockpit and the rear cabane struts for the upper wing. The solution adopted was to shift the upper wing forward but sweep the wings back to maintain the centre of lift. Other changes included a strengthened structure, fold-down doors on both sides of the cockpit and a revised exhaust system.
On 26 October 1931, the first 'true' Tiger Moth, the prototype E6, conducted its maiden flight at Stag Lane Aerodrome, Edgware, London and shortly after construction of the first 35 production aircraft for the RAF, designated K2567-K2601, began including, two float-equipped seaplanes.
The Tiger Moth quickly became a commercial success, various models of the aircraft were exported to more than 25 Air Forces of various overseas nations. In addition to the military demand, aircraft were also produced for the civil market. At one point, the flow of orders for the Tiger Moth had effectively occupied almost the entirety of de Havilland's capacity to manufacture aircraft and little capacity could be spared to accommodate domestic customers.
In late 1934, 50 Tiger Moths of a more refined design, sometimes referred to as the Tiger Moth II, were delivered to the RAF; these aircraft saw the adoption of the de Havilland Gipsy Major engine, capable of generating 130 HP, and the use of plywood decking on the rear fuselage in place of traditional fabric covering the stringers.
After 1936, the gradual rate of acceleration of Tiger Moth manufacturing had reached the point where production capacity became finally able to exceed the demands from military customers alone. By the outbreak of the Second World War, a total of 1,424 Tiger Moths had been completed by both domestic and overseas.
In 1937, overseas manufacturing of the type commenced, the first such firm being de Havilland Canada at their facility in Downsview, Toronto, Ontario; in addition to an initial batch of 25 Tiger Moths that were built for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), the Canadian firm began building fuselages which were exported to the UK for completion. Canadian-built Tiger Moths featured modifications to better suit the local climate, along with a reinforced tail wheel, hand-operated brakes, shorter undercarriage radius rods and the legs of the main landing gear legs being raked forwards as a safeguard against tipping forwards during braking. Furthermore, the cockpit had a large sliding canopy fitted along with exhaust-based heating.
Additional overseas manufacturing activity also occurred, most of which took place during wartime. de Havilland Australia assembled an initial batch of 20 aircraft from parts sent from the United Kingdom prior to embarking on a major production campaign of their own of the DH.82A, which resulted in a total of 1,070 Tiger Moths being constructed locally in Australia. In late 1940, the first Australian-assembled Tiger Moth conducted ins first flight at Bankstown, Sydney. Most Australian aircraft were delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force, however several batches were exported, including 18 for the USAAF and 41 for the Royal Indian Air Force. Another 132 Tiger Moths were completed in New Zealand by de Havilland Aircraft of New Zealand .
The RAF ordered 35 dual-control Tiger Moth Is which had the company designation DH 82.A subsequent order was placed for 50 aircraft powered by the de Havilland Gipsy Major I engine (130 hp) which was the DH 82A or to the RAF Tiger Moth II. The Tiger Moth entered service at the RAF Central Flying School in February 1932. During the pre-war years increasing numbers of Tiger Moths were procured for the RAF and by overseas customers; by 1939, nearly 40 flying schools operating the type had been established, nine of which operated civil-registers models as well.
From 1937 onwards, the Tiger Moth was made available to general flying clubs, production having been previously occupied by military customers. The type was quickly used to replace older aircraft in the civil trainer capacity, such as the older de Havilland Cirrus Moth and Gipsy Moth. By the start of the Second World War, the RAF had around 500 Tiger Moths in service.
In December 1939, owing to a shortage of maritime patrol aircraft, six flights of Tiger Moths were operated by RAF Coastal Command for surveillance flights over coastal waters, known as "scarecrow patrols". The aircraft operated in pairs and were armed only with a Very pistol. The intention was to force any encroaching U-boat to dive; one aircraft would then remain in the vicinity while the other would search for a naval patrol vessel which could be led back to the spot. Because they were not radio equipped, each aircraft also carried a pair of homing pigeons in a wicker basket to call for help in case of a forced landing at sea.
Over 80 years since its first flight, the Tiger Moth continues to grace our skies across the globe and has proven to be one of the oldest and most loved airplanes from a bygone era.
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