The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome
No. 8 Summer 2002
Sywell Aircraft - DH60 Moth
by Chris Parker
A 'spy' lurks by an Aero Club Moth before purloining it
for a crazy flying act at the 1930 Air Pageant.
The 'Moth', or de Havilland type 60 to give it the correct technical name, has featured in many of the articles tracing Sywell's history in the journal and others. Although presently no examples of the type are based at the Aerodrome (they are of course now very rare), the DH60's importance during Sywell's earliest days justifies this dedicated article.
The Moth's genesis can be traced back to the period immediately after the Great War of 1914-1918 when the government, through the Air Ministry, saw it as its responsibility to encourage all forms of aviation including the then-new concept of private flying.
The Ministry organised some competitive trials in the early 1920s for light aeroplanes (held at Lympne in Kent) with a strong emphasis in the scoring system on low fuel consumption and such practicalities as ground handling and wing folding. The fuel consumption requirements resulted in entrants of very low weight and relatively flimsy construction as well as having very low powered engines. Although some fine machines were designed, built and entered (for example the Hawker 'Cygnet' and the de Havilland 'Humming Bird') their modest performance and low carrying capacity did not fit them well for club or private owner duties.
Geoffrey de Havilland rethought the concept of a truly general purpose light aeroplane and realised that what was needed was a machine intermediate in size and power between the light weight 'Lympne trial' aircraft and the larger commercial types such as his own single engined DH50 biplane (of the type used by Alan Cobham for his pioneering long distance survey flights). The result of his deliberation was a stroke of genius and emerged in February 1925 as the DH60 Cirrus Moth. This aeroplane provided comfortable accommodation for two normal sized adults plus baggage provision, a robust 60 hp purpose designed engine and a useful performance in terms of cruising speed and rate of climb. Although significantly larger than the earlier Humming Bird, the Moth featured folding wings so it could be economically hangared, and if necessary towed behind a medium sized car.
Three Moths flown by Club pilots complete their air display formation
flying routine with a well-timed 'bomb-burst' break over the aerodrome.
The first Moths (named 'Cirrus' to denote their type of engine) were an immediate success and newly formed flying clubs up and down the country began to equip with them (aided by Government grants which achieved a dual purpose of encouraging the post-war aircraft industry and providing the country with a pool of trained and enthusiastic pilots).
'Flight' magazine reporting in March 1928 on the public appearance of the new Moth said ... "from whichever point of view one regards it, the de Havilland 'Moth' must be considered a very fine little aeroplane. It is hoped to be, although naturally this still has to be proved, one of the most reliable little machines of modern times". Certainly an accurate assessment.
The first Cirrus Moths in Club use were delivered to the Lancashire Aero Club at Woodford in Cheshire in 1925 and were followed by many others around the country during the next two or three years.
The Sywell connection with the Moth actually started before the aerodrome itself was developed. Two of Sywell's founders, the brothers Geoff and Jack Linnell acquired their Cirrus Moth G-EBSA in 1927. Geoff, who was an ex World War I Royal Naval Air Service pilot had renewed his licence on a Moth of the de Havilland operated London Aeroplane Club at Stag Lane Aerodrome in Middlesex, initiating his brother Jack into the joys of flying at the same time. The Linnells were the leading lights in gathering together a group of similarly enthusiastic people and founding the Northampton Aero club and opening Sywell in 1928. Their Moth was in fact the first aeroplane to land on the new Aerodrome. The proceeds of the opening Air Pageant in September 1928 provided funds for the new Aero Club to buy itself a Moth - second hand Cirrus Moth G-EBRX. 'RX was joined about a year after by two new examples of the latest type of Moths, Gipsy Moths G-AAIC and G-AAIE providing the Club with an up-to-date 'fleet'.
The Club Moth 'strafes' the hapless opposition forces in their garrison
building - accompanied by suitable smoke and explosion.
The late 1920s and early 1930s were truly the heyday of the Moth. The Gipsy version (the DH60G) was equipped with the more powerful 100 hp Gipsy 1 engine - designed and built by the de Havilland engine company. The Gipsy engine was renowned for its efficiency and reliability and carried Moths and their courageous pilots literally all over the world in the record-breaking long distance flights which were such a feature of those pioneering years.
Perhaps one of the most famous of those epic journeys in Gipsy Moths was Amy Johnson's solo flight to Australia in May of 1930. It must have been an exciting time for club pilots, often totally new to aviation, to be learning to fly in the same types that were making headline news At Sywell trained Club pilots were going on to purchase and operate Moths on their own, and by 1932 no fewer than 8 of the type were based on the aerodrome. The Moths must have been a regular sight on and around the field - carrying out the familiar circuits and bumps of the training regime, as well as departing and arriving on trips near and far.
A development of the Moth was the five-seat Fox Moth - seen here in
Air Taxi role at Sywell in 1934.
Moths were also the mainstay of the annual Air Shows held at Sywell - giving aerobatic displays, air racing, formation flying and the 'novelty' items such as flour bombing the hapless 'natives' in their dummy forts. One of the most popular individual performers was Fit Lt Johnston in his Royal Air Force Genet Moth (equipped with an Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major radial engine) in which he gave displays of the then unusual inverted flying (often at very low level!).
Although not quite in the Amy Johnson league, several long distance trips were made by Sywell Moths and Club pilots. In May and June 1932 for example three aircraft and crews from Sywell toured Europe, reaching as far as Vienna and Prague.
Light aircraft development was moving apace from the early 30s onwards, and the original Moth was becoming an obsolete type by the middle of the decade. The more powerful Tiger Moth (DH82) superseded the DH60 as a trainer for the Royal Air Force, and for a the private and business owner de Havillands produced a wide range of enclosed cabin types including the 2-seat biplane Hornet Moth, the monoplane 3-seat Puss and Leopard Moths and the elegant series of twin engined biplanes, the Dragon, Dragon Rapide and Dragonfly. Examples of all these machines were Sywell residents during that pre-war decade.
Geoffrey Linnell smiles at the camera from his immaculate Hornet Moth
(an early tapered-wing example) at Sywell in 1936.
Two other specific developments of the deH 60 Moth are worthy of a mention as they were operated by leading pilots of the Northamptonshire Aero Club. First the DH83 Fox Moth - this was a five seater biplane Moth variant, with the pilot in an open cockpit, and his four passengers sitting ahead of him in an enclosed cabin. A Sywell based Fox Moth was operated by Mr Henry Deterding (an article on Henry appeared in an earlier edition of 'Aerodrome'). The other type was the Moth Major - basically an open cockpit biplane Gipsy Moth, but fitted with the Gipsy Major engine from the Tiger Moth, giving the aircraft a very good performance. A Moth Major was owned and flown by aerodrome founder Jack Linnell.
Some of the most memorable trips from Sywell in the various Moths must have been those to the annual "Pilots' Picnics" organised by the Hungarian Aero club and held in Budapest. In 1937 for example, Sywell saw a group of three aircraft leaving for Hungary - the Linnell Moth Major, the Deterding Fox Moth and the other Linnell brother, Geoffrey, with a party in a Dragonfly leased from the London Aeroplane Club. Photographs and film footage of the Hungarian meetings survive and show the Sywell contingent mixing with the many personalities in the world of aviation, including Amy and Jim Mollison in her Beechcraft Staggerwing, who regularly attended.
The BBC film crew crowds around 'Amy Johnson' (actress Harriet Walter)
and 'Director of Civil Aviation's Gipsy Moth' (G-AAMY masquerading as
G-EDCA) at Sywell during filming of the drama documentary 'Amy' in 1983.
The outbreak of war saw all private flying terminated and many of the now elderly Moths withdrawn from service - sadly most not surviving the war. The Moth spirit continued however in the form of the Tiger Moth which became the Trainer of the Empire' for the duration of the war - its production eventually totalling over 8000!
Three DH60 Moths made a welcome reappearance at Sywell during the filming of the BBC Drama Documentary 'Amy', featuring the flying exploits of Amy Johnson, in September 1983. The aircraft, together with splendid 'props, cars and costumes, created a convincing 1930s feel and, at least for the two weeks involved, Sywell slipped back over 50 years in time.
To see examples of just about all the Moth variants mentioned, then visit the de Havillland Moth Club's annual meeting which is held each summer in August.