Tuesday, May 17, 2016

1929 DH.60 Gipsy Moth NC919DH

Here's a bit of Aeronautics sure to meet the tastes of our readers here on our blog.   
Larry and Ilse Harmacinski have recently completed some major refurbishment projects on their 1929 DH.60 Gipsy Moth. Larry first called me in the Fall of 2014.  We've been exchanging emails and phone calls ever since then as he and his wife Ilse have been laboring away on the airplane.  What a beautiful job they've done!  We are honored that they've allowed us to publish these beautiful photos and thier story here.  Enjoy.

Terry,  thanks again for saving the day and helping us get the Moth back in the air in time for summer. We would have missed the season without all your extra efforts.Below is a short summary of our Moth, and Moths in general, use or discard as you see fit. My most favorite photo is of Ilse as we head into the sunrise.  Lucky shot!
Catch you around the patch sometime.
Cheers,  Larry & Ilse

by: Larry Harmacinski

"Unfold Your Wings, and Fly Away”, reads the DH.60 advert I am holding, a remnant from what is most often referred to as The Golden Age of Aviation. And it truly was exciting in so many arenas as flying machines transitioned from designs centered around the Great War, to ships intended for personal and commercial use. One of the earliest and very successful designs was the brainchild of Captain Geoffrey de Havilland, who made significant aeronautical contributions serving in WWI. Taking inspiration from his DH.4 and the recently built DH.51, design number 60 came to life and, being a hobbyist lepidopterist, Captain de Havilland christened the design "The Moth", which first emerged from the works at Stag Lane in 1925, and Capt. de Havilland himself made the first test flight Feb. 22, 1925. 

The Moth was powered by the purpose built Cirrus, which borrowed heavily from Renault. The design was an immediate success, and was just what the Empire was looking for in the civilian market to supply to the newly formed flying clubs. As there were very few flying fields, and even fewer hangars, the Cirrus Moth was designed from the start to have folding wings, enabling it to complete the day’s flying, then neatly fold her wings to sleep in a 10’ wide shed. In a brilliant marketing effort, de Havilland even sold sheds, should anyone complain of not having proper storage!
De Havilland’s next brilliant move was to secure a more reliable engine and also ensure parts and support. This led to in house construction of their own engine, something not many aircraft manufacturers can claim. The Gipsy Engine came to be, and thus the DH.60 was re-named the Gipsy Moth.  The winning combination with other minor improvements led the type to perform many record setting flights, and helped to create the Lady Lindbergh of England, when Amy Johnson flew her Gipsy Moth in 1930 from England to Australia, solo no less, and was the first woman to do so. Certainly a good bit of her success on that flight was that she was also the first female licensed mechanic, having learned her trade at The De Havilland School of Flying where she worked on airplanes between lessons. 

The Gipsy Moth went on to be built in large numbers in numerous countries around the globe, and some 168 were built in the USA by Moth Aircraft Corporation, the vast majority of which used British built Gipsy engines and propellers. When MAC was bought out late in 1929 by Curtiss, the Wright-Gipsy became available in the last of the Moths built, but by then the depression was catching up, and production dwindled and ceased in 1931. Certainly the most well known of the American built Moths is known today as a screen star in the 1985 film Out of Africa, sporting the UK registration G-AAMY, a tribute to Amy Johnson.  For reasons known only to the producer, the registration was changed to -AAMT for filming. The real life Denys Finch-Hatten (portrayed by Robert Redford) did own and fly a Gipsy Moth, so Hollywood actually got this one right! This aircraft began life at Lowell Mass, at the MAC Factory, as NC585M, was restored by Jack Bucher, who had some experience with MAC, and later owned by Frank Fox prior to being sold to Cliff Lovell in England, where it became G-AAMY. More recently, the airplane was sold at a high profile auction in Paris, and now resides in Kenya at a resort where it gives rides to exclusive guests. 

Our own Moth began life in December 1929 as NC919M, and was sold new by a Curtiss-Wright operator in California. When Gerry Schwam began an extensive restoration, the number was tied up, so he chose NC919DH.  Ilse and I became caretakers of the light and lively Gipsy Moth a few years ago from a fellow who was flying it off his ranch at 6,000’ MSL outside of Durango. 
Not many old airplanes do so well at altitude, but the Moth does quite well with it’s light structure and high lift wing. To pass some mountains and escape some rather nasty downdrafts, we at times climbed to 12,000 with little effort, a feat that my old Cabin Waco or a PT Stearman would find a bit strenuous.  The flight to North Carolina certainly gave me renewed appreciation for the pioneer pilots, and I often thought of the tenacious Amy Johnson, who often carried more than 10 hours worth of fuel, and had to hand pump fuel from the forward fuselage tank by hand to the upper wing quite often. I had no complaints. 

While thousands of the Gipsy Moth were built, the War years were not kind to the type, many of which were used as decoys, a rather sad way for such a beautiful biplane to meet it’s end. While the Gipsy Moth was used by the RAF, it was eclipsed by the Tiger Moth as a military trainer.  According to the Moth Club, today there are some 40 DH.60’s in service, the majority being in England and New Zealand. 

The past 18 months Ilse and I dedicated ourselves to improving our example of The Moth, and upgraded the aging bladder brakes with Grove products, and replaced the low confidence vintage bale gascolator with one from Steve’s Gascolator. New windscreens, fresh mahogany panels, and some new paint were other added details, but of course some of these items need blessings from the FAA, and as most FSDO’s run in the opposite direction when seeking support with your antique biplane, after several false starts, my good friend said that I should call Terry Bowden at CAP. This was the best call I ever made, and as fast as I could accomplish the work and supply the supporting evidence, Terry came thru and I am very indebted to CAP for getting us airworthy in time for summer flying. While I have no plans at this time to fly the Moth to Australia, I do intend to share this delightful little ship with anyone interested, as it provides a glimpse into the past with all the sights and sounds of those interesting years when aviation was truly in it’s Golden Age. 

Maintain Airspeed, 
Larry Harmacinski

Larry's favorite photo - "flying into the sun. we were on the way to VAA 3 fly in, and no, it is not photoshopped!"

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