By Jack Dueck, Chair, EAA Canadian Council
In 1929, Gipsy Moth Serial No. DH1507A rolled off the
assembly line of the de Havilland Aircraft Company Ltd. at Stag Lane Aerodrome,
Edgware, Middlesex, England. It was one of 31 purchased by the Royal Canadian Air
Force to be used to train pilots and for forest fire patrol prior to World War II.
It was based in Saskatchewan at Prince Albert as well as Saskatoon, serving
under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) where it flew its last
service flight on July 20, 1948.
In July of 1990, Bob Meyer of Lumsden, Saskatchewan,
attended an auction sale at Kenaston that offered a “Piper Cub” airframe. Bob
recognized the airframe as that of a Gipsy Moth — not a Piper Cub at all. He
bought DH1507A and started researching the history of the aircraft and searching
Ray Crone, of the Western Development Museum in Moose Jaw,
helped research the aircraft’s history and offered a restored model of the
Gipsy Moth for use in making patterns and checking details. Don O’Hearne, of
the Village Aircraft Restorers, and EAA Canadian Council Director Emeritus Rem
Walker, EAA Lifetime 11640, who flew off the first five hours in the Western
Development Museum’s Gipsy Moth CF-ADI, helped gather the historical
Harry Whereatt of Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, who is well-known
for his Hawker Hurricane and Westland Lysander restorations, provided two
dismantled Gipsy Mk I engines.
Bob found another engine northeast of Moose Jaw. A
carburetor, a few parts of a landing gear, and other bits and pieces (no pun
intended) found their way to Bob’s shop.
In December of 1996, Rem and Bob made the decision to
restore the Gipsy Moth. They anticipated it would take somewhere around four or
five years to complete.
There were no usable wooden parts, only some pieces that
might serve for patterns. Bob knew of a guy in Arelee, Saskatchewan, who had
wood of many descriptions, stored in a couple of old school buses. This
included one bus half-full of Sitka spruce, rough-cut, varying in lengths from
14 to 20 feet. Bob and Rem bought about twice as much as they would need, since
the quality, grain count, and run-out was impossible to gauge from the
rough-cut lumber. They loaded it onto a trailer and hauled it to Bob’s shop.
“After getting the
wood home, a close inspection was made, picking out the best-looking ones for
the spar material,” Rem said. “These were cut into pieces 3/16-inch thick by 4
inches wide. From there the pieces were checked again and the best used to
laminate the spars. A jig was made in which to lay up the spars, one at a time.
The spar thicknesses were oversized to be planed later to the proper size. We
used Resorcinol glue, the waterproof kind, to glue the laminations. One spar
was laid up, then clamped every 6 inches. It stayed in the jig for one week and
then it was removed and another done. Eight spars — eight weeks.”
In the meantime, the wing ribs were built so that by the
time the spars were semi-finished all of the ribs were ready. Then came the
finishing of the spars — planing to exact dimensions and taper, routing one
spar per day.
“Talk about a pile of sawdust!” Rem said.
When metal fittings were needed, they were manufactured. If
one was not available for a pattern, a cardboard pattern was made, from which a
rough fitting was built, then shaped, drilled, or welded as necessary. If the
first one didn’t quite fit, a second or third would usually do the trick.
The original Gipsy used piano wire for the drag and
anti-drag wires. Rem and Bob substituted 3/16-inch diameter 4130 steel rods,
cut to size and threaded with right-hand and left-hand threads. For the clevis
tie-rod terminals, Bob turned out all 88 of them with his lathe, milling
machine, and drill press.
The fuselage was built using square steel tubing for the
forward section. The rear section, aft of the cockpit, used round tubing for
the uprights and crosspieces. The damaged front section and firewall were
repaired and replaced. The aft turtledeck section was missing, so it was built
using pictures from which patterns were made.
“Luckily, we had the forward and rear seats so these could
be fitted along with the draft shields between the two cockpits,” Rem said.
When all the major parts of the aircraft were completed, it
was assembled and rigged in accordance with de Havilland specifications so that
flying and landing wires could be fitted. A bunch of wires had been scrounged
from various sources, and these were sorted, with some fitting and others not. Needed
wires were ordered.
Bob was working on assembling one good usable engine from
the various parts that had been collected. Fortunately the crankshafts and
crankcases on two of the engines were in good condition. Four of the best-looking
cylinders and heads were set aside for cleaning, inspection, and overhaul. One
of the big challenges was the different thread types and sizes. They had to
contend with British Pipe, British Fine, some metric, Whitworth, etc. Bob was
kept busy on the lathe, cutting threads on components that could not be
purchased. Many times bolts had been peened with a hammer as a locking device,
since lock nuts had yet to be invented.
Original instruments were not used, rather more current ones are installed including an altimeter, tachometer and oil pressure gauges, and a compass. They also added an oil temperature gauge and a cylinder head temperature gauge with a single probe that can be mounted in any of the four cylinders. The aircraft has an airspeed indicator to complement the wind-driven deflection airspeed indicator mounted on the wing strut.
Ceconite fabric with Endura paint completed the project. The fabric was rib-stitched as per the original and finished in the original RCAF colour scheme, complete with roundel.
Rem said that flying the Gipsy is straightforward. He learned
to fly in the Gipsy’s cousin, the Tiger Moth. Forward visibility is not a
problem, but crosswind landings present a challenge with the pilot running out
of rudder and elevator control when trying to three-point the landing. Rem said
that if and when it starts to head sideways in the rollout, it’s best to let it
go and ride it out in a concentric but tightening circle until it runs out of
energy and stops!
Leading edge slats on the top wing work automatically, deploying when the aircraft approaches the ragged edge of a stall. This means that the top wing continues to fly after the lower wing (with the ailerons) has already stalled. Interesting!
Rem and Bob started this project in 1997 with a projected
build time of four to five years, but lots of delays and problems had to be
overcome. Rem found it gratifying to fly this aircraft and said the total
effort was more than worth it. Rem flew Gipsy C-GZIE again in 2005, 57 years
since its last service flight, 76 years since its first flight. Rem was
honoured at the first annual EAA Canada breakfast at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015
with a plaque for his lifetime of dedicated service to EAA and building and
- Engine: Gipsy Mk I Number 833 by de Havilland, four cylinder, upright, air-cooled
- Wingspan: 30 feet
- Span (folded): 9 feet, 10 inches
- Length: 23 feet, 11 inches
- Height: 8 feet, 9-1/2 inches
- Cruise speed: 70 to 75 mph (but 70 is more comfortable with an open cockpit)
- Fuel capacity: 19 Imperial gallons
- Oil capacity: 2 Imperial gallons
- Gross weight: 1,755 pounds
- Empty weight: 1,194 pounds
- Wing loading: 7.2 pounds per square foot