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Navy Tiger Moths

Written by Leo Pettipas on 24 May 2011.

8865 vgtgf dns 14607 2 news2010 marked the 100th anniversary of Canadian Naval Aviation, and so our Fall 2010 Journal featured several articles related to this fascinating subject. Leo Pettipas writes about just one aspect in his article on Navy Tiger Moths.


8865 vgtgf dns 14607 2 newsFormer RCAF Tiger Moth 8865 joined the Navy as VG-TGF. In the interregnum between the two service periods it was owned by the Ottawa Flying Club as CF-CJH. The photo is circa 1955 when it was given a new lease on life as a station hack at Dartmouth. DND DNS-14607-2 via the TONY STACHIW collection

By Leo Pettipas

Designed in Great Britain by the de Havilland Aircraft Company Limited, the Tiger Moth was a single-engine, two-seat, dual-control ab initio flying trainer. It was of composite wood and metal construction, fabric covered. Its wings were in a staggered configuration, with the top mainplanes positioned further forward than the lower ones to facilitate emergency exit from the front cockpit. To offset the forward location of the upper wing and to maintain balance, both wings were swept backward. The top of the engine cowling sloped downward toward the front to enhance the forward view.  First introduced into the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1932 as a standard elementary pilot trainer, the Tiger Moth continued on in this role with the RAF until 1947. During that year, Canadian naval personnel were receiving flying training on the type in Britain.

In 1926, de Havilland set up a branch plant in Toronto, but it was not until 1938 that the first Canadian-built Tiger Moth was handed over to the RCAF. During the ensuing war years, some 1384 DH-82Cs were acquired by the Air Force for basic flying training at British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) elementary flying training schools (EFTS’s). 

From A to C

A variety of alterations to the basic British design was required to adapt the Tiger Moth to Canadian conditions. Principal among these were several "winterising" features: a sliding perspex canopy that enclosed both cockpits, a cockpit heating system, and more robust axles to accommodate heavier loads brought on when the aircraft was fitted with skis. These modifications were introduced in the earlier Canadian-built DH-82As.

Defining characteristics of the more developed C model were wheel brakes and a fully castering tail wheel, further-forward positioning of the undercarriage members to prevent nosing over during brake application, a Gipsy Major 1C engine, a jettisonable canopy that offered more head room, elevator trim tabs controlled by a wheel in each cockpit, American instruments of smaller size than their British counterparts, and an enhanced instrument layout. The corresponding reduced instrument panel size made possible a reshaping of the combing between the cockpits that in turn permitted an improved view from the rear (instructor's) position.    

Background History

The three Tiger Moths that were turned over to the Navy originally carried the RCAF serial numbers (s/n) 5014, 5088 and 8865. The first-mentioned was taken on strength (TOS) by the Air Force in June1941 and spent at least part of its wartime service life with No. 31 EFTS, De Winton, Alberta under the control of No. 4 Training Command headquartered at Regina, Saskatchewan. It was struck off strength (SOS) in August 1945 after logging 1577.20 hours, and sold to the Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association. It was assigned the registration code CF-CJJ and was being operated by the Ottawa Flying Club (OFC) when the federal government re-acquired it on the Navy's behalf several years later.

Tiger Moth 5088 became Air Force property in July 1941 and served with No. 32 EFTS, Bowden, Alberta. With 1460.45 hours to its credit, it was struck off strength in February 1945, turned over to War Assets Corporation, and subsequently sold in early December 1945 to the Ottawa Flying Club, which operated it under the registration CF-CJG. The Canadian Commercial Corporation of Ottawa acquired it in May 1948 for allocation to the RCN.

The third Tiger Moth to find its way into Navy hands, s/n 8865, was brought on charge with the RCAF in May 1942 and was struck off strength three years later in July 1945. In the meantime it had served initially with No. 3 Flying Instructor School at Arnprior, Ontario before transfer to No. 4 EFTS at Windsor Mills, Quebec. By the time of its retirement it had flown 1463.5 hours. It too became the property of the Ottawa Flying Club in early December 1945, where it was operated under the registration code CF-CJH, and was also purchased by the Canadian Commercial Corporation in May 1948 for subsequent delivery to the Navy.

The Navy Tiger Moths were initially slated to serve with two formations at the naval air establishment: the School of Naval Aircraft Maintenance, and Fleet Requirements Unit 743.

DH-82C 5014 as the fierce looking VG-TFA of Fleet Requirements Unit 743.Although the image is of less than desireable quality, it does illustrate the aircraft’s unusual wing and fuselage stripes, large sharmouth, and “26”tail number.


School of Naval Aircraft Maintenance

Up until August of 1945, the Royal Navy (RN) in the United Kingdom (UK) provided air technical training of Canadian naval personnel. From August 20, 1945 until June 3, 1946, basic technical training was received at No. 1 Technical Training School, RCAF Station Aylmer, Ontario. Yet another shift, this one to the Mechanical Training Establishment at His Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Stadacona, took place later in 1946. Throughout this time, advanced instruction continued to be received from the RN in Britain by Canadian trainees following their receipt of basic training in Canada.

The post-war expansion of naval aviation brought with it a decision to concentrate all groundcrew training under the watchful eye of Naval Air headquarters located at RCAF Station Dartmouth. To that end, the School of Naval Aircraft Maintenance (SNAM) was established there in April 1948. An obvious requirement at the outset was an appropriate assemblage of teaching aids, notably airframes and engines. This need was partially addressed by the repurchase of the Tiger Moths from the civilian flying clubs.

The acquisition of these aircraft at public expense is noteworthy in light of the fact that 1948 was the same year the Navy retired six Fairey Swordfish, also fabric-covered biplanes, that had been on strength with the Dartmouth-based utility squadron Fleet Requirements Unit (FRU) 743. Why the Swordfish, already owned by the Navy and on-site, were not sufficient to meet the SNAM requirements by themselves is unclear; indeed, one of them was used at the school as a ground-training aid along with the Tiger Moths. Obviously, the latter filled a particular need, as most of the Swordfish were intentionally destroyed locally by burning in 1949. In the meantime, the Tiger Moths were flown to Dartmouth. In keeping with Murphy's Law, they arrived a week late, resulting in a delay in the commencement of the first SNAM course. They were taken on strength as fully airworthy aircraft in May 1948.

Tiger Moth 5088/CF-CJG did not remain on the Navy List for very long, being struck off strength in January 1949. Its subsequent disposition is unknown, but in all likelihood it was scrapped or reduced to spares and produce. Tiger Moth 8865/CF-CJH remained on the Navy's registry until 1957 (of which more below). But the Tiger Moth as a type did not enjoy a very long career as a SNAM instructional aid. According to some former students, one was still so employed in 1950, but there is conflicting testimony on this: another former SNAM student noted in a 2008 communiqué that there was a Tiger Moth in one of the SNAM hangars when he took his rigger training there starting in early 1950. However, he and his classmates did not get any rigger instruction on it at all and he did not recall its ever having come out of the hangar during the six months or so that he was there. It was definitely no longer being used for the purpose in 1951.

Just as the Tiger Moths were used during the war as elementary flying trainers for pilots, their deployment at SNAM was as basic training aids for technicians. Aspiring Air Mechanics were taught the fundamentals of airframes, engines, rigging and electrics. Instruction in Tiger Moth electrics, thanks to the type's simplicity, was confined to the engine magnetos and ignition system. Student Air Mechanics (Engines) learned to strip down the Gipsy Major engine and rebuild it from the crankshaft up, while the budding Air Mechanics (Airframes) dismantled the airframe and reassembled it. The Tiger Moths were used to illustrate such items as control cable runs; the workings of a bellcrank; turnbuckle adjustment of stagger, dihedral and sweep; fabric doping; and rib and boom stitching in fabric work. As an incentive, provisions were made to flight-test the reassembled aircraft with a student on board.

The Tiger Moths retained their military paint schemes of yellow overall and black engine cowlings while under civilian ownership. The wartime RCAF markings had long been replaced with the above-noted civilian registration codes, which were retained on the SNAM machines.

Fleet Requirements Unit 743

Fleet Requirements Units were general-purpose (utility) squadrons mandated to carry out a wide variety of non-operational support functions on behalf of the front-line air units and the fleet. This included provision of flying time for non-aircrew personnel, and it was in this capacity that FRU 743 employed Tiger Moth 5014. It was assigned the code VG-TFA, the combined designator of the Naval Air Arm (VG), FRU 743 (TF), and the individual aircraft code (A). The squadron Fair Flying Log shows that VG-TFA was used to provide “air experience” to “CAG [Carrier Air Group] and other” personnel during 1949, the last flight for this purpose by the squadron took place in October of that year. VG-TFA was SOS on 1 March 1950.

Subsequent Use

The last year a Tiger Moth was used at SNAM was 1950, the machine in question being 8865. It was not SOS in short order as were the other two, but was retained more or less intact in the Shearwater maintenance hangar (Z2) for several years. In the summer of 1954 station personnel restored it to flying condition. Navy roundels and markings, along with the original RCAF serial number, were applied. In addition, the number “800” was allotted to it, although it is questionable if the aircraft ever actually displayed this number, and the rationale for this assignment is unclear. Interestingly, a Sea Fury belonging to VT 40 carried this same number. Tiger Moth 8865 served as the station “hack” over the next three years, principally for casual/recreational flying by base personnel.

Upon its retirement from the Navy in 1957, 8865 was placed in storage at nearby Fairey Aviation of Canada Limited, bringing to a close the fourth chapter of its somewhat lengthy career. The aircraft did not remain in storage for very long, however; that same year it was purchased by Father John MacGillivray, the Roman Catholic padre at RCAF Station Summerside, for his personal use. Painted blue and white with red struts and trim, it was registered as CF-IVO.

One of Father MacGillivray's most notable achievements with CF-IVO was a return cross-country flight from Summerside to Rockford, Illinois, a total distance of 2800 miles (4505 kms). The trip was undertaken in order to attend an Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Fly-In, and involved thirty stops, nine customs clearances, thirty-nine flying hours, and twelve days of annual leave.

The destination of this journey may have had a bearing on the final disposition of CF-IVO, for although its flying permit was still valid July 15, 1965, Father MacGillivray donated it in 1964 to the EAA Air Museum, Hales Corners, Wisconsin. In a compilation of surviving vintage aircraft issued ten years later, it was on the museum’s list of Antique and Classic Aircraft. A subsequent publication on aviation museums in the United States showed that it was still there in 1995.

The other surviving Tiger Moth – ex-VG-TFA – did not experience quite as illustrious a post-Naval career. It changed private hands three times between July 1950 and June 1955 before being acquired in September of 1955 by the Quebec Soaring Club at Ancienne Lorette. In August of 1957 it stalled in a turn after a low pass to drop a towrope, crashed and was damaged beyond repair.

Leo Pettipas is a well-known Winnipeg based aviation historian and writer who tends to specialize in naval aviation subjects.  He is a past contributor to the CAHSJournal and has published a number of books on RCNaviation.