From the start of World War II until late into the 1970’s, no aircraft was better known to the general South African population than the Tiger Moth. The open cockpit biplane had been used as an elementary trainer for thousands of young pupil pilots all over the British Commonwealth.
This vintage aircraft is certainly very different and more basic than most aircraft that have been built since the war.
The propeller turns ‘the other way’
The propeller rotates in an anti-clockwise direction as viewed from the cockpit. This is opposite to the great majority of other piston engined aircraft. Therefore, when the tail is raised for the take-off, the associated gyroscopic precession will cause a swing to the right which will then need to be countered by a left rudder input.
The ‘Tiger’ has no brakes
The Tiger Moth is not fitted with brakes and also has no self-starter. The engine has to be hand-started. This is definitely a two man operation.
Many attempts at a “one man start” have ended up with the aircraft either jumping the chocks, leaving the pilot chasing after the runaway aircraft, or with it remaining in the chocks but tilting over onto its nose and destroying the propeller.
Taxi routes have to be carefully planned so as to keep clear of the smooth asphalt surfaces and to stay on the grass and gravel surfaces where there is more friction.
A constant awareness of what other traffic in the vicinity is doing or where it is going has to be maintained so as to avoid any chance of a collision.
Communication is through a hose-pipe
Before the advent of compact light-weight radios and intercom systems, communication between the instructor and the student was through a primitive hearing and speaking device known as a “Gosport Tube”. They were made of wire-reinforced hose pipes so they could be bent to meet the convenience of any pilot.
There are no flaps
The aircraft has no flaps. It really does not need them as the distance required for take-offs is not much at all. On the approach, if drag is required, the aircraft is put into a side-slip. The landing roll will be a lot shorter on grass or gravel than it would be on a tar runway.
The small tail-wheel that the aircraft is fitted with causes a lot of drag. It is therefore important to get the tail down as soon as possible after landing. Provided you are not landing downhill the aircraft will come to a stop quite quickly.
A versatile aerobatic aircraft
The Tiger Moth is a great aircraft to teach spinning in. Approved aerobatic manoeuvres that may be performed in it are the loop, roll, barrel roll, stall turn and Cuban Eight.
Up until the late 1960’s the Tiger was the civilian aerobatic aircraft of choice. Participating in the sport of competition aerobatics, I went as far as doing inverted spins, tail-slides, inverted gliding and half outside loops in it.
The Sutton Harness – frightening but effective
Before flight, the pilots strapped themselves into their seats using a primitive arrangement of two lap straps and two shoulder straps. The four straps were made from thick canvas and they all had multiple reinforced holes along their lengths.
The straps were pulled together as tightly as possible and a hole from each of the straps was lined up so that a steel peg could be stuck through them. The assembly was then locked with a heavy duty safety pin that went through the end of the peg.
Any pilot that was adventurous enough to try doing negative g manoeuvres would find that in the open-air cockpit of a Tiger Moth, this would be a very disconcerting experience.
The Sutton Harness, as it was called, never did much to lessen the very uncomfortable sensation that it was not tight enough and that you were going to fall out of the aircraft.
The problem always existed that if the engine idling speed had been set a little low and you had throttled back completely to demonstrate a stall, then at a low airspeed, the engine could stop. Since the Tiger Moth had no self-starter, all one could do was dive steeply until the relative wind increased to a speed that the propeller started turning and the engine came to life again.
A wonderful aircraft for movie making
The Tiger Moth with its charm and character was a wonderful aircraft for the movies. Cameras used by movie-makers before the advent of digitalization were huge and bulky pieces of equipment. The beauty of the Tiger Moth was that there were plenty of places where these cameras could be mounted so as to achieve some unique angles and points of view.
A sweet handling, lovely aircraft
My tail of woe is that I bought one in 1974 for R1430. Four years later, due to the fact our family was growing, I sold it for about three times what I paid for it. What I learnt from that experience is that if I ever have another ‘Tiger by the tail’ again, I will never let it go!