de Havilland 100: Making of the Moth

First flown five years into the life of Geoffrey de Havilland’s eponymous company, the DH60 Moth showed the potential for a practical light aeroplane, and set its manufacturer down a very successful road. However, much had been learned from a rather less user-friendly machine, conceived with the overly restrictive rules of the Lympne light aeroplane trials in mind: the DH53. To open our de Havilland centenary special, we examine the Humming Bird’s place in history 

This view of the unmarked DH53 prototype shows the long expansion chamber silencer terminating under the cockpit. Also clear is the differential gear to the port aileron, revealing that the DH-patented ‘eccentric-wheel’ system was positioned on the wing main spar. 

If you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for, you can be forgiven for setting off with the wrong foot, making mistakes and establishing a scenario that future generations might look back on and smirk over. A clear-cut example of this sort of behaviour is today remembered as the Lympne trials of the 1920s.

The purpose of those distant events was a quest that ultimately was intended to result in the ideal light aircraft. On reviewing the evidence in the way of the aeroplanes put forward as contestants, you could be excused for thinking otherwise.

There were four events in this corner of Kent, each quite different from the other. The first was the British Gliding Competitions, staged in the hills around Itford in 1922. This was followed by the Motor-Glider Competitions, held at Lympne in 1923. The same venue was the setting for the Two-Seater Competitions of 1924 and, finally, the Light Aeroplane Competitions of 1926.

In those days, our daily newspapers were of a different calibre than perhaps they are now. The main ones were headed up by notable, usually titled, families who were invariably royalists and keen on promoting the greatness of Great Britain. Publishing was also something of a gentleman’s contest where the winner was the newspaper with the highest circulation. And circulation was achieved by getting people to read the most interesting stories in your paper.

It was with circulation foremost in mind that our two biggest popular broadsheet nationals of the time — the Daily Mail and the Daily Express — regularly took to sponsoring things associated with the comparatively new and exciting world of aviation. One way in which this was done was with competitions and prize money.

This format was not altogether a British idea. The French press had been doing exactly the same thing for some while. After it became known that Louis Blériot was in the eye of a top Parisian paper, our Daily Mail promptly announced a £1,000 prize for the first Englishman to repeat his performance.

Geoffrey de Havilland in the cockpit of the Royal Aircraft Factory BE3. He made the type’s maiden flight on 3 May 1912. 

The Itford gliding competitions attracted prize money from the Mail when it learned that the Germans excelled in this sport. Gallantly the purse was open to all comers, Germans included. The success of this event inspired that curiously named 1923 event, the Motor-Glider Competition. Gradually we were moving towards a goal of some sort, but nobody quite knew what sort of outcome was likely.

The competition itself proved to be a rather ad hoc affair. Looking back, it seems a combination of bad weather and a number of designs from what we now call time-wasters contrived to make for a somewhat amateurish occasion.

It was into this mêlée that a youthful Geoffrey de Havilland entered the field of ultralight aircraft with his DH53 Humming Bird, built for the newspaper-sponsored trials at Lympne in October 1923. It was wholly a private venture. Nobody specified or sponsored it other than de Havilland himself.

A prize of £500 was offered to encourage the building of an economical light aircraft which would be suitable for club and private flying. The type was to be a single-seater, powered by an engine not exceeding 750cc. The main object of the competition was to achieve the greatest distance on 1.2 gallons (4.5 litres) of petrol. de Havilland was, of course, no newcomer to the world of aircraft design. He had a clear understanding of his brief and the Humming Bird proved a well-thought-out concept. For example, the rudder was of a larger area than might be needed, but with the overly long fuselage this provided an adequate lever arm designed to suit a slow-speed aircraft with minimal propeller slipstream. The fuselage was a basic box structure covered with 1mm-thick plywood and the aircraft was equipped with a  conventional,  simple, through-axle  undercarriage. Together these  features saved weight and, furthermore, ensured a degree of durability.

The two Humming Birds lined up for the 1923 Lympne Motor-Glider Competition. Despite structural robustness and excellent performance, the engines let them down.

In those days, aerofoil choice was limited to the results of work conducted at Farnborough by the Royal Aircraft Factory. The more advanced work on wing sections was yet to be completed. America’s influential National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) had been founded on 3 March 1915, but its first papers on airfoil — or aerofoil — design were not to be widely available until the mid-1920s. For this reason, Geoffrey de Havilland had a limited choice of established wing sections from which to choose. The one he favoured at the time, and had used on most of his designs, was the old RAF 15 which, in modified form, had been in use since the war. Significantly, in later years it was still this and its later sister section, RAF 45 (modified), which DH preferred.

The DH53 had conventional two-spar wings with the advantage of differential ailerons made to de Havilland’s own patented design. This mechanism would be used most successfully on the later Moth designs including the DH60 and DH82A Tiger Moth. Its principal benefit was the diminution of adverse yaw on entering a turn, and it achieved this by ensuring the ‘high’ aileron dipped only to initiate the bank, not to maintain it.

Two prototypes were built, G-EBHX subsequently being retained by the firm and G-EBHY going on to be privately owned. The machines were initially powered by 750cc Douglas motorcycle engines. In spite of considerable problems with this powerplant, both aircraft did well. Maj Harold Hemming flew Humming Bird number 12, G-EBHZ, while Hubert Broad piloted number 8, G-EBHX.

The main object of the competition was as pointless as it was simple. It was to find out who could cover the greatest distance on 1.2 gallons (4.5 litres) of petrol. In the event, the DH53 covered 59.3 miles (95.5km) on that amount of fuel. Others, though, did slightly better as smaller engines made for better distances. And frail airframes were usually lighter.

Named Sylvia II and bearing contest number 12, the DH53 shows off its dubious Douglas motorcycle engine. Pilot Maj Harold Hemming stands in the cockpit talking to a competition marshal.

Unreliable engines were the bane of most contestants, the DH53 being no exception. Such were the contest rules and the limited thinking of the time (engine servicing and repairs were not allowed during the competition) that the Humming Bird’s participation in the contests was rewarded with neither prizes nor awards of any kind. This fact alone spoke volumes for the thought processes behind the event.

At the end of the competition, Broad thought he would attempt to set some sort of altitude record in number 8. His engine, however, thought otherwise, and having stopped on the climb what happened next made people stand up and gasp in amazement. Broad demonstrated the control and manoeuvrability of his mount when, on gliding down for a ‘deadstick’ landing, at 400ft he began a series of Immelmann turns — a form of stall turn, or roll-off-the-top, named after the German fighter ace Max Immelmann — and finished it off with two loops, landing safely off the last.

And so the 1923 contest came and went. It had attracted 29 entries, of which 28 were accepted and a number didn’t show for one reason or another. These were all extremely lightweight single-seaters, powered mainly by improbably small motorcycle engines. As aircraft they were grossly underpowered and the airframes were made in the lightest possible manner. Structural failure was ever just around the corner as design safety factors were second-placed to save pounds in weight.

Two weeks after the Lympne event, there was a race meeting for light aircraft staged at Hendon. In the interval between the two, de Havilland took the opportunity to exchange the Douglas of Hubert Broad’s DH53 number 8 for a Blackburne Tomtit inverted-V two-cylinder engine, an inverted version of the Blackburne unit. This motor had proved the most successful engine at Lympne both as regards performance and reliability. Broad was so confident in the strength of the Humming Bird with its new powerplant that he opened the meeting with a display of aerobatics.

No 12 again, but this time re-engined with the Blackburne Tomtit inverted-Vee engine.

In fact, the Tomtit engine and its larger sister, the Thrush, enjoyed a long-forgotten connection with Geoffrey de Havilland. Before he turned to the newly evolving aircraft business, he had worked briefly for Willans & Robinson of Rugby, a company which was a renowned maker of steam engines. It was there in 1903 that he met two young apprentices, the brothers Cecil Stanley and Edward Alexander Burney.

The young de Havilland had designed and built his own motorcycle which attracted the Burneys’ attention because it had, for its time, a first-rate performance. When they found the future aviation figurehead had no interest in its production, they were overjoyed; the more so when de Havilland offered to sell them the rights to his design, together with the casting patterns for the engine, for the princely sum of £5.

The Burney brothers, together with pioneer aviator Harold Blackburn, were able to start producing their de Havilland-designed ‘thugging-iron’ together with its de Havilland-designed engine. Ready for the road at the beginning of 1904 — the first year of vehicle registration — it carried the licence plate FF41. Trading as Burney & Blackburne (spelled with a terminal letter ‘e’), they operated from a factory at Northchurch near Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. From there they built motorcycles based on de Havilland’s design and developed engines until the outbreak of World War One, when they moved to Tongham near Farnham in Surrey.

Two DH53s were used in trials involving being launched from and retrieved by an airship in flight. The attachment gear was in the form of a metal tube trapeze-like structure, as fitted to J7326. 

Meanwhile, in 1910 Geoffrey de Havilland had joined HM Balloon Factory at Farnborough, which became the Royal Aircraft Factory. There he sealed his future in aviation with George Holt Thomas and the Airco business. War service saw him promoted to the rank of captain and promoted to serve as Airco’s chief designer. After the war ended, the depressed years up to 1920 saw de Havilland launch out on his own as the de Havilland Aircraft Company. He designed and built a pair of gliders for the 1922 Itford meeting, but these were unsuccessful: one broke up spectacularly in the air, without badly injuring its pilot.

In the interim, Burney & Blackburne had shifted motorbike and engine production from Tongham to the Atlas Works at Bookham, Surrey. It seems de Havilland must have kept a fatherly eye on the business, because when it came to the 1923 Motor-Glider Competitions he thought back to his motorcycling days and his engine.

While the organisers of the 1923 contest didn’t think much of the DH53’s performance, and the prize donors — which, beside the Daily Mail, included the Royal Aero Club and the upmarket Abdulla tobacco company — saw nothing in its performance worth awarding a prize for, the Humming Bird attracted attention in higher places. That December, two things happened which endorsed the little Humming Bird’s reputation. First was an unexpected order from the RAF. The second was an adventurous trip to attend the Brussels Aero Show.

With an eye to its economic performance, the Air Ministry issued an order for eight aircraft for communications and flying practice. These were to be powered by the 28hp Tomtit, an engine that had demonstrated an advantage over the Douglas during the contest.

We may wonder today what on earth attracted the ministry to consider a single-seat, low-powered flying machine with so relatively marginal a performance. It must have had a good reason at the time, especially since the permitted military load was just 7lb, or 3.17kg, or pretty much the weight of the contents of a schoolboy’s pockets! Admittedly it was a period of stringent economy.

If the truth were known, looking back on it now, we can see that the Humming Bird had overall one of the best performance envelopes of all the participants in that 1923 contest. Besides this order for eight machines, in the fullness of time five others would be ordered for private customers, three going to Australia, one to Czechoslovakia and one to Russia.

The batch for the Air Ministry would be supplied under two contracts, the first for six machines and the second for two aircraft. These would be allocated serial numbers J7268-J7273, J7325 and J7326. A novel experiment concerned the last two, which were employed in trials that involved the aerial launching and recovery of an aircraft with an airship. These took place with the R33, G-FAAG. Both examples were fitted with a pylon and pick-up gear for attachment to a trapeze lowered from the airship.

Experiments were undertaken with the airship piloted by Flt Lt Irwin which left its mast at Pulham, Norfolk, on 15 October 1925, carrying J7325. On top of the fuselage was erected an inverted trapeze-like tubular steel structure, At an altitude of 3,800ft, Sqn Ldr Rollo Amyat de Haga Haig climbed into the DH53’s cockpit via a ladder from the airship. The aircraft with its trapeze framework was lowered clear of the gasbag and then released.

It was reported that the DH53 dived until the engine started, executed two loops and then returned to the underside of the airship, which was travelling at its full speed of 62mph. While this maiden launch was a success, a second attempt with the same aircraft on 28 October was not.

J7326 during the trials involving airship R33.
A much more practical proposition: the first DH60 Moth, G-EBKT. For this publicity photoshoot, it was towed to Hendon behind a ‘Bullnose’ Morris, with silent film actress Estelle Brody adding a touch of glamour — aside from that already offered by company test pilot Hubert Broad, of course.

Turbulence close to the dirigible caused the DH53’s airscrew to foul a supporting bracing wire, resulting in such severe oscillation that the pilot was compelled to make a forced landing at Starston close to Harleston in Norfolk.

The whole process was a potentially hazardous exercise, there being a real risk of accidentally ripping the belly out of the airship with the rotating propeller. This was hopefully guarded against by the shape of the hook-up frame. On 4 December, the attempt was repeated, this time using J7326. This time all went well. The pilot returned safely to R33 and was able to rejoin the airship’s crew.

Unfortunately, it was not recorded exactly what the purpose of these undertakings was, let alone how the DH53/airship combine was supposed to be used in a defensive or observation role. While flying your own attack/defence aircraft to a target by airship might have seemed a good idea on paper, in reality the practicalities of it were rather suspect.

The main batch of six DH53s for the RAF made their public debut when they took off together at the start of a race between the Air Ministry Directorates at the Hendon Pageant on 27 June 1925. The noise of half a dozen Tomtits can only be imagined today.

Following the disposal of all eight aircraft by the RAF in 1927, all were civil-registered and went on to fly for some years. The first batch were allocated G-EBRW, G-EBRJ, G-EBRA, G-EBXN, G-EBIT and G-EBRK, and the final two aircraft G-EBXM and G-EBQP.

The other event of that December back in 1923 came about as the outcome of a remark made by de Havilland’s colleague, Francis St Barbe. He thought it might be worth exhibiting the little Humming Bird at the Brussels Aero Show. Furthermore, it was felt a good idea if Alan Cobham, then flying for DH, went along with it as a sort of salesman.

Author C. Martin Sharp recounts in his book D.H. that when he was approached about this, Cobham asked “What’s its range?” “Don’t worry”, responded St Barbe. “You can read all about that in the train”. “Why the train? Won’t it fly?”… “Do you mean you’d fly it there?” questioned an incredulous St Barbe.

In the end, Cobham did fly the machine all the way from Stag Lane to Croydon and thence via Lympne to Brussels. The difficulty was that the DH53 really didn’t have anything like the necessary range, so an additional two-gallon capacity fuel tank had to be made and fitted. Chief draughtsman Arthur Ernest Hagg installed a small extra tank in the only available position — to double as a headrest behind the pilot’s head. This, however, posed a fresh problem. It was not high enough to allow gravity feed to the engine’s carburettor. There being no commercially available fuel pump small enough for the job, a simple and lightweight solution was arranged. A rubber tube was installed into which Cobham could blow so as to give pressure feed to the tank.

As it turned out, the fun was not yet over. When Cobham got to Lympne to refuel for his epic crossing of the English Channel, the 100-gallon fuel bowser drew up and asked how much fuel he wanted. The two-gallon fill-up came to 7/6d — about 38p in today’s money.

The 150-mile non-stop flight to Brussels was completed at an average cruising speed of about 40mph and mostly through fog. It was thus something of an achievement in itself despite all-too frequent periods of rough running from the engine as the pilot’s breath-induced condensation and air bubbles mixed with the fuel supply. After the 10-day exhibition, a dramatic weather change brought snow and strong winds, perhaps fortuitously in the circumstances, so the return trip had to be by train and boat. The DH53, however, had proved itself once more.

At the peak of the Moth family’s inter-war success, Geoffrey de Havilland (right) stands with his sons Geoffrey (centre) and Peter at the 1934 King’s Cup. This was not a successful event for the trio, Geoffrey junior being the only one placed, fifth overall in the DH Aeronautical Technical School-developed TK1. Aboard Hornet Moth G-ACTA, his father was eliminated in the first heat, and Peter likewise in the second with Tiger Moth G-ACJA. 

Once the dust had settled from these events, it was clear that the quest for the ideal light aircraft was still far from over. Both Cobham and de Havilland agreed that the Humming Bird, while probably one of the best aircraft at the trials, was simply too small and underpowered to make a suitable machine for flying training. The Lympne proponents, in the form of the Royal Aero Club and the prize-giving Daily Mail, were somewhat far from reality in their ‘ideal specification’ of lightness and low power.

Nevertheless, both of the two DH aircraft that had made it to the skies at Lympne would continue to amaze crowds for a long while to come. They later took part in several air races, while the prototype was sold to a group of RAF officers who re-engined it with a 30hp ABC Scorpion, which proved anything but reliable. Number 8, G-EBHX, which had also been Cobham’s mount to Brussels, would remain flying into the 21st century as a key attraction at the Shuttleworth Collection.

Three variations on the lightplane theme, one rather more practical than the others: DH53 G-EBHX, DH60 G-EBKT and DH51 G-EBIM lined up at Stag Lane in February 1925. 

Like the 1924 competition, the 1926 Lympne contest was for two-seat aircraft. de Havilland had steered clear of entering the earlier event since he believed the requirements were for anything but the ideal lightplane. It still called for slow, underpowered machines which had such a low reserve of performance that they were anything but suited to training.

It was for this event that Robert Blackburn designed his Bluebird, powered by a three-cylinder Blackburne Thrush. So troublesome was this engine that in the event it was a non-starter. Only when re-engined later with a 60hp Genet I radial did it perform well. Blackburn and de Havilland were obviously singing from the same hymn-sheet.

The generous Daily Mail had put up prize money of £5,000. The way the rules were drawn up, however, still missed the point. Whereas the ultimate goal was to end up with the ‘ideal’ two-seat training aircraft, the judging committee was still influenced not by common sense but by those false Gods of fuel economy and distance flown.

Meanwhile, de Havilland had produced the four-seat DH50 and the better-known three-seat DH51. Both these large biplanes demonstrated the characteristics Geoffrey de Havilland had considered to be vital for the ideal training two-seater: sufficient power reserve, adequate control and docile flight characteristics. 

de Havilland now had all the pieces of the jigsaw in his lap. From this melange of ideas came forth an aircraft design so perfect in its execution that it became a cornerstone of flying, both in a training role and in the club and private-owner sphere. It was called the DH60. Prototype G-EBKT first flew in February 1925, too large, heavy and powerful for the ‘Lympne Lords’. A tandem two-seater biplane, it was initially powered by one of Maj Frank Halford’s stunning new four-cylinder upright ADC Cirrus engines, but in order to get the weight down to the maximum specified by the 1926 competition rules, de Havilland installed an Armstrong Siddeley Genet I five-cylinder radial in G-EBOU, which flew as such in September 1926.

Unfortunately, the weight was still outside the specifications of the contest so the DH60 could not take part. Nevertheless, the aircraft proved to be a revelation. It also sealed de Havilland’s contention that no practical light aeroplane should have a cruising speed of less than 80mph and carry enough petrol for three hours’ flying.

Winners at Lympne that year were the low-powered and rather flimsy Hawker Cygnets. G-EBMB won the first prize while another example, G-EBJH, took second. de Havilland’s eminently practical Genet Moth was not even a contender.

The quest for the practical lightplane was now over. But what of the competition winners? Well, they went down in history for their achievements, but they would also be remembered as failing to live up to expectations. Time would prove whether those rules were on the right track, or whether the young man at Stag Lane knew better.

Looking back almost a century later, did the Lympne trials teach us anything, or were they just a waste of time, effort and money? They taught designers to evolve components and complete airframes that combined strength with lightness of weight. If anything, they taught us to hone our skills to the limit. But they were well and truly off-course in trying to give us a robust and adequately powered training aircraft.


G-EBHX (c/n 98) 

Certificate of airworthiness issued 22 September 1923; first flown September 1923 without markings. Called Humming Bird, later adopted as generic type name. Numbered 8 in 1923 Lympne contest, flown by de Havilland and Broad. Flown to Brussels by Cobham on 8 December 1923 as G-EBHX and named L’Oiseau Mouche. Various private owners up to outbreak of World War Two. Found derelict in 1955, restored by DH Technical School, flew again Hatfield 8 August 1960 with ABC Scorpion II engine. Given to Shuttleworth Trust 1 September 1960. Fatal crash at Old Warden on 1 July 2012.

G-EBHZ (c/n 99) 

Registration issued 10 May 1923; first flown 1 October 1923, without markings. Called Sylvia II. Participated in 1923 Lympne event as number 12 and flown by Hemming. Sold without engine to the Seven Light Aeroplane Club, Eastchurch, May 1925, which installed an ABC Scorpion engine with Fairey-Reed metal prop. Engine failed during Light Aeroplane Holiday Handicap race and caused crash-landing with considerable damage. Repaired and raced during 1925-26, last appearance Lympne 18 September 1926. Scrapped 1927.

G-EBHZ, named Sylvia II at the Lympne trials, displays its high-aspect ratio wings in a steeply banked turn. 

G-AUAC (c/n 103) 

C of A issued 23 June 1924. Sent by sea to Australian civilian aircraft authority for Light Aeroplane Competition at Essendon, Melbourne, 29 November-6 December 1924. Unreliable engine caused many forced landings. Enjoyed long career with Aero Club of New South Wales as VH-UAC (reregistered 28 March 1929) which named it Icarus. Shipped to Samoa 20 May 1937. Rebuilt with Aeronca engine. With 17-gallon fuel tank behind cockpit, flew 1,950 miles from Wyndham to Perth, Western Australia, in six-and-a-half days of which 30 hours and five minutes was flying time. Airframe burned at Perth in 1964.

G-AUAD (c/n 104) 

C of A issued 23 June 1924. Sent by sea to Australian civilian aircraft authority for Light Aeroplane Competition, Essendon, 29 November-6 December 1924. Operated Aero Club of New South Wales as VH-UAD (re-registered 28 March 1929) which named it Kestrel. Fitted with Cherub engine 1935. Withdrawn from use 27 December 1935.

G-EBRW (c/n 107) 

Delivered to RAF at Central Flying School, Upavon, 16 June 1924 as J7268. Converted to civil use, C of A 25 June 1927, owned by Flt Lt D. V. Carnegie. In August 1933 sold to Robert L. Burnett at Broxbourne. C of A expired 19 June 1934, scrapped 1937.

G-EBRJ (c/n 108) 

Delivered to CFS at Upavon 16 June 1924 as J7269. Converted to civil use by E. R. Wilson, C of A 28 November 1927. Owned by Tellus Super Vacuum Cleaner, based Brooklands. C of A expired 27 November 1928. Scrapped at Woodley 1939.

G-EBRA (c/n 109) 

Delivered to RAF Netheravon 27 June 1924 as J7270. Civil conversion abandoned, sold back to manufacturer 1928 and then sold abroad, possibly as spares, in January 1930.

G-EBXN (c/n 110) 

Delivered to RAF Netheravon 27 June 1924 as J7271. Civil conversion 25 May 1928 for RAE Aero Club at Farnborough, and fitted with Cherub engine. Later sold to Eric D. Ward at Speke, August 1938. Last C of A 3 May 1939. Stored Hooton Park Racecourse from outbreak of war, and destroyed in fire there on 8 July 1940.

G-EBTT (c/n 111) 

Delivered to RAF Northolt 28 June 1924 as J7272. Sold to William B. Ellis, Cramlington, 5 September 1927, but civil conversion abandoned 1928; sold to J. K. Lawrence also at Cramlington, and re-registered G-ABPS 8 September 1931. Conversion again abandoned.

G-EBXM (c/n 113) 

Delivered to RAE Farnborough 16 June 1925 as J7325 — first of two DH53s for trials with airship R33 (G-FAAG) at Pulham, Norfolk. Experiments by pilot Sqn Ldr R. de Haga Haig. Civil conversion by K. V. Wright at Farnborough. Sold December 1928 to Capt A. V. C. Douglas, Bekesbourne; withdrawn Brooklands August 1931. Believed rebuilt by College of Aeronautical Engineering, 1936.

At the Central Flying School at RAF Upavon, an admiring crowd watches J7273, one of the batch of eight DH53s ordered for service use. Much later this would become G-EBRK and would survive until a smash in March 1932.

G-EBRK (c/n 112) 

Delivered to CFS at Upavon June 1924 as J7273. On 4 May 1925 went to RAE Farnborough. Civil conversion by R. N. Thompson in 1929, destroyed in crash March 1932.

G-EBQP (c/n 114) 

Delivered to RAE Farnborough 3 March 1925 as J7326. Second of two DH53s for airship trials with R33. Civil conversion 13 May 1927 for RAE Aero Club. Re-engined with Cherub III; flown by Fg Off McKenzie Richards, came third in Nottingham Air Race on 1927 August Bank Holiday. Last owned by Robert H. Somerset, Plymouth from April 1934. Lost when an unlicensed flyer stalled at 60ft and crashed, killing himself at Hamble, 27 July 1934. Fuselage preserved in de Havilland Aircraft Museum, no engine.

(c/n 117) 

No registration. Sold June 1924 to Miloš Bondy, Prague. Tomtit engine. Demonstrated by Hubert Broad at Kbely, 26 June 1924.

(c/n 118) 

No registration. Sold to Australia, 15 July 1924. Aeronca engine installed 1937. Named Icarus. Burned at Perth Technical College, Western Australia, 1964.

(c/n 152) 

No registration. First flown 12 December 1924. Flown by Broad to 10,000ft on 29 December 1924, then sold to Russia January 1925. Tomtit engine.


Replica, finished in blue and silver colours of G-EBHX, scratch-built in Canada 1967 by Stan Greene of Calgary. Fitted with Continental A-40. Sold to Ron Davidson, instructor at CFB Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Flown extensively. Preserved in Western Development Museum, Moose Jaw.


The Martin Monoplane awaiting restoration while in the ownership of the late Mike Russell in the 1970s. 

In the past, when aircraft were scrapped or broken, it was not uncommon for pieces to be ‘recycled’. It is a practice frowned upon by regulatory bodies these days. The DH53 turned out to be eminently recyclable and surplus examples gave us three different lightplanes: the Clarke Cheetah, Halton Mayfly and the Martin Monoplane. These were built around scrapped Humming Bird parts. Only the Martin Monoplane, though, can be certain from whence came its components. Humming Bird G-EBQP’s wings ended up on G-AEYY. The Clarke Cheetah, G-AAJK, started life as a biplane and ended up as a parasol monoplane. Power was provided by a 30hp three-cylinder Blackburne Thrush engine. John Clarke’s enjoyment of his dream aeroplane, which was built in 1929, was to be short as he lost his life in an RAF Armstrong Whitworth Siskin flying accident soon after its completion. The aircraft was sold to Richard Henderson who had it rebuilt by Luton Aircraft as the Martin Monoplane, G-AEYY. It survives to this day and is currently being restored to airworthy condition by Light Aircraft Association member David Underwood.


September 1923 

First flight of DH53, in readiness for following month’s Lympne trials

July 1924 

First DH51 makes maiden flight, powered at this stage by RAF 1A engine

22 February 1925 

Geoffrey de Havilland takes first DH60 Moth, G-EBKT, for maiden flight; power from ADC Cirrus I engine

31 March 1925 

Air Ministry makes DH60 its approved choice for equipping light aeroplane clubs

29 May 1925 

Alan Cobham flies DH60 G-EBKT to Zürich and back — a publicity triumph for the new machine

9-10 July 1926 

Inaugural Moth triumph in King’s Cup Air Race, Hubert Broad winning in G-EBMO

24 June 1927 

First aircraft to bear Tiger Moth name, DH71 high-speed research aircraft and racer, flies

September 1927 

DH60X G-EBTD takes to the air with DH’s own Gipsy engine

7 December 1928 

Moth family grows — literally — with maiden flight of DH75 Hawk Moth four-seat high-wing monoplane; just eight built

9 September 1929 

Maiden flight of cabin-configured, high-wing monoplane DH80, later developed into DH80A Puss Moth

24 May 1930 

In DH60G G-AAAH Jason, Amy Johnson arrives in Darwin to become first woman to fly solo from England to Australia

21 August 1931 

Initial flight of DH81 Swallow Moth monoplane trainer, but only one prototype built

26 October 1931 

First flight of new military trainer offshoot of DH60G, designated as DH82 Tiger Moth; already ordered in quantity by Air Ministry for RAF

November 1931 

No 3 Flying Training School at Grantham receives RAF’s initial Tiger Moths

29 January 1932 

Three/four-seat DH83 Fox Moth light passenger transport, based on DH82, completes initial flight

27 May 1933 

DH85 Leopard Moth flies for first time; intended as Puss Moth successor

9 May 1934 

DH87 Hornet Moth cabin biplane trainer and tourer makes maiden flight

22 June 1937 

First flight by latest Moth trainer, monoplane DH94 Moth Minor


‘Dodge’ Bailey getting airborne from Old Warden in G-EBHX during 2001. 

“I heard all sorts of bad tales about the Humming Bird — aileron snatch and all that”, says Shuttleworth Collection pilot Rob Millinship of DH53 G-EBHX, which he flew often before its fatal loss in July 2012. “Well, I never had any of that. It flew perfectly fine. I did have a few engine failures in it, as did most other pilots. The very first time I got in it, to do my first flight, was one evening. [Groundcrew member] Phil Norris said, ‘Contact’, I switched the mag on, he swung the prop, and it instantly burst into flames. I was immediately going to undo my straps to bail out over the side, but Phil said, ‘Stay where you are’ and started blowing out the flames…

“It caught fire on me once in flight, but we’d got it sorted. I sent Keith Dennison off in it, and gave him a brief in which I said to him, ‘After five minutes it’s going to run rough on you, and if you leave it running rough there are going to be flames coming out of it, so that’s the time to get it on the ground’. Keith flew it round for 20 minutes, and it never missed a beat.”