THE BIRTH OF AN IDEA
In 2005 a dozen US based Moth pilots arrived in the UK for the Woburn Moth Rally. As a group we all enjoyed the occasion very much. One of
our group was Air Marshal Ron Dick, who had recently survived an unplanned landing of a Tiger Moth because of faulty magnetos. He and I
were viewing a very beautiful Spitfire instrument panel being displayed at the rally.
“Harry, you must put this in the back cockpit of John’s new Moth!” Ron Said.
Of course, I laughed and asked why ever so? Ron pointed out that in 2006 the anniversary of both the Spitfire and the Moth would be held
and this would be a great thing.
I had received the Tiger Moth which Ron Dick crashed and had said to John Burson that I’d repair it. We had changed plans and I was to build
up an Australian “A” model instead and, later, do the “C”, which was in pieces. It was this aircraft, the “A”, of which Ron spoke. I should have
Our group gathered on almost any occasion in a pub and of course this idea became a popular topic. Ron pushed and John Burson thought
he’d love to have what was by now dubbed a Spitmoth. So it began.
Years ago I had installed a bubble canopy on my first Tiger Moth. John had always liked this idea (this may be why he owns 3 Canadian Tiger
Moths with canopies!) and wanted one on the Spitmoth. I had one left.
From the engine and rearward, this is what is included in a Spitmoth:
A Chipmunk engine, with starter, generator and vacuum system….to run the Spitfire instruments. Of course, the firewall must be modified to
get these goodies in and this was difficult as it must be made of stainless steel.
An electrical system consisting of two 12 volt batteries, a regulator (from a Chipmunk) and divided in such a way that the starter and generator
used 24 volts and the radio/transponder used 12 volts. I had two generators which didn’t work so I sent them to Bill Orbeck, who had them
I had three vacuum pumps and had no idea which was the best one and decided on the cleanest….not a good choice as it needs more
vacuum. I’ll send the other two up to Bill for rebuild in the near future.
I had gathered all the original Spitfire instruments; however, I didn’t have room for the large turn and bank so I substituted a Chipmunk unit. All
instruments were sent off for rebuild and the vacuum gauge face was changed to read “boost” instead of vacuum.
The radio/transponder (Microair) and interphone were placed at the top of the panel so one could read them without looking down inside the
The seat was built after viewing a real Spitfire seat. (I often used the Spitfire in the Palm Springs WW 2 Air museum as a model).
A false undercarriage up/down unit was built as was a fuse box…which was not false. The trim handle was replaced with a round system (as in
the Spitfire) and a round, smaller rudder trim unit installed. The sides of the cockpit were finished with aluminum. The standard Tiger Moth
control column was replaced with a spade grip unit which I constructed. Ed Clark’s brake system was installed.
The canopy was a real challenge, however, eventually it did get installed and locking open and closed devices were installed. Without locking
it open on takeoff (if one took off with it open) it would run forward and smack the pilot on the back of the head!
All of these things, by themselves, were real problems and, instead of the machine being finished quickly, as all had envisioned, it took years.
The engine arrived during the summer of 2008 while I was in Idaho and I had to rush down to Los Angeles so that US Customs would not
impound it. I learned a lot about importing engines into the USA!
I had a coarse cruise propeller built for the Spitmoth by Felix Propellers. Fred Felix sent me a beautiful prop and it fit wonderfully.
From January of this year (2009) until mid July, I have worked on this machine 7 days a week, 8 hours a day and I must give great
appreciation to my wife for tolerating this endeavor.
The aircraft had a standard certificate. My mechanic, Mat Voight (Chief mechanic and restorer for the Palm Springs Air Museum) was to sign it
off and, looking at the 1946 requirements for US certification, he said that my new propeller was not on the list! Try as I might, I couldn’t get
him to sign off on the prop without extensive paperwork so I changed the certification to “Experimental” with the help of a local DAR
(Designated Aircraft Representative of the FAA). This completed, I took my first test flight and all went well, except I was using a handheld
radio, mine not being installed yet. Palm Springs tower was not pleased and on my second flight they suggested I get new radios installed or
put off flying!! I took the radios to Advanced Avionics in Chino and they wired them and I then installed them into the panel and now everyone
DELIVERY OF THE SPITMOTH.
During the time I was putting the Spitmoth together, I installed new pistons, rings, valve guides/valves and reground cylinders into my
Chipmunk. My mechanic did most of the work and I was the “gofer” for the job. I had the aircraft recovered and repainted because of last
summer’s damage from a hail storm. I had 248 breaks or holes in the fabric, a broken canopy and multiple serious dints in the metal.
Insurance covered everything, however, I lost use of the aircraft for almost a half of a year. In its new glorious paint job, I was invited to attend
the Lethbridge, Alberta air show with both aircraft. As invitees everything was paid for except fuel. How could one refuse? This show
celebrated the 100 years of flight in Canada.
I had trained on the Harvard in Clarsholm, just north of Lethbridge, in 1956/57 and was familiar with the area. I was raised in Red Deer,
Alberta, between Calgary and Edmonton. It is beautiful country to view from the air.
On the 17th of July my good friend, Dick Laumeyer (US Navy A-4 pilot with hundred of carrier landings and my room mate when we joined Pan
Am in 1965), and I launched from Palm Springs at 0700 for Boulder, Nevada, just south of Las Vegas. During run-up for departure from
Boulder, a problem was discovered with the Slick impulse magneto. We flew back to Palm Springs to get another mag and returned to Boulder
City and after it was installed we found it too late in the evening for next leg to Cedar City, Utah.
Next morning we did three legs to Pocatello, Idaho, where the mag again gave me a problem. We put the aircraft in the maintenance hangar
and continued the trip in the Chipmunk, to Driggs, Idaho…..a short hour’s flight. On Monday I flew back to Pocatello in the Chipmunk and the
mechanic and I rebuilt the magnetos. The bolt which locks the impulse assembly together had been tightened too much to line up the cotter
pin. Next day my wife drove me to Pocatello and I flew the Spitmoth back to Driggs.
Driggs airport was closing on the next weekend for new runway construction so Dick had located a small private 2,100 foot paved strip with an
80 by 80 hangar 20 miles north. We moved the aircraft there and I still was not happy with the magneto. I managed to get, through the local
FBO, a mechanic who was somewhat of an expert on Slick mags and he said that the locking nut was still too tight and repaired both units and
that was the end of the problem.
On July 24th, with dark skies to the north, we launched for Bozeman, Montana. Much of this flying was over high mountains and we maintained
between 11 and 13 thousand feet. The weather improved and our next stop was to Great Falls, Montana. There is now in place a very
complicated and user-unfriendly web site created by a unit of the US government called Homeland Security. These are the folks who harass
you at check-in at our airports. If one doesn’t register on this web site and fill out great amounts of nonsense, one can not fly across the
border. No computer, no crossing! It’s the same thing to get back into the country. There is no phone number to call and no help if one can’t
solve the computer quiz. Then one must call Canpass (Canadian customs), in order to enter Canada. With all these restrictions I am sure
travel by private aircraft to and from Canada and Mexico will drop off enormously. Utter nonsense!
As we arrived in the Lethbridge area we were advised to hold somewhere for 30 minutes as the Snowbirds (Canadian Armed Forces Aerobatic
Team) were practicing. Eventually, we landed and were parked and began tying down the aircraft….it was quite windy. Shortly thereafter, four
black uniformed Canadian Customs officials arrived and wanted to know why we had not checked in? We explained that we were a mile away
from the terminal and planned to do it when we found transportation. They told us we should have called them upon landing! Eventually, they
lost their aggressiveness and became interested in our aircraft and it ended well, however, it does make one wonder.
The air show was excellent (Oshkosh could learn some things from this show) and our aircraft were of great interest to the crowds. We were
mentioned on both days by the announcer of the event as being the thing to see as they were the history of the RCAF. Just next to us was a
Mk 4 Harvard…repainted, however, the interior was stock. Beautiful! The owner of that aircraft had owned my Chipmunk years ago. Small
Monday morning was clear and very windy. We launched toward Swift Current and made it in 2:45 hours. At first we could stay above the
cumulus, however, eventually we had to fly under the clouds and took a beating. Swift Current’s wind was 15 knots, gusting to 30 at about a 40
degree crosswind. That builds character. The runways were wide so one could get a bit of an angle into the wind. Off to Regina and another
beating under the Cu. Again the same wind. We pressed on the Brandon, Manitoba where the wind was a bit stronger, however, they had a
3000 ft. gravel runway into wind. Taxiing with these winds is always fun. We overnighted and spent hours again on the hotel computer trying to
solve the mystery of how one returns to the USA.
Next morning we landed in North Dakota at a small airport called Pembina. Flight service in Canada was to pass on our flight plan to the US
facility and they were to advise customs. No customs…fuel pump didn’t work!!!
Eventually, a farmer came by and called customs for us and we were again greeted by black suited aggressive young Turks. Since we had
done all the paperwork, etc, they couldn’t get on our case too much, however, they blamed everyone else for not showing up. The system has
become so complicated that no one understands it…and it will only get worse.
We flew on to Grand Forks for fuel and after a few more legs of rough air we over-nighted in the town of Wausau, Wisconsin. Next morning we
were taken to the airport…and…… no aircraft….wrong airport!! Back into the van and more time lost.
The approach into Oshkosh required slower aircraft to cross a point called Ripon at 1800 feet and to maintain 90 knots until Fisk (about 12
miles), where one will be advised of the runway on which to land, etc. At that altitude and at 2100 rpm, I could maintain 90 knots on the ASI or
105 on the windy. A stiff crosswind to build character and we were parked in the Warbird section. We spent the day there and after the air
show, at six fifteen, we started engines and launched into wind. The flight to Barrington, just outside Chicago, was just wonderful. A 15 knot
tailwind and smooth as glass. The landing on the beautiful grass strip was my best to date! Bill Rose, who owns the airport (Mill Rose) is the
chap from whom I purchased my Chipmunk. He still has two and Dick is after the sister ship to mine, 18049.
Next morning we were off for Carrollton, Georgia. Rough air was a constant and late in the afternoon we had to outrun a huge rain storm to
land at an airfield outside Nashville. Descent at 110 knots and final at 80 knots makes one thankful that some runways are over a mile long.
Just as we stepped inside to do paperwork, another storm snuck up and drenched our machines. We put them into a hangar to dry and shut it
down for that day.
With one stop for weather, we made our arrival at John Burson’s airfield, a small 2500 ft. grass strip called Gum Creek (International). Just as
we put the machines into his huge hangar, the skies opened up again. We were greeted with lots of cold beer and one can not imagine just
how happy and relieved I was to have safely delivered this aircraft to John. Our trip had taken roughly 44 hours of flight time! (7 US gallon per
Next morning the weather was bad with a monstrous front over Memphis moving our way. Enough, we said and left my Chipmunk in John’s
hangar and were driven into Atlanta airport. We flew home to Idaho Falls, Idaho, where my wife picked us up. She was very happy that we
changed our plans and came home a week early. I’ll go back in two or three weeks and get the Chipmunk and fly it across the country….like I
need another cross-country!
Whatever is a Spitmoth?