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Restoration of the Gipsy Moth

By Jack Dueck

Gipsy Moth
C-GZIE in Flight

In 1929, Gipsy Moth Serial Number 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 RCAF to be used to train pilots and for forest fire patrol prior to WWII. 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, SK, attended an auction sale at Kenaston, SK, that offered a 'Piper Cub' airframe. Bob recognized the airframe as that of a Gipsy Moth, (not a Piper Cub at all), bought #DH1507A, and started a research of the history of the aircraft and a search for parts. A number of people helped in this quest:

Ray Crone, (Western Development Museum, 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 Rem Walker, former chair of the EAA Canadian Council and long-time media contributor (who flew off the first five hours in the Western Development Museum's Gipsy Moth CF-ADI) all helped gather the historical information.

Harry Whereatt of Assinniboia, SK. (well known for his Hawker Hurricane and Westland Lysander restorations) provided 2 dismantled Gipsy Mark I engines.

Bob Meyer 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 Meyer made the decision to restore the Gipsy Moth. They anticipated it would take somewhere around 4 or 5 years to complete.

There were no useable wooden parts, only some pieces that might serve for patterns. Bob knew of a guy in Arelee, SK. who had wood of many descriptions, stored in a couple of old school buses. This included a half-full bus 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 this onto a trailer and hauled it to Bob's shop.

Rem Walker with C-GZIE
Rem Walker with C-GZIE

Rem relates: "After getting the wood home, a close inspection was made, picking out the best looking ones for the spar material. These were cut into pieces 3/16 of an 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 with 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 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 recounts.

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 cross pieces. 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 Meyer was working on assembling one good useable 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 back then.

Original instruments were not used, rather more current ones are installed; 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.

Indicated or Calibrated Air Speed
Indicated or Calibrated Air Speed?

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.

Specifications:

  • Engine: Gipsy Mk I Number 833 by De Havilland, four cylinder, upright, air cooled
  • Wing Span: 30 ft.
  • Span (folded): 9 ft. 10 in.
  • Length: 23 ft. 11 in.
  • Height: 8 ft. 9-1/2 in.
  • Cruise speed: 70 to 75 MPH (but 70 is more comfortable with an open cockpit)
  • Fuel capacity: 19 Imperial gal.
  • Oil capacity: 2 Imperial gal.
  • Gross Weight: 1755 lbs.
  • Empty Weight: 1194 lbs.
  • Wing Loading: 7.2 lbs./sq. ft.

Rem states that flying the Gipsy is straightforward. He learned to fly in the Gipsy's cousin, the Tiger Moth, and also flew the Western Development Museum's Gipsy, CF-ADI during its first few hours. 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 says that if and when she starts to head sideways in the roll-out, its best to let her go and ride it out in a concentric but tightening circle until she runs out of energy and stops!

Automatic Leading Edge Slats
Automatic Leading Edge Slats

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 4 to 5 years, but lots of delays and problems had to be overcome. Rem now finds it gratifying to fly this aircraft, and says 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.

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