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De Havilland Hornet Moth Finds a New Home

By Larry Loretto, EAA# 728116

A unique 1936 DH Hornet Moth serial number 8092, built in Hatfield, U.K., and owned by Mr. George Neal for 40 years, was put up for sale. It is the only one of its type in flying condition in North America. I purchased the aircraft and flew it from Brampton to its new home at Lachute, PQ, airport (CSE4) 30 miles northwest of Montreal. Lachute is a GA airport with a large number of hangars and small businesses, with some condo-hangars. When the Hornet Moth was released for sale, it was quickly discovered that it had a tendency to tip-stall at low speed. The solution was a redesigned, non-tapered wing available apparently free-of-charge from de Havilland and the aircraft was renamed the "B" model. There is an "A" model believed to be in the collection of the Westaskiwin Museum in Alberta, but not in flying condition.

After much trial and tribulation, the Hornet Moth CF-EEJ arrived safely in its new hangar about five months late due to a combination of some of the most violent weather ever seen in this part of the world, and the difficulty of trying to coordinate schedules between a bunch of retirees who seem to be far busier than during their previous full-time working lives!

The real joy of this whole saga lies not just in the flight itself, but in meeting 94-year-old George Neal, who would be a legend in most aviation circles. Among other things, he was the chief test pilot for de Havilland. Along with George, his two friends Les Balla and Brian Smith took three days out of their lives including getting up at 0400 hours to get me on my way. They are the classic examples of what is good about this part of aviation and to both of them I offer my heartfelt thanks. Also, my youngest daughter, Nina, got to pay Dad back for all those early dawn drives towing a horse trailer!

Sunrise Take Off - Photo by Nina Johnston

My first impression of the aircraft after one flight/takeoff/landing was that the braking system was designed by Heath Robinson or maybe Emmet, the cartoonist who made so many great mobiles out of junk. There are no brake pedals and the parking brake only applies differential braking with full rudder. My first try at taxiing on the narrow taxiways at Brampton, most of which have ditches alongside, was quite demoralizing. It got to the point that I said to George Neal, "I know I am not the brightest, but I cannot believe I am this bad. Let's go back and readjust the brakes!" This we did and it went so much better. By the time this was done the wind was off the runway gusting to 25 kts and we chose not to fly.

After flying the aircraft, it is obvious that control harmonization was not very refined in those days; the rate of roll in smooth conditions is a bit like a T-33 or F-86. The elevator is fairly heavy and slow, most likely due to the long moment arm. The rudder is good when the tail is up but seems to be blanketed at high angles of attack and, of course, on the ground the lack of a steerable tail wheel makes the combination of brake steering, combined with narrow taxiways, along with the very high nose, a bit nerve-wracking. Most of the pilots at busy commercial airports have no clue that we need to zig-zag to see ahead, nor that we cannot taxi as fast as they might like.

I have very big feet and getting in and out requires my rather aged body to contort itself into some advanced yoga positions, also my "pedal extremities" are too wide for the rudder pedals! Unlike the warnings I received about the nose attitude in flight, I did not find this a problem in any way. The "sight picture" is in fact very similar to the B-767, very low nose and superb forward visibility, until the landing flare, of course.

The decision was made that I would launch with a full tank and go directly to Lachute, about 320 nm by the time I avoided control zones and restricted areas. At daybreak plus one minute off, I went. However, the right magneto was pretty rough on the ground but as I was pretty sure it was plug fouling caused by all the recent low rpm work, I decided to go and keep checking it before I got to the part of the trip which is over solid "bush." Sure enough, it cleared itself nicely.

After I passed north of Toronto, I simply turned off the radio and flew over the bush area between Oshawa and Carlton Place and took great pleasure in looking down on places I had sprayed for gypsy moths a few years back. I was also busy marking some new private grass strips that have sprung up since the last time I did this kind of flying. Most of these are not published but are very handy to know about.

The flight itself was a pure joy, clear skies and smooth until within a few miles of Lachute. After circling the farm to let my wife Donna know she could put the insurance policies back in her desk and to get her to pick me up from the airfield, the wind started to increase, but my friend and fellow Air Canada retiree, Chris Brown, was on the ground with his handheld and gave me the speed and direction. It was a bit much for my first try on the blacktop so I opted for the 1,000-foot grass runway and Chris gave me an eight out of 10 for the arrival.

In the Flare on Grass - photo by Chris Brown

I had been warned that with the "air brakes" in the drag position that the aircraft would slow very rapidly; however, I was surprised as to how much flying she still had left in the flare and we floated about 150 feet I think. The Hornet Moth has a unique system to slow the aircraft on approach; the fairings on the vertical gear legs rotate outwards acting as spoilers.

Tail Down - photo by Chris Brown

This is controlled from a lever inside the cabin. Most of my biplane time is on Ag Cats, which sit down very smartly once the throttle is closed. As our Aeronca Champions have been in rebuild for a couple of years and my flying has all been in the Cessna 421 we operate, I was surprised how quickly my feet remembered what those things on the floor are used for. It was a bit rough at first, and not helped by the British-style inverted position of the slip/skid indicators, but by the end I was not slopping too much of my coffee on the floor.

Chris Brown with me on the left

After we put the aircraft in the hangar and I was halfway home, I realized I had forgotten to turn the handle on the oil filter; it seems I have a lot to learn about this aircraft! The filter has a crank mechanism to rotate a series of fine mesh disks to scrape the crud off that finds its way to the bottom of the filter case to be removed later. The pistons have no oil scrapers so the engine consumes liberal amounts of lubricant, partially explaining the 2.5-gallon oil capacity!

All in all the Hornet Moth promises to be a really fun aircraft to fly, but in view of its ground handling, I intend to be very cautious when it comes to crosswinds and blacktop runways. Also, I have decided that with the lower wing so close to the ground I will not be landing in deep snow, should we put it on skis.

Since delivery, my wife and I have already flown the aircraft to one EAA event at Carp, picking up a seagull in the left flying wires in the process. The score: Hornet Moth one, seagulls nil. Carp, Ontario, is an ex-World War II training field located just west of Canada's capital, Ottawa.

What is in the future for CF-EEJ? This winter some radio upgrades are planned so as to make flying around the Ottawa region a bit less complex, re-upholstery of some of the interior, and a lot of time spent learning. Along with son-in-law Rick, we will learn how to maintain the engine and airframe, neither of us having logged any time working on a British aircraft unless one includes a previous de Havilland design, a Hawker 700 corporate job! There is still quite an active Hornet Moth organisation in the U.K. and here is a rather nice shot of a recent gathering at Woburn.

Nest of Hornets at Woburn, UK


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