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Saving a Tiger Moth
By Chris Henry, EAA Lifetime 41434, EAA Museum Programs Representative
December 1, 2016 - For years Liz Matzelle, EAA 576594, dreamed of owning an airplane. Little did she know that the adventure she would go on would result in her saving a time-capsule warbird. “I knew I wanted to get an airplane that I could restore and fly and was thinking of a plane that would make a great trainer. That’s when a friend showed me an ad in Barnstormers,” Liz recalled. The ad her friend found was for a de Havilland Tiger Moth.
“I was surprised to see that the asking price was not as high as I thought it might be, but it was still well beyond what I could realistically afford,” she said. Regardless, Liz traveled up to see the aircraft in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, and fell in love with it. “It was a rusty little fuselage with dusty wings hanging from the walls, but there was just something about it. I knew I wanted it.” Liz struck a deal with the owner to be able to pay over time, and the airplane was set to come to Washington state sometime in the following year. Borrowing against her retirement fund and cutting costs at every opportunity, before she knew it Liz found it was time for the fuselage to move south.
The Arlington airport, which normally has a waiting list for vacant hangars, just happened to have one available, and soon Liz the dreamer became Liz the aircraft owner. “Moving the Tiger Moth to the hangar was thrilling and terrifying all at the same time,” she said. “I feel that my life has been pointed toward this, but I’ve never done anything remotely like it before.” Once back in the hangar, Liz was able to start doing serious research on the aircraft and found that it was about 90 percent complete and retained much of its original equipment. “It still has many of the fixtures and equipment that would have been removed in many cases in a civilian life. Because of this, a few others who are restoring Tiger Moths are coming to check it out and getting photos of this one to use as a basis to copy on their projects,” Liz said. Items like the Holt Flare System (used for night landings at unlighted strips), fire extinguisher brackets, concealed first aid box, and blind flying hood hardware are still mostly intact.
Liz’s aircraft has led an interesting life. It was built in 1941 by de Havilland Australia as A17-370, with an Aussie-made Gipsy Major engine. During its first year of service the engine proved unreliable, and was eventually replaced with one taken from a 1939 British-built Tiger Moth. Serving with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), it was sent to No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School based at RAAF Parafield, South Australia. Parafield was home to the South Australian Aero Club. Here it would train pilots who would go on to fly a multitude of various aircraft into combat. In February of 1944, Liz’s aircraft was involved in a ground accident when another Tiger Moth taxied in to it. After being repaired, it would spend the duration of the war at Parafield, and log between 2,000-3,000 hours before being placed in storage at the end of the war.
The aircraft would eventually find its way to Dum Dum Airport in India to become part of a civilian flying school. It would remain there until the early 2000s when it was sold, brought to Abbotsford and stored. “I was amazed to see that even though the engine had not turned over in more than 40 years, it was still leaking oil, and had no signs of corrosion when I borescoped a cylinder,” Liz said. Long hours and weekends lay ahead for Liz as she works on the aircraft with a network of a few friends, though she hopes that more people will use this opportunity to get their hands on this aircraft and work on it. “I have found amazing support in my friends,” she said. “One of the most important things they did was help me come to the realization that there’s nothing in this project that I can’t learn how to do. I wish more people would dare themselves to do something like this.” Liz has found great support in the aviation community and says that the resources were always there. “The support didn’t cost a dime, I just had to choose to become part of the community. Along the way I also gained some great friendships,” she said.
There are a few ways readers can help. Liz is looking for any drawings for the Australian version of the Tiger Moth as these drawings have been very hard to locate. She is also looking for anyone knowing veterans of the No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School. As for that other Tiger Moth that taxied into it in 1944? That aircraft is currently being restored in Ontario, Canada. “It would be amazing to get those two aircraft together once they are both restored,” Liz said.
Follow Liz’s Moth progress on her blog.