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Hornet Moth - a story of an old aeroplane for young children

by Owl

I am a small biplane aircraft and this is my story. I think I can already hear you saying, “Just a minute, aeroplanes can’t talk or write”. That is quite true but over the years we old wooden aeroplanes, like old ships and houses seem to absorb into their structure some part of the atmosphere in which they have existed. Every now and then, if we are lucky, we encounter a human who is sympathetic to the atmosphere around us and can attempt to tell our story as we might do if we could. I am now in a museum and a year or so ago it was visited by an old man who  flew me back in those days when I still smelt of aircraft paint and hot oil and petrol. He recognised me at once and I remembered him, he had a bad tendency to fly very low! I could see that he was sad to see me in my present condition (his was not so good either!) and he seemed willing to help me so here it is.

I was designed by Geoffrey de Havilland who was one of the worlds’ greatest aircraft designers and builders. In his time he designed dozens of aircraft from little things like me to fast fighters and bombers and the worlds’ first jet propelled air liner. They were at first built just north of London at Edgware and then as London spread out the factory and airfield moved out to Hatfield in Hertfordshire in 1936 and 1937. I think I was built in Edgware in 1936 and probably test flown at Hatfield. I am a biplane and my wings and fuselage are made mainly of wood. I have quite comfortable seating for the pilot and passenger, or pupil pilot, side by side in a covered cabin. In front of them is the engine and propeller and behind them a nice big fuel tank. Pilots always say that one can never have too much fuel, unless you are on fire! I never thought that was very funny but they tend to talk like that. Petrol is my fuel and today many cars have more powerful engines than mine. I was called a D.H.Hornet Moth. Mr. de Havilland liked to call a lot of his small aircraft after different kinds of moths, Tiger, Hawk, Fox, Leopard, and so on.

There seems to have been some complaints about our performance if the pilot allowed the airspeed to get too low so in 1937 I had to have a nasty operation to have my beautiful tapered wings made into a more rounded shape. As I am a biplane I had to have four wingtips done, most unpleasant! Company gossip said that the original shape was perfectly good unless the pilot was not up to the job but we were hoping to sell a lot of aircraft like me, possibly to pilots who were not that good,so I had to suffer! Perhaps I should not have said that but I don’t care any more!

I have very basic controls and do not have radio, and radar had not been invented then so. I was quite easy to fly but navigation and bad weather flying could be a little difficult. I had quite a big fuel tank which is one reason why the pilot who is writing this story liked me. He flew me quite nicely but his navigation was terrible and he was always muttering to himself and circling around to see where he was. That wastes a lot of fuel so my big tank was a big plus for him. A forced landing in a field with no fuel left does not make a pilot popular.

I think I had more than one owner before the war started but I cannot remember these times very well. As far as I can recall the first was a very nice man. He and his wife flew all around the British Isles and also to Le Touquet and other places in France where they met friends and had a very nice time. I was very pleased that they always waited for good weather to fly across the English Channel. I think they must have been quite well off to live like that in those days. Unfortunately in 1939 the Second World War started and the good times were ended. As my owner was a pilot I think he went into the RAF and I fear he may not have survived the war.

All private aircraft were taken over by the Royal Air Force and used for training or “communications duties”.  I was a bit slow and not very well equipped so I spent a lot of the war in a corner of a hanger, hoping the Germans were not going to drop a bomb on me. This was not a good time for me, or anybody else, but I was fascinated by all the amazing aircraft that came from the factory of my birth. When I saw aircraft like the De Havilland Mosquito and heard about the amazing increase in aircraft technology I knew that my useful life was going to be limited even if I survived the war.

When the war finished I was given back to my previous owners but they sold me to a dealer. Nobody had any money and then when they did prosper again they all wanted the new designs of light aircraft from the USA. I ended up in a flying club where they had several Tiger Moths which were from my old family and they had been basic trainers for the RAF. It was there I was flown by the pilot who recognised me in my old aeroplanes home. I wish he could afford to have me refurbished, we might last a few more years together but I do not think this is likely.  I feel my days are ending and I fear my old pilot and story teller is in much the same position!

So children, if you have read this little story, learn all you are able, keep up to date, try to be useful to the world around  you and enjoy life whilst you can. You never know what is round the corner!