Formation flight in VH-BTP / A17-744 De Havilland DH-82A Tiger Moth – Australia Day City of Perth Air Show – 26 January 2016
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My first ever flight in an open cockpit biplane was also a formation flight with other vintage aircraft in the Australia Day City of Perth Air Show 2016, so you can imagine my excitement!
I had been invited to act as an operational lookout for the ‘Beautiful Biplanes’ formation, which was third on the Air Show program. We were due to depart Jandakot at 3:30pm, to arrive over the Swan River in Perth city at 4pm for two formation flypasts, before returning to Jandakot.
The aircraft was a De Havilland DH-82A Tiger Moth, VH-BTP/A17-744, a British-designed trainer aircraft which had been built under licence in Australia by De Havilland Aircraft at Bankstown, New South Wales in 1944, during World War Two. It was allocated to the Royal Australian Air Force with serial number A17-744 and used to train pilots. It was sold in 1955 and registered VH-BTP, based in Western Australia. After a variety of owners, it was acquired by Clark Rees in 1995.
The Tiger Moth’s fuselage is constructed of steel tubing and covered in a combination of fabric and thin plywood. The wings and tailplane are made of timber, covered with fabric. The Gypsy Major engine was built under licence by General Motors Holden in Australia. Over 8,800 DH-82 Tiger Moths were built in seven countries between 1931 and 1945.
After a safety brief from Clark Rees, I strapped in to the front cockpit, putting on a canvas helmet/headset, goggles and a four-point safety harness. For photography, I used a Canon EOS 70D with a Canon 17-55mm F2.8 EF-S lens.
We started the engine and taxied out from the Royal Aero Club of Western Australia on time at 3.30pm, headed towards runway 24 Right.
When we got near the runway, the formation leader, Tiger Moth VH-FAS/A17-37, suffered problems whilst doing engine checks. Unfortunately it had to taxy back to the Royal Aero Club and VH-CKF/A17-421 took over as formation leader.
The aircraft took off in pairs, with VH-CKF and our aircraft going first, lifting off runway 24 Right at 3:40pm.
As one would expect from an open cockpit, it was windy and cool in the cockpit and there were no windows, apart from the small front windscreen. The view was great, despite the two wings, struts and wires.
Flying in formation is exhilarating, as one doesn’t normally see another aircraft flying so close and bouncing around in the turbulence. Each pilot tries to maintain the same position relative to the leader. This can be tricky when the formation has to turn, as an aircraft on the ‘outside’ of the formation turn may have to use more power than another aircraft on the inside.
After take-off, VH-CKF/A17-421 was the lead aircraft, to the rear right was our aircraft VH-BTP/A17-744, with VH-NOV flying directly abeam us. Directly to the rear of VH-CKF and down over my left shoulder was VH-BAR/A17-666. VH-AMW flew on the left rear side of the formation.
We headed northwest towards East Fremantle and at 3:47pm, we turned northeast to fly up the Swan River, towards Perth city.
Immediately after this, we saw the ‘Oldtimer Fly By’ vintage aircraft formation to the north, returning from their flypast over the city. They flew to the rear of our formation and VH-BQO, VH-VLF and VH-ZUZ joined their formation.
Besides the thrill of flying in a Tiger Moth, one of the most enjoyable aspects was that we got to see many of the historically-significant aviation sites in Perth from the air.
At 3:50pm, we passed over the former World War Two flying boat base at Pelican Point (then known as Crawley). From March 1942 to August 1944, the US Navy based Catalina flying boats of Patrol Wing 10 at Crawley – their maintenance area was on the current site of the Royal Perth Yacht Club, and the aircraft used to be moored in the river. British, Dutch and Australian flying boats also operated from there. On the south side of Pelican Point is the site of Qantas’ Catalina base. From June 1943 to July 1945, Qantas flew Catalina flying boats on regular direct flights between Crawley and Koggala Lake, in southern Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), 5,652 kilometres away. With a flight time of 28 to 32 hours, this was – and still is – the longest non-stop regular passenger flight.
Passing over the War Memorial at King’s Park, we turned north to pass west of the skyscrapers of Perth city, then turned southeast and flew over Northbridge, to the north of Perth’s city centre.
As we reached the Swan River again, we turned right to head south, with Belmont Park Racecourse to the left of our aircraft. In January 1911, this was the location for the first aeroplane flights in Western Australia, by New Zealander, Joseph Joel Hammond in a Bristol Boxkite. Witnessing these flights was Norman Brearley, who later became a fighter pilot in World War One, before playing a pioneering role in Australian aviation. After the war, in July 1919, Brearley brought two military surplus Avro 504J aircraft back to Perth to demonstrate the potential of aviation and based the aircraft in a hangar next to Belmont Park Race Course. This wasn’t a suitable airstrip, being too small, boggy, and too far from the city centre. Without official permission, he moved his aircraft and hangar to what later became Langley Park.
To the right of our aircraft, we could see the WACA cricket ground with its huge lighting towers. In 1919, Norman Brearley flew public demonstration and joyride flights from the WACA in an Avro 504J.
On the other side of the river, to the east of Belmont Park, lies Maylands Peninsula. There I could see the hangars of the former Maylands Aerodrome, now used by the WA Police. The first official Perth Airport (Langley Park was unofficial), Maylands opened in January 1924. It became the base for West Australian Airways, MacRobertson Miller Aviation (MMA) and the Royal Aero Club of Western Australia. Charles Kingsford Smith landed at Maylands in August 1928, completing the first non-stop flight across Australia. During World War Two, Maylands was used by the RAAF and USAAF. By 1944, Maylands was unsuitable for larger commercial aircraft and the Government agreed to allow ANA (Australian National Airways) and Qantas to operate from Guildford. Maylands continued as a base for general aviation operations, but the aerodrome was too small and the aircraft movements conflicted with nearby Perth/Guildford Airport. By the end of the 1950s, Department of Civil Aviation decided that Maylands should be closed and ordered all the tenants to move to Perth Airport. The Royal Aero Club of Western Australia left Maylands on 23 April 1959 and set up operations at Perth/Guildford pending the opening of the new general aviation airport at Jandakot. The opening of Jandakot Airport in 1963 allowed Maylands to be finally closed to all flying operations on 30 June 1963.
As we flew past the former Maylands Aerodrome, it was interesting to think that Tiger Moths VH-BTP and VH-CKF had formerly operated from Maylands Aerodrome and were still flying today. VH-CKF (then registered VH-CAG) flew from Maylands during 1949-65 and VH-BTP from 1958-62.
Beyond Maylands, I could see Perth Airport. As newer aircraft were larger and faster, the small size of Maylands Aerodrome became restrictive, so the Government purchased land at Guildford in 1938 – this later became Perth Airport. From mid-April 1942, Guildford became an air force base for the RAAF, as World War Two was underway. With Maylands now being too small for the larger and faster aircraft, the Government agreed to allow ANA and Qantas operate from the RAAF base at Guildford. In May 1944, the first commercial flight was flown when an Australian National Airways DC-3 took off from Guildford, departing to Adelaide. On 17 June 1944 a converted Liberator bomber left Perth on the first Qantas Empire Airways Kangaroo Service flight to Ceylon (later renamed Sri Lanka). It was still known as Guildford Aerodrome, until being officially renamed Perth International Airport in 1952.
As we continued turning right, we flew north westerly, parallel with the northern foreshore of the river, below the tops of the skyscrapers of Perth city.
On the right was Langley Park. This was Perth’s first unofficial ‘airport’ from late 1919 to January 1924. Norman Brearley had been looking for a more suitable landing area, closer to the city and on dry land. In late 1919, he noticed a good, rectangular patch of flat ground next to the river, extending east from Victoria Avenue. At 275 by 180 metres, the strip was one third of the length it is today. Brearley enquired about using this land as an airfield, and Michael Durack invited Brearley to build a hangar at the foot of his property (263 Adelaide Terrace). Even though it was public land, and without official permission, Brearley accepted. In late 1919, he moved the Avro hangar from Belmont Racecourse to Langley Park, at the corner of Terrace Road and Victoria Avenue. From there, Brearley conducted charter and joy flights all over Western Australia. In August 1921, Brearley won a Federal Government tender to operate the first regular air service in Australia. He was issued with the first Australian pilot’s licence in that same month. One of the pilots he recruited for the new airline was Charles Kingsford-Smith, who later became world famous for his long-distance record flights. In December 1921, the first three Bristol Tourers took off from Langley Park bound for Geraldton, to prepare for Australia’s first regular airline service from Geraldton to Derby the following day. This was before Qantas commenced airline operations. Brearley later helped Qantas to improve their reliability and safety, something which Qantas later became famous for.
We passed over the newly-completed inlet at Elizabeth Quay, which officially opened a few days later, on Friday 29 January 2016.
As we passed along the northern foreshore, the other formation of vintage aircraft flew along the South Perth foreshore.
We went back around the north side of the city and repeated our circuit flight path for a second pass in front of the city.
After this, at 4pm, we headed west over the Narrows Bridge and the formations separated, flying back to Jandakot in groups or individually. We flew over Fremantle port at 4:11pm, then back to Jandakot, where we landed on runway 24 Right at 4:21pm, and shut down in front of the hangar at 4:25pm.
The author would like to sincerely thank Archie Dudgeon and Clark Rees for making this memorable flight possible.
List of aircraft in ‘Beautiful Biplanes’ formation, third on the air show schedule, due over the city at 4pm:
De Havilland DH-82A Tiger Moths:
VH-FAS/A17-37 (which had mechanical issues and had to taxy back before we took off);
VH-CKF / A17-421, flown by Trevor Jones;
VH-BTP / A17-744, flown by Clark Rees (with me aboard as an operational lookout);
VH-NOV, flown by Barry Markham;
VH-BAR / A17-666, flown by Kevin Bailey;
VH-AMW / A17-208, flown by Chris Shine,
Christen Eagle II: VH-BQO, flown by Adam Gibbs
Steen Skybolt: VH-VLF, flown by Roberto Franco
Culp Special: VH-ZUZ, flown by Peter Cash
Oldtimer formation included:
VH-YDF / 4269 / 591 Boeing B75N1 (N2S-3) Stearman flown by Werner Buhlmann
VH-YND / “42–755362 / 362” Boeing E75 (N2S-5) Stearman in US Navy markings, flown by Carl Ende
VH-URC Boeing A75N1 Stearman (PT-17 Kaydet) in US Army Air Corps markings, flown by Rod Edwards
VH-KIL / “14” CASA 1-131E Jungmann (a Spanish-built version of a German-designed aircraft, painted to represent the Japanese Kokusai Ki-86), flown by Bert Filippi
VH-YRB WACO Aircraft YMF-F5C, flown by Archie Dudgeon
VH-WQW Great Lakes 2T-1A-2 Sport Trainer, flown by Franc Smit.
VH-FID Beech D.18S, flown by Stuart Adamson, with AAWA’s Keith Anderson aboard
VH-BTP / A17-744 De Havilland DH-82A Tiger Moth (MSN DHA1075/T315) owned by Clark Rees.
Built by De Havilland Aircraft at Bankstown, New South Wales in 1944.
To RAAF in 1944, allocated serial number A17-744.
Sold and registered 16.12.55 as VH-BTP to H J C Hanrahan, Albany, WA
Registered 12.9.58 to R C Currell, Maylands, WA
Registered 21.10.59 to John Forrest Pty Ltd, Maylands, WA
Crashed 20.7.62 Carnamah, WA – reg cancelled 8.1.63.
Returned to register 21.12.88 as VH-BTP to McAllister Prospecting Pty Ltd, Augusta, WA
Registered 22.9.93 to J.R.H. Nominees Pty Ltd, Como, WA
Registered 6.2.95 to Clark R Rees, Inglewood, WA.
VH-BAR /A17-666 De Havilland DH-82A Tiger Moth (MSN DHA816/T342) owned by Kevin Bailey, of Mundijong, WA
Built by DeHavilland Aircraft at Bankstown, NSW in August 1943.
Originally built for South Africa as DX759, but delivered to RAAF and allocated serial A17-666.
One of the last RAAF Tiger Moths to be sold, it was registered VH-BAR on 7.7.1958 by Walgett Aero Club, although at the time the manufacturer’s plate was misread and the DHA rebuild number of “T342” was given as “1342” to Dept of Civil Aviation, an incorrect c/n that the machine carries to this day.
16.4.1963 registered to Lloyd F Parsons, Coonamble (and later Cooma), NSW.
13.1.1966 registered to Mr W.A. Thorp, Murrumburra, NSW.
18.3.1967 registered to Coonamble Flying Group, Coonamble, NSW.
15.4.1969 registered to Paul M Lefebvre, Coonamble, NSW.
15.10.1973 registered to Royal Aero Club of Western Australia, Jandakot, WA.
June 1975 purchased by Kevin Bailey, Dianella, WA
22.9.1975 registered to Kevin Bailey of Dianella, (later Mundijong), WA.
Restored in June 1977.
VH-CKF/A17-421 De Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth (cn DHA596/T200) of Royal Aero Club of WA Inc
Built by De Havilland Aircraft at Bankstown, New South Wales in 1941.
Ordered for Rhodesia as DX535 but taken on RAAF charge on 4 October 1941 as A17-421.
Acquired by Dept of Civil Aviation from RAAF stock and converted for civil use with a raked-forward undercarriage which permitted the use of a tailwheel and wheel brakes. It was registered to DCA as VH-AZL on 26 June 1947. At the time of its initial conversion, or shortly afterwards, it was fitted with a canopy of a style developed by De Havilland Canada.
Following a change of policy, it was re-registered in DCA’s block as VH-CAG on 4 May 1949. It was allocated to DCA’s Western Australia Region.
Suffered undercarriage collapse at Maylands whilst still fitted with canopy.
By 6 April 1957, the canopy had been removed, and the aircraft was used by DCA to test prospective aerial agriculture pilots.
Sold to the Gliding Association of Western Australia on 5 April 1960 for £450.
Reregistered 7.7.60 as VH-TUG Gliding Association of Western Australia Inc, Doubleview, WA.
Registered 30.9.65 to Gliding Club of Western Australia Inc. , Bedford Park, WA
Reregistered 23.10.65 as VH-CKF to The Gliding Club of Western Australia Inc., Bedford Park, WA.
Registered 2.4.66 to E R Cusack, Kellerberrin, WA.
Registered 11.8.68 to GR & M Lawrence, Benjaberring, WA.
Registered 24.4.72 to Narrogin Flying Club Inc, Narrogin, WA.
Damaged 8.10.77 25km N of Merredin, WA – pilot had navigation problem and made hurried precautionary landing, forgot wind and landed downwind – undercarriage collapsed. Cancelled from register 20.10.77.
Returned to register 2.2.78 to Narrogin Flying Club Inc, Narrogin, WA.
Accident 5.4.80 at Narrogin, WA. Dual check flight – pilot bounced landing, and when pilot in command tried to apply brakes, lever was jammed.
Accident 2.10.82 at Gabyong, WA – landed on road due to weather. Pilot later attempted takeoff but aircraft would not climb away. Takeoff aborted and aircraft touched down again, control was lost and aircraft hit tree with right wing.
Registered 28.8.86 to Reg Adkins (ex MMA DC-3, F27 & F28 pilot).
Registered 23.11.95 to Royal Aero Club of Western Australia Inc. Now in RAAF markings as A17-421, named “Shirley Adkins”.
VH-NOV De Havilland DH-82A Tiger Moth (MSN DHA1088) owned by Barry Markham, named “Margery”.
Built by DeHavilland Aircraft at Bankstown, NSW in 1945.
To RAAF as A17-757.
First registered 10.6.1956 as VH-RNQ to Royal Newcastle Aero Club, Broadmeadow, NSW.
Damaged 27.02.1959, and sold for spares.
Restored and reregistered as VH-NOV on 30 Oct 1991, to Barry Markham, Floreat, WA.
Damaged 5 Aug 1995 – was taxiing back to the parking area when it collided with Cessna A152 VH-UWC of Royal Aero Club, which was stationary on the taxiway. The pilot of VH-NOV reported that his vision was restricted by the sun which was shining directly into his eyes.
Set a number of records in its class when it flew Perth to London in May-June 1998 to raise funds for the RFDS.
VH-AMW / A17-208 De Havilland DH-82A Tiger Moth (MSN DHA209) owned by Chris Shine, of Dardanup, WA
Built by De Havilland Aircraft at Bankstown, NSW in 1940.
Delivered to RAAF as A17-208.
Registered 24.4.1946 as VH-AMW to Royal Aero Club of Western Australia, based at Maylands.
Registered 25.2.1957 to Robert S Couper, Albany, WA.
Registered Sep 1960 to Bob Couper & Co, Cunderdin, WA.
Registered 31 Oct 1963 to Allan F Mather, Kellerberrin, WA.
Registered 1 Dec 1965 to M L Vidler, Mileura Station, near Cue, WA.
Registered 11 July 1967 to Lance Lime Co, Bunbury, WA.
Substantially dmamaged 6.4.1974 at Bunbury – during taxying, a gust of wind pointed the nose towards parked aircraft and it collided with them due to no brakes.
Registered 18.6.1974 to Stanley V Haoust, Bunbury, WA.
Withdrawn from use and cancelled from register 15.7.1976.
Returned to register 6.5.1981 to Stanley V Haoust, Bunbury, WA
Registered 11.2.1994 to Chrishine Nominees Pty Ltd, trading as Shine Aviation Services, Geraldton, WA.
Damaged 2.4.1994 at Geraldton – Whilst operating from a paddock sheltered from the prevailing winds, the pilot took off with a tail wind. Once airborne, the aircraft did not accelerate and the pilot elected to land in another paddock rather than try to avoid approaching wires. The aircraft went through an old fence during the landing roll.
Registered 5.5.2006 to Shine Air, Geraldton, WA and later Dardanup, WA.