by Nigel Hitchman
The de Havilland Moth Club held a fly-in event at a historic airfield in Bicester on Thursday August 18th, 2022. It was a great success with around fifty aircraft, mostly de Havilland in origin, attending with the majority of these being DH.82 Tiger Moths.
Bicester (pronounced ‘Bister’) is a small rural town just north of Oxford in the south of England. The earliest recorded flight here dates to 1911, when a Bristol Boxkite stuttered into the skies from a farmer’s field. By 1916, however, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) had established an aerodrome nearby, but this soon became RAF Bicester following the RFC’s merger with the Royal Naval Air Service on April 1st, 1918. Developed into a bomber station in 1925, RAF Bicester underwent further expansion in 1936. By the eve of WWII, RAF Bicester served in a bomber training role, although this also included glider training once the build up for D-Day began.
Interestingly, the prototype Handley Page Halifax four-engined bomber, L7244, made its very first flight from RAF Bicester on October 25th, 1939. By war’s end, RAF Bicester was home to bustling aircraft and motor transport maintenance operations. This activity slowed precipitously once peace arrived, of course, until just the RAF Gliding and Soaring Association, together with a large civilian gliding club, called the airfield home. Indeed, these were the airfield’s final tenants, together with a number of private aircraft, at the point when Bicester Heritage acquired the site in 2013. This newly-formed organization, which specializes in vintage automobiles, has spent much of subsequent years in sympathetic development of the site, with many businesses involved with vintage road transportation now in residence. The two large, former RAF hangars presently house vintage vehicles, while a slightly smaller hangar remains in its originally intended aviation role. The large grass airfield now has two wide runways marked in the turf, rather than the original, multi-directional strip which once allowed aircraft to simply align their movements with whichever direction the wind wished.
The August fly-in was a wonderfully relaxed event. The Tiger 9 team performed a flyover, appropriately with nine Tiger Moths, and there was a fair bit of ad hoc local flying, especially from a locally-based joy riding business which operates Tiger Moths. Several more exotic de Havilland types were also on hand, of course, such as a DH.83 Fox Moth, DH.80 Puss Moth, two DH.85 Leopard Moths and several DH.87B Hornet Moths. Notable absences, however, included a lack of DH.60 Gipsy Moths and twin-engined de Havilland types; this was a little surprising as the airfield could easily have accommodated them.
For many attendees, a highlight of the show included seeing the newly restored DH.82A Tiger Moth G-BTOG formerly NM192 with the RAF. This aircraft now wears an authentic US Army Air Forces livery depicting DE745, one of a several Tiger Moths which the U.S. military operated from UK bases during WWII.
DH.83 Fox Moth ZK-AGM was restored in England several years ago by the Newbury Aeroplane Company for a customer in New Zealand and allowed to wear its original ‘Kiwi’ registration for its eventual delivery overseas, despite presently being UK-registered as G-CIPJ and on a UK permit to fly.
LF858 (G-BLUZ) is a DH82B Queen Bee, a Tiger Moth built with a wooden fuselage and used as a target drone during WWII. With just a handful of survivors, this is the only example in flying condition although another is on long term rebuild in the USA.
G-AAZP is a DH.80 Puss Moth; its owner, Tim Williams, has flown this aircraft on many long trips, including one to Australia and back!
G-AIYS is a DH.85 Leopard Moth, an improvement on the earlier Puss Moth.
G-ADUR, ACUS, ADKL and ADNE are DH.87B Hornet Moths.
G-AYCK is a Stampe SV4C although looking vaguely similar it’s a totally different design from Belgium with a wooden wire braced fuselage as opposed to the steel tube of the Tiger Moth, the Stampe is a much nicer handling aircraft.
All the rest are Tiger Moths although there are a few other types in the background!
Many thanks indeed to Nigel Hitchman for this fascinating look at a significant British vintage aviation fly-in, and one with substantial connections to WWII as well. We look forwards to more of his reports in the future!