Support, spares and encouragement
Last night at the end of a perfect day, you pushed your newly acquired de Havilland Moth into her hangar and the chilled champagne bubbled into the glass. Well, now it is the morning after. During the night your Moth aged, just a little bit, a molecule of oxide here, a tiny loss of glow there, a day nearer that mandatory inspection that was somebody else’s problem last time……
When your Moth was a new type, the world was a very different place. The materials that your Moth is made from were easy to find. Your handbook had postal and telegram addresses from Bangkok to Buenos Aires, Toronto to Singapore, where you could order the spares you needed, express delivery if you had to. The Royal Air Force and many other air forces and a legion of aircraft manufacturers and their subcontractors trained fitters with all the skills your Moth would ever need. Nobody worried about radioactive instruments, asbestos firewalls, nitrate dopes, canisters for petroleum and other noxious Mothy requirements, or the continued supply of airworthy spruce and linen fabric.
Eighty years on, finding many of those spares and materials resembles the Quest for the Holy Grail, those practical skills have become the province of a tiny band of dedicated devotees who have to spend hours absorbing all the changing regulations for those products and their use. If you are a first-time Moth owner, you are going to need help.
First step: decide what kind of owner you want or can afford to be.
Are you a passionate homebuilder who has branched out into vintage aircraft and decided to learn how to do everything yourself?
Are you going to have to delegate all or almost all of the practical work? Or are you one of those rare people who can afford to solve the problem in 1930’s style, hiring dedicated persons to do absolutely everything for you?
First port of call: the de Havilland Moth Club. If you can tell the Club where you are and what kind of owner you want to be, the Club will be able to give you the name of someone to guide you on your first steps. Be patient. The Club’s in-tray usually has several hundred emails waiting for attention and the person recommended is unlikely to be twiddling his thumbs waiting for your call.
Always remember that the skill sets related to old aircraft are no longer mainstream, rather in the way that stone masonry, lead roofing work and stained-glass now relate to the modern-day building industry.
Be alert to the problems of ignorance: those willing helpers that pull the aircraft out of the hangar by tugging on the flying wires and sit their children on the tail plane for the family photo.
Have a look at the Club’s Service Register (SR). It is a directory of contacts for the skills and services you might need. It is not exhaustive, but it provides a start. Where you are based will make huge differences to how easy it will be to get the right help at the right time. There are some rogues out there of course – watch out for suspicious bargains and braggart salesmen. The Club publishes warnings about false advertisements when it can.
Know what airworthiness regime applies to your aircraft. Practical requirements differ from one regime to another, and so not all the addresses in the SR are able to fulfil the inspection or certification requirements needed by the authority that you will have to deal with. If the aircraft you have bought was supervised by another authority, be particularly attentive of what is required of you by the new one. One thing is common to all authorities: they like owners that keep their paperwork straight.
If you decide to contract your Moth’s maintenance to a specific company, first check-out their experience with old aircraft in general and de Havilland aircraft in particular. Make sure that the business you want to use is recognized as competent in the eyes of the authority. Talk to other owners too – the world of the de Havilland Moth is quite a small one and both good and bad news gets around.
In the SR you will find a company called de Havilland Support Ltd. (DHSL). Be aware that DHSL is not a general support organization, but an overworked specialist engineering company that the de Havilland Moth Club helped to found in 2000. It also stocks some new DH parts which are supplied with airworthiness paperwork. Do not go there for the basic advice – go there if you have a serious airframe engineering or airworthiness problem. DHSL does not do engines.
Take time out to understand the constraints on the players involved in your chosen maintenance route. Many are passionate and dedicated people with great skill. In spite of rumours to the contrary, none is known to have become as rich as Croesus by maintaining, repairing or restoring old aircraft. In practice, given the level of skill that characterise some of the best, their hourly rates far better reflect their passion for old aircraft than any pursuit of profit. So, for example, if you can do some of the parts research and procurement, you are helping yourself as well as helping them to keep your Moth maintained to the required levels or higher.
The de Havilland Moth Club undertakes bulk purchase of some specific new manufactured parts and then retails them to members. You will find out more under the Stock Box section of this site.
Only a few of the national homebuilder’s associations have people with developed de Havilland skills, but if you are in one of those places where there is real expertise from such a source, sign up and take advantage of it, even if you do not plan to do practical work yourself.
And above all – do not let the above discourage you. It can be difficult and sometimes frustrating, yes, but also rewarding with much to learn and many interesting people to meet.
Make it part of the fun of owning a de Havilland Moth and you will not be disappointed.