The right crowd at Woburn
The first of the Moth line, the DH60G Gipsy Moth, differs from its later DH82A Tiger Moth cousin (below) in having an upright engine and unstaggered and unswept wings capable of being folded.
Anniversaries all the way was the unofficial theme of the 29th Moth Rally at Woburn Abbey on 16–17 August.
Eighty years ago, 1934, the UK’s general aviation industry was burgeoning, largely led by the Stag Lane-based de Havilland Aircraft Company. First flights were made by the DH86 Express airliner, the DH87 Hornet Moth, the DH88 Comet and the DH89 Dragon Rapide (then known as the Dragon Six), and 1934 was also the year of the famous Mac.Robertson Air Race from Mildenhall (north of London) to Melbourne. That was won in October by the famous DH88 Comet G-ACSS, while New Zealand entries of Miles Hawk and DH89 also fared well.
These anniversaries were celebrated at Woburn Abbey where Henrietta, Duchess of Bedford, kindly allows her back lawn to become a temporary airfield and Moths of all shapes and sizes fly in from all over Europe.
In fact Woburn was the wartime RAF Woburn Park, Satellite Landing Ground No 34 and an MU (maintenance unit), home to a variety of bombers including Halifax, Lancaster and Stirling, hidden among the trees to disguise them from enemy surveillance and bombing.
Woburn has a great aviation heritage which Henrietta’s late husband, Robin, wanted to celebrate when he struck on the idea of celebrating the life of his great-grandmother “The Flying Duchess”, Mary, Duchess of Bedford, who used Woburn as a private airfield in the 1920s and 1930s.
Gentle rolling hills, stands of majestic trees all around, sizeable ponds and acres of lush grass make Woburn a perfect spot for operating vintage aircraft of all shapes and sizes.
Well, almost perfect — the grass runway at Woburn, used only during special events such as the annual Moth Rally, is at right angles to the prevailing wind, and this year many of the pilots and owners who flew into the event were reminded of this. A stiff crosswind breeze throughout most of Saturday made sure that all pilots flying into the strip had to keep their wits about them, and there were a few who were probably very pleased to finally get their vintage aeroplanes on the ground in one piece.
The high winds meant that a number of practice display flights couldn’t take place during the day, but the Diamond Nine team of Tiger Moths did practise its routine for the following day which was a treat — although it may not have been too much fun for the pilots themselves as the conditions could probably be classed as “challenging”.
The façade of the great house formed the backdrop for the DH87 Hornet Moth celebrations this year. Eleven of the twelve UK-registered and active Hornet Moths attended this year — the 12th (G-AESE) awaited paperwork at its restoration hangar in France — and were taxied on to the front lawn for a memorable photo opportunity. Capt Geoffrey de Havilland himself made the maiden flight in the prototype Hornet Moth on 9 May 1934.
The most meritorious flight by a long stretch was made by Hans Petter Fure and Lars Hãkensen from Kjeller (near Oslo) in Norway in Tiger Moth LN-BDM (ex-RAF DE248 and G-ANSC). With bad weather intervening, it took the Norwegian pair seven days and over 12 flying hours to arrive at Woburn.
Bad weather prevented a Swiss contingent from appearing, but Dr Benedikt Lehmann-Dronke from Berlin Bienenfarus and Uli Thüeur from Paderborn flew two Fw44 Steiglitz, 1930s contemporaries of the Tiger Moth, to Woburn. A Dutch group flew two Tiger Moths from Seppe along with a small group of support aircraft.
A large gathering of DHC-1 Chipmunks also attended, but in keeping with the Woburn tradition, modern light aircraft were not invited.
- Report by Geoff Jones and Allan Udy, photographs by Geoff Jones and Alex Mitchell.
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