The rare made commonplace – G-AIYS, DH 85 Leopard Moth


The rare made commonplace – De Havilland DH 85 Leopard Moth

Geoffrey De Havilland was a skilled aeronautical engineer, of that there was no doubt, but he was also a passionate lepidopterist, and named many of his early creations after various species of moth. The Leopard Moth was designed in the 1930s to provide a relatively swift (c. 130 mph) ‘gentleman’s aerial carriage’ (one pilot, two passengers). The prototype won the King’s Cup Air Race in 1933 at over 139 mph, flown by Geoffrey De Havilland himself. The fact that De Havilland had forsaken the fabric-covered steel tube formula of the Leopard Moth’s predecessor, the DH 80 Puss Moth, and instead built a strong, sturdy ‘box’ from plywood, giving a structure of lower weight, enabled the aircraft to fly faster and further. The DH Gipsy Major 1C engine puts out around 142 hp, which gives a cruise speed close to 120mph, and a range of over 700 miles.

This specification lead to a  spate of orders, with no less than 133 being built before production finally ended in 1936. Many Leopard Moths were ‘impressed’ by the RAF at the start of the Second World War, and they proved to be an excellent liaison type,  ferrying personnel from airfield to airfield.  A number survived the war to be disposed of by the military at the famed post-war sales held at RAF Kemble. Just 14 Leopard Moths are still in existence, with 5 of these being in airworthy condition in the UK.
G-AIYS was originally sold in Egypt, but went onto the Iraqi register as YI-ABI, and was used on charter work from Baghdad.  Some distinguished names in the pantheon of aviation followed as owners, including the Surrey and Kent Flying Club at Biggin Hill, Torquil Norman, Sir William James Denby Roberts (of Strathallan Collection fame), and Victor Gauntlett (not just of oil companies and Aston Martin, but a trustee of the RAF Museum).
Here you can see Yankee Sierra, resting in the sun at GVWFE Keevil, with the port wing folded; wing folding was important in the 1930s, when aircraft were towed from place to place more than they are now, although wing folding will be useful in reducing hangarage costs. Yankee Sierra is now owned by Mr Ronald and Mrs Valery Gammons, and is kept in truly splendid condition – a classic British aircraft.
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