Ex ZS-LEV she was damaged beyond economical repair in 1991 following an in-flight separation of most of one propeller blade, forced landing and subsequent fire (Pilot J Colburn). Rebuilt between 1992-2012 as ZU-ASI, using some parts from ZS-CLU and ZS-CDR. Owned by Supercub Partnership (Ian and Alan Hanes) and based at Baragwanath. First flight was 24 May 2012 by test pilot and co-owner Ian Hanes.
There is a rich history behind our Tiger Moth, and I suppose that this nostalgia adds to the effect of flying such a romantic aircraft. There really is something special about open cockpit flying that harks back to the origins of flight and ‘real’ aviation.
Life began for the aircraft that we affectionately call ‘Tiggy’ under service for the Royal Air Force with Constructor’s Number 84412 or RAF Serial Number T8100. She began service later on when she was sold to South African Air Force on 21st April 1941, with the serial number 2140. On arrival the aircraft was issued with SAAF serial 2140 to No. 4 Air School in Benoni sometime between October and December 1942.
Clearly military life was not for her, so she took up residence at Baragwanath Airfield. She was sold by the South African Air Force as 1146 to the Johannesburg Light Plane Club, based at ‘Bara’ and registered ZS-BSF. During this period she was used as a basic trainer and for glider towing up to 4th August 1962 when a cracked crankcase stopped her from flying. Her engine number 87354 was removed.
Later, Roy Watson and Arthur Meechin bought her in dismantled state in June 1965. Roy then rebuilt her under Arthur’s guidance before he attended university. Arthur was in fact a de Havilland trained engineer, and he provided vital insight in the building process, having been a foreman on the construction of the original Comet Racers.
Finally, with a new engine and a lick of blue and silver paint, the Tiger took to the skies on 20th February 1966 with Arthur as test pilot. Incidentally, the engine fitted during the rebuild was ex-Dragonfly, ZS-CTR, engine number 81478, originally tested on 27th September 1938.
Roy and Arthur then operated her until Arthur’s untimely death in 1974. Roy took over Arthur’s share and continued flying, including participating in air races, aerobatic contests and sport flying.
She was re-registered in the vintage aircraft category on 12 January 1979 to benefit from ease of maintenance privileges as ZS-UKW. After much airborne activity, the deterioration of fabric necessitated a rebuild and the Tiger was flown to Grand Central on 6th April 1989 for stripping. The rebuild was done at Roy’s home and a new yellow and blue colour scheme was incorporated.
She took to the skies once again on 14 June 2001 and after my brother and I had obtained our Private Pilots Licenses, we began our conversions.
This all began at Rand Airport where it was kept for a brief period amongst some DC-3s and DC-4s inside Phoebus Apollo’s hangar. Later on a space opened up in Andrew Torr’s hanger on the same airfield. Incidentally, he owned the only flying South African Spitfire for a while.
I found the Tiger quite difficult. It is inherently unstable, so flying needs constant adjustment all the time and reading what is happening with the wind in order to compensate is essential. My first three lessons were from the front where we did some initial upper air work, followed by wheel landings. We used the Panorama Flight Park just outside Rand because it’s got a nice grass runway and not much traffic. It also meant that we could get a lot of flying into each session by doing low-level (300 ft) circuits and lots of landings.
The wheel-landings were quite different to anything that I had been used to because you keep the power on throughout the descent and landing. When the wheels touch you push the stick a bit forward to keep the tail up, and then it’s round again for the next one. Bobby Ewing was my instructor and we had to use the gosport speaking tubes to communicate, which worked brilliantly. Later, we moved onto three pointers, which I found quite difficult because the tail always wanted to catch up with the nose!
My first session from the rear seat was quite a different experience. The wind was quite something compared with the front, and juggling radio calls, what Bobby was saying, what the tower was saying and actually flying took some time to come to grips with. You can also see bugger-all from the back so I had to lean far out of the left-hand side just to see the runway on final approach. You can also feel what is happening with the aircraft a lot easier than in the front. The three pointers were initially a bit nerving because you kind of have to guess where the centre line of the runway is because you can’t see it.
Flying is strange, I remember after about three hours of dual something just seeming to click in place and it felt like I was flying the aircraft, and not the other way around. My approaches were good, my landings a lot more gentle and I was relaxed in the cockpit (which isn’t an easy thing when the wind is trying to blow you out of it). It was graceful and gentle, and by stretching my head out of the Tiger I could see most of the runway, until the tail came down. It was brilliant and I suddenly felt like I could actually fly, and was not some guy kidding himself into thinking that he could. Shortly afterwards I got my conversion and I have been enjoying the Tiger ever since.
There is a bug that goes along with flying, something that drives you to spend all your money, and all of your weekends trying to imitate the birds. It is in those moments when you make yourself comfortable behind the controls, strap in, and slip away from the bonds of the earth that allow you to climb away from the torments and stresses of life, and be free to yourself. It is something that compels us all to fly and when we’re on the ground, we yearn to be back up in the air. It is an elation that poets write about, but only pilots can understand.
Those moments are what get me through the working hours, and as the weekend approaches, I become as restless as a child. Before I know, it’s Sunday and I’m pushing open the hangar doors to reveal that hallowed object inside. The Tiger Moth is resting quietly, but there seems to be an aura of excitement surrounding it, a sentiment that reveals the joy of someone about to play with his favourite toy.
I think that it is important to stop and think every once and a while about how privileged and lucky we, as pilots, are to be able to indulge into one of the greatest joys that life has to offer. Flying the Tiger was a gift bestowed by my father, and something that I will cherish forever.
ZS-FZF is a 1942 Australian built de Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth. It was obtained as a bundle of parts in Mozambique by Bob Hay, who sold the remainder of the parts to the Streckers, thereby unintentionally starting their famous business. It was built by Bob under Bok Strecker’s supervision and Bob used it to teach himself aerobatics in the early 1970s.
He crashed his Pitts S-1 Special ZS-FUN following an engine failure during an aerobatic demonstration for a camera shoot during the Great American Air Circus. He was one of the top billed pilots but had now destroyed his mount. The forced landing in between two rows of T Hangers at Baragwanath went well until he came across a ditch which has been dug the day before to add electricity to the hangers. The small wheels were the same diameter as the ditch. He escaped with some minor cuts but a very broken Pitts. Not wanting to let the organisers of the air show down, he agreed to take his Tiger Moth to Welkom for the display.
The display was changed and started at a significantly greater height than he normally would have used, so much so that near the end he felt he still had enough height to do one more manoeuvre. Although he now goes cold at the very thought thereof, he initiated a “falling leaf” (a series of incipient spins which alternate in direction as soon as the one stops).”This will look good!”. The last planned fall developed into a spin. He was just able to stop the rotation and get some airflow reattached to the wings when he ran out of altitude. God blesses some people, and that day he choose Bob. Bob hit the Welkom dam in a nose high pitch attitude but with significant downward vertical speed, and some forward speed. Imagine your chances of unintentionally landing in the only soft spot for probably many miles in each direction – in the middle of winter!
Brian Zeederburg claims he started swimming out to the crash scene in the dam at the same time of the big splash. Bob was knocked unconscious by the compass as the shoulder harness gave way, but was immediately revived by the freezing water. He had by now lost his glasses and could not see much, except brown water with green seaweed. He battled to release the remainder of the harness that was attempting to drown him after allowing him to imprint his last heading permanently on his forehead.
Bob escaped the cockpit (luckily he was alone) and started swimming out to sea, as Brian attempted to call him to shore. Although we make light of Bob’s injuries, they were severe. He and the Tiger were brought to shore by Brian Zeederburg and others in poor shape. While treating Bob in the local hospital, the attending nurse was having a really hard time getting rid of some seaweed in his forehead. Luckily Brian was also there, and noticed her problem. Looking over her shoulder he was immediately able to diagnose the problem – “leave that alone, it’s the stitches from last weekend’s flying accident”.
Having broken his only two aircraft in two successive weekends, he lacked a mount for the impending aerobatic championships later that month. A true test of friendship was undertaken when he was loaned ZS-BUC the world’s oldest Bucker Jungmann for the event.
Back to the Tiger Moth. He painstakingly rebuilt it over the next 16 or so years, resulting in a truly spectacular restoration. It has recognition lights, leading edge slats, flares, brass fire extinguisher and a Morse Lamp. He even had the “pram hood” which covered the rear cockpit with a roof so that the pilot could experience instrument conditions. (I am still dying to try this, but with no artificial horizon it could be interesting). Until recently it also had its original fuel tank, but it became a maintenance nightmare and was reluctantly replaced with a more modern larger unit.
This has to be the world’s most authentic flying Tiger Moth.
At the time of writing she is now owned by John Oliver Gerondeanos.
12th August is my “other” birthday. Today I am 37 years old! On this day back in 1972, I nearly bought a piece of Rand Mines Properties permanently. Lucky to have survived. So I celebrate it as my “other” birthday.
Mine is a classic tale of an accident waiting for a place to happen. Over confident! Head-strong! Arrogance! Infallibility! Immortal! Know it all, (as Christopher would say)! What else?
Johannesburg Light Plane Club, JLPC’s annual air show. True to tradition, it was always scheduled for the windiest day of the year, and the 12th August 1972 was no exception.
The wind was 25 kts gusting 30 – 35 out of 310 deg. Runway in use was 03.
20 000 people pitch up to see the show and there is no show! The “Star Air Race” is a non-event. Fewer than half the aircraft take off and most elect to land at other airfields due to the wind. No Skydivers! No gliders! No balloon popping! No Hot-air Balloon!
Nick Turvey does some aerobatics in the Zlin 226. And then he goes up again in the Pawnee to demonstrate how crop dusting is done. The bravest of the brave demo pilots of Placo, NAC and Comair display a couple of aircraft and that’s it! The air force is not due until 15:00 hrs. It is now only 13:00hrs. A long time to keep people interested.
Now I had developed a little air-show routine. Snoopy versus The Red Baron. Peter Nicholas’s mother had made up some “Snoopy” outfits for me. I built some “dog kennels” which were rigged up with “popping” balloons, pyro-technics and smoke bombs. All the special effects were controlled by someone inside the “kennel” who had a “firing control board” which was battery powered. I, of course, was the “Red Baron” (what else could I be?)
“Snoopy” was armed with a Blunderbuss which I made out of some 50mm PVC Tubing, a plywood stock which held the battery and a firing control board. Inside the tubing I put the smoke bombs.
Now the script called for the “Red Baron”, (me in my Tiger Moth), to attack Snoopy. To make it more dramatic, I had a wing-walker, Hilton Hume, who would walk out to the inter-plane strut, armed with a 38 Special which was loaded with blanks. The blanks had lots of “black” powder in them to make a really big bang and a “big” puff of smoke. We would do a low-level pass shooting at Snoopy and the “controller” inside the “kennel” would fire off the charges fixed to the kennel and on the ground; popping balloons and making lots of smoke and noise. Snoopy would retaliate by firing his blunderbuss at us. It worked! And I was in demand at small air shows from Brits to Matsapa. We did it for the thrill… no money!… Just give us bread and water and fuel and we put on the show.
Now for the JLPC Air-show, because the crowd would be spread out along both sides of the runway, I had 3 more suits made and built 3 extra “dog kennels”. The plan was to spread these out along the runway and, in effect, do 4 shows in one. Fly down the west side of the runway shooting up “2” Snoopies; turn 180, fly down the east side and repeat the show. 4 Passes were planned! The problem was that the Tiger was so slow, the impact would be lost if only one aircraft was used, so I conned Gerrit van den Bosch and Scully Levin into flying their Tigers in the show as well. Surprisingly, it was not difficult at all to find “wing-walkers”, but to find suitable Snoopies was another matter. They had to be “clowns” to entertain the crowd whilst we got airborne.
The crowd was becoming restless and bored. We “have” to do “something”! The “Show must go on!”
Now I could hear a little voice yelling at me saying… “Don’t do this! This is not clever!” So I did what every “hot-shot” pilot does… “I turned the volume down so I could not hear the voice any more”. Scully was not too happy either, and against his better judgement, I persuaded him to fly. Gerrit just followed!
We take off on 03 and form up over the mine dump to the north west of the field. I am leading with Scully at No.2 followed by Gerrit. I turn back to the airfield and once we were on a long final approach, indicate to Hilton to climb out onto the wing. He moves out to the inter-plane strut, 38 Special in hand and we run-in to the target which were the 2 “dog kennels” along the east side of the runway. The turbulence was frightening! I am fighting to keep the aircraft on track, the buffeting is snatching the controls from my hand, I have nearly full right rudder in to counter the drag of the wing walker! I have never experienced anything quite like this before. Scully told me afterwards that his gut tightened up so much it ached!
We do the first run! It was not pleasant! I call Hilton back towards the cockpit and then I turn to the right, into wind which helps keep me inside the perimeter of the airfield. I do the run down the west side and the turbulence is even worse! I decided to do the run down the east side and then that would be quits for the day. No way am I going to do this 3 more times!!!
I passed over the last Snoopy and begin a turn to the right, downwind! The drag from the wing-walker is too great to counter, so I straighten out and motion to Hilton to get back inside. He does not climb into the cockpit but sits on the longeron with one foot on the wing and one on the seat. I now continue the turn and in so doing look back to see where Scully and Gerrit are. They are still behind me, but I now notice that the wind has blown me past my turning pont and I am now 150 – 200 meters behind the crowd line! I now make the 2nd biggest mistake of the day; (the first “biggest mistake” was to take off). I pull the turn tighter!
Hilton is still out in the airstream. I felt the aircraft shudder and instantly that little voice shouts out… “Don’t tighten the turn you d@@s”… But too late! The left wing drops. Hilton dives head-first into the cockpit and I boot in full right rudder and stick forward. The aircraft slewed to the right and the wing picked up and for a moment I thought…“We’re OK!” The Tiger is at least straight and level!
Now to the north and east sides of the “old” Baragwanath, there was a Bluegum tree plantation. What I did not realise is that Bluegums grow even on windy days. The problem was that I was only 40 – 50 feet above the trees, which were themselves about 60 foot tall. They grew so quickly that one of them climbed up and hit us dead centre of the right wing. The aircraft slewed around through 180 degrees and pitched the nose vertically down. We collected about 4 or 5 more trees and bought a prime piece of Rand Mines Property.
Hilton broke a couple of ribs against the compass bowl and he had a beautiful impression of the airspeed indicator on his forehead. He was out of the plane in an instant and standing next to my cockpit. I could smell fuel and was beginning to panic that I couldn’t get out. Then I remembered to pull the pin of the Sutton harness and promptly disappeared into the bowels of the Tiger. I clambered up and jumped over the side between the 2 wings. I was still trapped! I couldn’t see over the top of the wing. Then I heard a voice coming from somewhere near my knees. A hand reached under the leading edge of the wing and pulled me out into the open. I had bruised my knee!
I learned from that! A valuable lesson! But I would strongly discourage anyone from “trying that at home”!
My log book shows that my total number of landings is = Total Take Offs (-) 1
I just don’t know how to rectify that!
Further reading about ZS-CDJ can be found on The de Havilland Aircraft Association of South Africa website here.
Although built in 1946, the earliest record we have of our C140 is from 1960, with an airframe logbook that has her registered under Serial number 10243. The pilot who owned the aircraft during that period only started filling in the aircraft To/From column of the logbook from 1962, the first entry being from Lompoc to Santa Monica for maintenance, so I presume that Lompoc in California was the home base. The aircraft was registered as N73035 and painted in the military paint scheme similar to that of the Bulldogs. A United States flag adorns the tail fin with Columbia AFB, although we are not sure how that fits in to her life story. Perhaps she was a military trainer back in her youth?
The 140 continued to fly in the California region up until 2006, when she was put up for sale, imported to South Africa through Jeff Sharman, registered as ZU-ECP, and restored by Kevin Hopper at Krugersdorp. Our syndicate was formed, and the 140 took over some new owners in a new country. She won best restoration at the EAA Sun ‘n Fun meeting at Rustenburg during 2007, and she remains the cutest, cleanest little 140 you will ever find.
Her original 85hp engine was upgraded with the relevant STCs during 2011, and she visited yet another country as the photo aircraft for the International Tiger Moth Botswana Safari. Over the last few years, we have continued to enjoy formation flying and weekend jaunts with what we call, out 140, and she remains a favorite toy amongst her pilots.
First Impressions of the 140
Friday rolls over into the weekend, and before I know it, I’m packing up our old Land Rover with all of the flying paraphernalia that have marked the onset of my Saturday and Sunday afternoons for some time now. There’s the flying suit patched up with cloth badges from various air shows and a pair of Royal Air Force Wings to make me feel more like an iconic aviator. There’s the age-worn toolbox filled to the brim with things that I ‘might need’ when I get to the airfield, a flask of coffee, a few beers for afterwards, maps and the hangar keys…I’m ready.
I head out to Baragwaneth along that horrific dirt road that winds itself through the dusty veld and find myself at the silvery steel hangar doors, locked tightly shut. I leave my old life behind to create a new one. This landscape embraces a new and paradoxical consciousness. It is a rich blend of romantic nostalgia in which I find myself as both a barnstormer of old and a myriad of procedures and precision calculations. Somehow this responsible revisit to childhood imagination is what flying is all about. Responsibility with enjoyment.
Once the door has been opened, in the depth of shadows, crouched, waiting, lies the aircraft. I drain the fuel and carry out the pre-flight checks which once seemed difficult and foreign as a student pilot but have now become the trappings of the familiar, the comfortable.
I wheel out the aircraft, which seems somewhat out of place on the ground. It is my newest toy, a sparkling Cessna 140. It came to us from the Colorado in the United States, and when I say new, but it’s actually over forty years old, but it looks like a brand new pin. The red and white of an American Flag with the words, ‘Colorado AFB’ are stamped on the tail, a small piece from its past life. The underbelly is painted grey and the empennage is an ice white, which reminds me of a Great White Shark, although no ferocity resides within the heart of this docile machine. On the nose, wingtips and tailplane, a contrasting blood red mark the fabric and aluminum.
It is truly a thing of beauty.
In the 140’s cowling nestles a neatly proportioned 85 hp Continental. It is a powerplant that, considering its meager capacity is eager to tear through the air. Inside I can smell the odor of new blue leather that trims the seating. The cockpit is just the right size, a cozy fit which will produce hours of airborne enjoyment.
On take off, the tail comes up with only a gentle persuasion from the control column. There is not much torque to work against so a swing to the right isn’t really an issue. I use my toes with gentle movements on the rudder pedal, though, and as the speed builds up to about 50kts, the wheels leave the earth. Free of the ground, the airspeed builds up relatively quickly for an aircraft which is considered to be underpowered.
Landing, however, takes a bit of getting used to. If I get it wrong, it feels like a galloping goose. I don’t know if you’ve seen a duck taking flight from a still lake. Well, it flaps like hell and its wadded feet leg press the water, making a series of ever-larger towards the sky. It’s the same in this taildragger, but instead of climbing, it’s on the descent. If the speed is wrong or if I’m too high or too low on short finals, I end up bouncing. It starts with a little hop, but then the aircraft tries to fly again, so, nose up and tail down, the plane finds that it can’t get airborne so it finds the ground again. Then, with more speed and more momentum, the bounce happens again, this time, higher, and if I don’t do something about it, I’ll be in big trouble.
I’ve found that it’s best to either go around, and put my dignity in my back pocket, or, if I catch it in time, open up the throttle. This gets a bit more airflow over the control surfaces and usually the aircraft glides onto the runway and I am left with said dignity still in my back pocket.
The golden rule: land when nobody is watching because inevitably the moment you set yourself up for a smooth impressive landing that will astound everyone else on the airfield, the aircraft will prove you wrong and take your head out of the clouds.
The 140 is sleek and smooth, so it doesn’t loose speed as quickly as you might hope. Therefore, I’ve found that it’s a good idea to throttle back early and get closer to my approach speed of about 65 kts as soon as possible – and leave the flaps where they are, it’s far more rewarding to fly without them. Then it’s a case of using the control column and therefore the aircraft’s attitude to keep the airspeed consistent and the throttle adjustments to produce a smooth glide path.
In a three-pointer, that hallowed, slick landing when the wheels all touch together, I close the throttle altogether on short finals until the airspeed bleeds off. To keep the craft airborne, I progressively lift the nose once I near the threshold and use the arc of larger movements on the rudder as slipstream is reduced. While I am a few inches from the ground, the nose gets higher and higher until (and this is if I get it right) the wheels touch without the smallest rattle or bump.