Monday, November 24, 2014

Sitting out in the open cockpit with two wings beside you: the Tiger Moth experience -- Steve Millington has a unique job - flying a Tiger Moth

It's the plane that has more romance attached to it than almost any other craft. The Tiger Moth has starred in films, been used in war and for crop dusting and taken people on joy flights.

Alpha Zulu Tango had been restored twice when Steve bought it six months ago.

His adventures in flying started young. As a kid, he built lots of small planes and then gained his pilot's license at 19.

"I saw an ad in the paper saying 'Wanted jackaroo with a plane license.'"

Steve spent 12 months just out of Carnarvon mustering, trying to get low-level flying experience before gaining his agricultural pilot's rating.

He had flown about 7,500 hours of general agricultural and forestry flying before he went up in the Tiger Moth.

The experience of getting into the open cockpit of the Moth was unique, he says. "I felt like I'd flown for the first time."

Contrary to what we may think, the pilot isn't in danger of being swept away by the wind as they are sheltered by the windscreen.

The pilot sits in the back with just a couple of wings for company. The reason for sitting in the rear is simple, says Steve.

"Because you fly the Tiger Moth solo, the pilot must sit in the back to keep within the centre of gravity envelope."

Life story

Built in in1942, the original plane was boxed up to go to then-Rhodesia but didn't make it, Steve explains.

In 1946, the RAAF acquired it and it was used by the Royal Queensland Aero Club in the 50s before heading out west.

For most of the 60s, it was used it as a crop-dusting machine around Carnamah, York and Northam.

In the 1980s, a new private owner restored the 'plane.

It was restored again in 2006.

"I bought it about six months ago with about seven or eight hours total on it. It had sat in a hangar all that time," says Steve.

The metal airframe would still be 1940s, says Steve as would the engine and many of the instruments.

"The wings were brand new from New Zealand in the 2006 restoration."

The De Havilland company worldwide produced about 8,500 Tiger Moths, Steven estimates. In Australia, the local company built 1,085 of which 860 were for the RAAF.

"In WA, there are 12 in private collections still flying and Australia-wide, about 160 [are] still flying.

"A lot spend a lot of time in the hangars."

These little 'planes have stood the test of time, says Steve. As a trainer for the RAAF, their life span was 17 years, something which wouldn't be possible today, he reckons.

And if Steve ever felt the urge to fly off into the wild blue yonder, he certainly could.

"Yes, but it would be a slow escape. They travel at about 75 knots which is about 140kph," he says.

"AZT has a fuel capacity of about two and half hours of flying so there would be lots of stops. I have thought about it."

Despite being over 70 years old, the Moth has lots of life left in it, says Steve.

"You get about 1,000 hours out of the engine and the frame, as long as it's maintained, should last another 30 years."

Story and photos:

Superb view of the Capes over Geographe Bay

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