de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk

de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk

All of it Began With Bubble Gum

by Budd Davisson


It’s humorous what you keep in mind about your roots in aviation: I keep in mind, as an illustration, how arduous I used to seek for airplane bubble gum playing cards. The gum was often mouse coloured and shattered on impression, however the playing cards have been artistic endeavors assured to fireplace a 12-year-old creativeness. Even then, nevertheless, I prided myself on my good sense; I didn’t eat the gum and I lived for the day I bought a deHavilland Chipmunk card.

The Chipmunk is, was, and all the time shall be, one in all aviation’s pleasures for the attention. As an adolescent, I appreciated the best way it seemed. And, though I’m a hell of a great distance from being an adolescent, I nonetheless like its appears to be like. The Chipmunk is ageless. I, sadly, am not. I’m, nevertheless, one of many many 1000’s who agree com-pletely on the aesthetics of the Chipmunk; it’s an airplane with the traces, efficiency and pedigree of a pure-bred. So, what’s to not like?

The Chipmunk, imagine it or not, is the direct successor to the Tiger Moth because the RCAF/RAF main coach. After the British had squeezed all of the service they probably might out of the hopelessly dated mess of wire and fittings that was the Tiger Moth, they skipped on to the Chipmunk, an airplane mild years away from the Tiger Moth in design.

The place the Tiger Moth was possessed of each trick of the bridge-building commerce circa 1925, the Chipmunk was cutting-edge plane design for its day, circa 1946. Made to carry out on precisely the identical engine because the Tiger Moth, the 145 hp Gypsy Main, the Chipmunk outperformed the Moth in each attainable approach and nonetheless managed to have the identical forgiving touchdown traits. To do this, with one much less wing, means the airplane must be mild . . . and it’s. The wings make the most of a steel torque field ahead of the principle spars, however the aft sections are cloth coated, as are all controls. The fuselage is roofed with the lightest attainable steel with what appears to be like to be a thousand stringers working to and from inside to stiffen issues up.

The aerobatic Chipmunk “Specials” resembling Artwork Scholl’s or Bob Russell’s are clearly very beefed up variations that bear little or no resemblance structurally to an authentic Chipmunk. The fuselage is often double skinned, the middle part strengthened each approach attainable, the tail quantity is elevated and fasten fittings beefed up. As initially designed, the ‘Munk might, and would, do wonderful, swish acrobatics, however they have been of the low-G selection fairly than the all out, vein-busting airshow or competitors varieties we see in the present day.


 As with all the things British, there are dozens of variations on the Chipmunk theme. Early specs for the airplane name for 3 barely completely different variants of the British variations, T.10, T.20 and a civil T.21. The Canadian constructed ‘Munks have been both DHC-1 Bs or DHC-1 C. Aside from the two-piece, bird-cage cover on among the British fashions, all of them seem an identical from the skin. Structurally, nevertheless, the Canadian constructed plane are preferable due to a collection of mods made late within the manufacturing program.

Though there have been a complete of 1400 Chipmunks produced (1200 British and 200 Canadian) and lots of have been imported into the U.S., there are actually only a few of them round in authentic situation. Many Chipmunks have been clipped, beefed, re-engined and lightened for aerobatics, and others have been Americanized for comfort with a Lycoming or Continental changing the lovable, however growing older, Gypsy Main. In reality there are so few completely authentic Chipmunks round lately that when one does make an look, it’s an event worthy of some snapshots.

Richard Bidlack of Fremont, Ohio is a kind of few who has chosen to restore and preserve his Chipmunk fairly than go the modification route. His airplane is so genuine that the fuselage paint is what it was sporting when it was launched by an RAF Flying College. Solely the wings have been refinished. The originality extends to the within, the place all continues to be British, because it was when loaded on the boat. The ridiculous brake system continues to be intact, as is the shotgun shell starter, the nautical model horizontal compass, and all the opposite quaint and really British accoutrements that make RAF/ RCAF plane what they’re.

I had the chance to strap on Bidlack’s airplane and pattern the classroom by way of which each and every British and RCAF aviator of the 1950’s went. It was additionally a chance to surprise on the unimaginable diffusion that should exist throughout the British aerospace trade. I say ”diffusion” as a result of here’s a typical early British /Canadian design, and the ‘Munk is a superb design, however if you get proper right down to working with the methods, among the excellence will get bogged in workings that modify from being ridiculously easy to Goldbergian difficult. A living proof is the Chipmunk braking system.

There aren’t any separate brake pedals. Moderately, there’s a brake lever on the left facet of the cockpit with a ratchet affair that lets you set it partially on. With the lever partially pulled, you get each brakes when you have the rudder bar centered, or one brake if a rudder pedal is depressed. This sounds superb besides that when taxiing, you end up working the brake lever together with your left hand and crossing over with the best hand to make use of the throttle. This leaves the keep on with do no matter it needs to. On rollout, to make a flip off the runway or to do any type of fast maneuvering to clear the runway, it’s important to let go of the stick or the throttle and seize the brake, a decidedly unnatural factor to do.

The place the braking system is advanced, a central portion of it, the rudder system, is easy within the excessive, as it’s nothing greater than a bar with a bolt in the course of it. So, your toes, located on both finish of the bar, journey in a bit of circle if you use the rudders. The carb warmth is equally easy, a cable with a latch on the top that you simply pull again and latch down when prepared to cut back energy.

For the reason that shotgun shells for the six-shooter model cartridge starter within the Chipmunk price from $5-$10 every, Bidlack props his airplane to get it began. This entails priming the machine till it begins to vomit uncooked fuel, then pulling it by way of a sure variety of instances to moist all 4 cylinders earlier than throwing the mags on. Then, when mags are on, you get some hapless soul who has an excellent love for aviation and effectively developed shoulders to do your slave labor. This specific day the engine was sizzling and we have been nearly to begin on the second shift of proppers earlier than we bought the boiler lit.

Taxiing the airplane was, at first anyway, a problem to my pure instincts. Though I used to be strapped into the entrance pit, the conventional solo place, and had truthful visibility, I felt uncomfortable as hell making an attempt to taxi an airplane with the stick flopping round free. The airplane didn’t appear to thoughts, but it surely was actually beginning to tweak my nerves. The rudder will virtually, however not fairly, steer the airplane itself (there isn’t a tailwheel steering) so often, I’d have to achieve down with the left hand tug on the brake lever to tighten a flip.


Whenever you’re taxiing one thing army, even one thing as docile and benign as a Chipmunk, a neat little quiver begins to work its approach out of your butt to your mind; flat black paint, placards in a language that solely vaguely resembles American English, controls and knobs which can be of a measurement and placement that say they imply enterprise. Though it’s a coach, it’s a army coach and that removes it a far, far attain from a C-150 or a Cherokee.

I anxious mildly about getting the ‘Munk aimed kind of straight down the runway for the preliminary a part of the takeoff roll. I had visions of a flurry of palms and toes filling the cockpit, as I might attempt to get some braking motion, whereas advancing the throttle, to maintain it straight till the rudder had sufficient air in it. Nevertheless, upon poking the 145 superb English ponies of their rumps, I discovered that the slightest quantity of prop wash was sufficient for that sail-sized rudder to maintain issues lined up.

The little 145hp Gypsy engine is an identical to the unique Tiger Moth engine and turns a particular, twisted-metal prop that requires the mounting pads serial numbered to that actual prop and so they aren’t straightforward to search out. 

It appears deHavilland has a fetish for rudders. All the things they’ve ever designed had sufficient rudder space for 2 or three airplanes and the Chipmunk isn’t any exception. After I picked the tail up on takeoff, I discovered myself having to be a bit of cautious and use rudders sparingly as a result of the slightest quantity of rudder pedal was sufficient to ship the nostril searching off within the daisies. It was removed from being delicate, however there isn’t a doubt that your toes have full management of your future when on the runway.

There’s something very tangible about the best way the Chipmunk lifts you off the runway. It isn’t a violent lurching the place the engine performs as vital a job because the wings and it isn’t a obscure separation of pavement and rubber. There’s a very actual feeling that the wings have crammed with buoyancy and have overcome gravity with the miracle of their airfoil form.

Solely in sailplanes have I been acutely aware of the sensation of flight begun, of absolutely the separation of flight and lesser actions’ on the bottom. Within the Chipmunk, I had that feeling. It truly flew into the air. It wasn’t dragged, clawing and screaming, into an surroundings it might fairly keep away from. It eagerly lifted itself into a spot the place it knew it belonged. And it made me, the passenger/ pilot, really feel as if I belonged as effectively.

The second the Chipmunk is off the bottom and doing its greatest to climb at 700-800 fpm, you already know you’ve gotten ahold of one of many most interesting units of controls on this planet. All the things concerning the stick and rudders is easy and light-weight. There isn’t any friction and the forces are virtually insignificant. Nevertheless, to present the pilot an opportunity at precision management with out oversensitivity, the stick ratios are pretty lengthy; it’s important to transfer the stick an affordable quantity to impact the change you need. It’s the better of all attainable combos as a result of the sunshine forces and speedy response of the airplane mix with the correct quantity of stick motion to make it an virtually insufferable pleasure to ask the Chipmunk to take you the place you please.

Contemplating the airplane’s measurement (34 foot span) and weight (2100 kilos loaded), it’s notable that solely 145 horses could make it carry out in addition to it does. 700-800 toes per minute climb places it proper up with the 7KCAB Citabria and Decathlon which have extra horses, and the 115-120 mph cruise is about what a Cherokee does. So it want apologize to nobody for its regular efficiency specs.

What efficiency specs don’t replicate is the explosion of emotion that comes from with the ability to pull up into a fully easy four-point roll. In most airplanes, such a maneuver is finished in opposition to the airplane’s personal needs, it fights you and it’s important to power it to ship each nuance a hesitation roll holds. Not so with the Chipmunk. It’s forward of you all the best way as a result of it provides the sensation that it enjoys doing rolls and loops far more than you do. With out an inverted system it coughs and chokes from lack of nourishment if you put destructive Gs on it, however in any other case, it’s possessed of grace and dignity in all of its maneuvers.

The airplane’s stalls nearly aren’t. Because the airspeed falls beneath 40 knots, the stick will start rattling and shaking and the airplane begins bucking, telling you it’s about to stall. Just a few knots slower and all of the commotion settles right down to a steady buffet because the stick comes again in opposition to the cease
and the airplane mushes gently ahead. Flaps down, the impact is similar, though a slight break will be pressured by accelerating the stall in a financial institution.

When doing something at decreased energy settings, Bidlack cautioned that carb warmth completely needed to be employed. Apparently the Gypsy is infamous for spitting ice cubes out the tail pipe at temperatures as excessive as 85 levels. Some RAF and RCAF coaching squadrons had the carb warmth completely within the “on” place.

Coming again into the sample, Bidlack leaned ahead over the again instrument panel and instructed me to hold about 65 knots on ultimate and to wheel land it. Apparently it three-points okay but it surely wheel lands even simpler and since I had no brakes to talk of for management, I used to be completely glad to take the straightforward approach out.

As I turned onto a brief ultimate, it turned apparent that this was in all probability an airplane through which a facet slip was used loads as a result of it simply doesn’t need to come down. Those self same slabs of carry on both sides of the fuselage that made the takeoff so gratifying additionally maintain the Chipmunk within the air a very long time with no energy. I had a wholesome head wind, so a slip wasn’t crucial, besides, I didn’t come down precisely the place I wished.

Because the runway got here leisurely as much as meet us, I leveled off at what I hoped was a number of toes excessive and commenced holding it off ready for it to determine to descent. And I waited . . . and waited. Lastly, at some quantity that hardly reveals on the airspeed indicator, it determined to return down and I gently felt for the pavement. Chunk! I kissed the runway a bit of more durable than I hoped and bought a slight hop. Bidlack shouted that the mains hadn’t even left the bottom, besides, when  issues felt stable once more, I pinned the airplane down with only a little bit of ahead stick. In that place, rolling on the mains, it felt as stable as a tri-gear hen, with visibility to match. As soon as once more the rudder instructed me that it was greater than able to dealing with the job and reminded my toes that extreme power was going to be rewarded with extreme dancing round on the runway.

When the tail got here down and I started fascinated about turning off the runway, Bidlack shouted for me to only let go of the stick and do the outdated cross-the-cockpit hand-jive with the throttle and brake once more. Very, very unusual!

As I swung right into a parking slot I pushed the combination all the best way ahead, that’s proper, ahead, as a result of it really works backwards. Nonetheless the engine didn’t present any indicators of strangling, so I twisted round and requested Bidlack tips on how to shut this factor off. He described a gizmo down in entrance of my proper knee, which seemed like an enormous hand grenade pin. I wrapped a finger by way of the ring and pulled. Immediately the engine acted as if I had a maintain of its windpipe and died. I couldn’t assist however smile a bit of on the crudeness, however effectivity of the shutdown procedures.

There are many Chipmunks available lately, most of them being Canadian fashions with bubble canopies and the varied modifications. Even after they first started to point out up as surplus, they weren’t low-cost, as a result of everyone instantly acknowledged them for what they have been . . . an reasonably priced mild aircraft with a warbird’s tendencies.

I’ve typically puzzled, whilst a child, why the RAF/RCAF ought to have picked such a trivial title as “Chipmunk” for his or her new airplane. I imply, a service with a historical past of names like Spitfire, Sea Venom and even of Tiger Moth or Fox Moth absolutely might have discovered a greater title. Or so I assumed. Upon flying the airplane, I now discover the title suits it completely. It has the type of perky character that you simply’d count on of a chipmunk. It’s joyous and stuffed with enjoyable and usually likes to cavort and play within the solar.

So the title is as proper as all the things else concerning the Chipmunk.

–BD

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