In the 1920s Great Britain saw a great growth in civil aviation, which was an outgrowth of its light aircraft movement.
This movement originated with light plane trials held in Lympne, England. These competitions led to the development of new light aircraft for private ownership and flying clubs. The flying clubs saw thousands of pilots learn to fly in the light planes, creating a market for these aircraft. This, in turn, led to the development of one of the most iconic of light planes, the de Havilland Moth.
The period immediately following the Armistice ending the First World War were lean years for the British aircraft industry as military orders were cancelled and several aircraft manufacturers collapsed. It was what one British statesman called the “Cataclysm of Peace.”
It was in this situation that an idea emerged to foster the industry through the development of light aircraft for personal flight fostered by competitions held at Lympne, England.
The Lympne Light Aircraft Trials were held in 1923, 1924 and 1926, with a strong — but not exclusive — emphasis on fuel economy. Each year saw different restrictions on engine size, framed initially in terms of capacity and then weight.
The 1923 competition was organized by the Royal Aero Club with the Duke of Sutherland, Under-Secretary of State for Air, getting things moving by offering a £500 prize for the most efficient machine. Other prizes were offered for the fastest speed and highest altitude.
This competition was for single-seat aircraft which, for efficiency, were powered by small motorcycle engines.
The 1923 competition saw 28 entries, including some from well-known British aircraft manufacturing firms, including Avro, English Electric, Gloster and the de Havilland companies, along with new concerns such as Parnall and the Air Navigation and Engineering Company (ANEC).
The speed prize was won by the Parnall Pixie, achieving 76 mph. The altitude prize went to the ANEC, which reached a height of 14,400 feet. The efficiency prize was shared by the English Electric Wren and the ANEC, each of which flew more than 87 miles on one gallon of gasoline.
So encouraging was the development of light aircraft for the competition that the Duke of Sutherland offered another prize in 1924 for two-seat aircraft. He also provided greater impetus to the competition by getting the British Air Ministry involved as a sponsor, which offered a £2,000 prize for the winner and £1,000 for the runner-up.
The 1924 rules required competing aircraft to have engines with a capacity of no more than 1,100 cc, and to have dual controls.
In this competition points were awarded on performance in four different tests: High speed, low speed, distance required to takeoff and clear an obstacle, and length of landing run.
There were 19 entries for the contest, all from established manufacturers, including Avro, Beardmore, Bristol, Hawker, Blackburn, and Westland.
Most of the aircraft were powered by the Bristol Cherub 67 cubic inch, two-cylinder, air-cooled engine. Introduced in 1923, this engine was destined to become a very popular light aircraft engine.
The winner of the 1924 contest was the Beardmore Wee Bee high-wing monoplane, with the Bristol Brownie low-wing monoplane second.
There was a similar contest in 1926 at Lympne, but it was the first two trials from which the light plane movement really sprang.
Examples of light planes that grew out of the contests were the de Havilland Moth, the Avro Avian, the Blackburn Blue Bird, and the Westland Widgeon, with the most successful and influential being the Moth.
In August 1924, the British Air Ministry announced that it was so impressed with the possibilities created by the development of the light airplane for the Lympne trials that it was prepared to establish 10 flying clubs.
Under the scheme, the Air Ministry proposed to make an initial grant for the purchase of two planes and an annual grant for two years towards the operation and maintenance expenses of the clubs. In return, the clubs were required to match the contribution from the ministry.
In December 1924 it was announced that the Royal Aero Club had been selected to form the first club in the London District. The club was operational by August 1925. The first aircraft chosen for the London Aeroplane Club was the new de Havilland Moth.
The clubs became popular. By 1928 there were 21 clubs in operation, with more than 3,000 members who logged more than 12,000 hours of flight time during the year.
DE HAVILLAND MOTH
The selection of the de Havilland DH 60 Moth by the London Aero Club as its first aircraft in 1925 demonstrated the acceptance and great future for the design.
de Havilland’s first light airplane was the Humming Bird, which was designed for the 1923 Lympne competition. Though the plane didn’t win any prizes, it was commercially successful, with 15 being built.
Even with its small success, Geoffrey de Havilland decided that none of the Lympne entries would make an ideal flying club or private aircraft.
The company also decided against entering a machine in the 1924 two-seat trials as it felt the rules were ill-conceived and would not lead to a useful airplane. Instead company officials proceeded to design a two-seat light biplane capable of handling the rough use as a trainer and large and comfortable enough for cross-country flying, as well as powered by a dependable engine.
The new aircraft, powered by a new 60-hp Cirrus engine, was designated the DH 60 and named the Moth in deference to Mr. de Havilland’s interest in lepidoptery. It was noted as being very easy to fly, with a forgiving nature. It had a cruising speed of 85 mph and a range of 320 miles.
It made headlines in May 1925 when A.J. Cobham flew the prototype 1,000 miles from Croydon England, to Zurich, Switzerland, and back in one day.
The Moth was one of the first practical light plane designs intended for civilian training and private recreational flying and was also one of the first light aircraft to be mass produced. It became a very popular machine and dominated the market. By 1931, 33% of registered civil aircraft in Britain were Moths.
By 1929 the small light airplane had been adopted all over the world for training, private use and touring use. This was a class of aircraft that was primarily developed in Great Britain and a class in which the British designers reigned supreme.
British designs of light aircraft, such as the Moth and the Avro Avian, were not only popular in Britain, but around the world. The aircraft were not only manufactured in Britain, but also under license in a number of foreign countries, including the United States.
The Lympne competitions were indeed the beginning of a real light plane movement, which not only ushered in the de Havilland Moth, but saw the formation of flying clubs, the growth of popular flying, and the steady advance made in the two-seat light airplane.