who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run
and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.
White silk scarves blowing in a slipstream, the raw rumble of a aero engine, wheels spinning, tossing grass as theyíre lifted from the earth by a pair of fragile wings of wood and fabricÖ Nothing evokes the romance of flight like a biplane, and there are few biplanes better known and better loved than the de Havilland Tiger Moth.
Born in the flying frenzy of the 1930ís, the Tiger Moth was the brainchild of Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, an inveterate lover of all things winged, aeroplane to insect. He cut his teeth designing aeroplanes for Airco during the Great War, and after the conflict was through he set up his own aircraft works. One of his most successful creations was the fabled DH.60 Moth, a plane so ubiquitous on the fields of British flying clubs in the 1920ís and Ď30ís, virtually anything with an airscrew and wings became known as a ďmothĒ.
As the storm clouds of war gathered across Europe, the Royal Air Force foresaw a need for pilots in large numbers. That meant finding suitable aeroplanes in which they could train. It was only logical that de Havilland be given a chance to bid on such a craft, and he quickly jumped into the fray, proposing a variant of his DH.60 for the task. After a bit of hacking apart and rebuilding, de Havilland and crew had reshaped the Moth to RAF specs, and the DH.82 Tiger Moth was born.
By the end of WWII, more than 7,000 airframes had rolled off the assembly lines. The Tiggie, as it was affectionately known, had become the default trainer for the RAF, the first wings for pilots who would go on to glory in Spitfires, Hurricanes, and Lancasters. In addition, the DH.82 found a home in the training programs of other commonwealth nations, and in the air forces of Norway, Sweden, and Portugal. Even the US Army Air Force had a small stable of them.
history, itís no surprise that there have been several renditions of this
lovely bird for Flight Simulator over the years. The version reviewed here
was created and distributed by Aeroplane Heaven. Itís billed as having
been endorsed by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, with the de
Havilland Moth Club listed as consultants, facts that make a bold promise
Installation was direct and painless, as weíve come to expect for a top-notch program, leaving little room for comment other than ďit works fine.Ē Once the plane is installed, starting FS2004 reveals a bewildering array of new options for Tiggies to fly. It took me a few minutes to come to grips with what was being offered. That is, until I broke out the manual.
There are three basic versions of the
DH.82 in this package: an open-cockpit military trainer, a civilian
version, and the somewhat ungainly-looking DH.82C variant that was built
in Canada. This last model features an enclosed cockpit, with a long
greenhouse canopy. In addition, models are set up so the pilot can fly
from either the front or rear cockpit, with or without another pilotís
head occupying the adjacent Ďpit in the VC view. Selecting which plane to
fly means deciding on the model, livery, cockpit and co-pilot options you
want before loading up. Decisions, decisions!
Aeroplane Heaven did a marvellous job in capturing the Tiger Mothís wispy, graceful lines. I spent a while walking around her, taking in the attention to detail that abounds in the external view. Using stock FS key assignments, one can open the engine compartment to view the exquisite and reliable Gipsy Major engine, with its inverted cylinder layout. The small cockpit doors flip down, and even the storage locker behind the pilots can be opened.
The Tiger Moth was essentially a
reengineered Moth, and the modifications are represented nicely in this
product. In order to meet RAF requirements, De Havilland had to make big
changes to the DH.60. The top wing was relocated forward of the front
cockpit, allowing ingress and egress easily in case of bail-out. Having
moved the wing forward, the altered aerodynamics of the new layout
necessitated sweeping the wings back to regain stability. However, the
newly swept wings, combined with the slanted tail dragger stance, brought
the tips of the lower wing uncomfortably close to the ground. To remedy
this, the outboard struts were shortened, drawing up the lower wing into a
more pronounced dihedral than the upper. Ordinarily, this sort of slapshot
approach to redesign would result in a Frankensteinian eyesore. Somehow,
through luck or divine providence, it only enhanced the Tiger Mothís form.
AHís skilled modelling, combined with excellent texture graphics,
demonstrate that shape admirably.
As with most open-cockpit planes, climbing aboard the Tiggie feels more like putting on a good pair of boots than entering a vehicle. Although AH provided a functional 2D instrument panel, their efforts suggest that the proper way to fly her is in the VC, noggin bobbing in the wind, and only occasionally checking between your knees to note the instruments.
The virtual cockpits are spare, true to the actual bird, with an unassuming cluster of only the most vital instruments for reference. Thereís an airspeed indicator, engine tachometer, turn & slip indicator, altimeter, and an oil temperature gauge. For navigation, you get a big compass mounted horizontally, undoubtedly intended to double as a cup holder for your tea. Oh yes, and in some models you are treated to a vertical speed indicator. The luxury! The gauge needles move in a liquid-smooth fashion, and are a delight to use. Clearly AH have cracked the code that was for so long the sole province of RealAir in this respect.
The interior of the Tiger Moth appears to be completely hand-drawn, as opposed to based on photographs. That isnít a cut, as many very attractive VCs have been created using this technique. However, something about these cockpits left me cold. I think perhaps itís the combination of some parts (levers, mainly) being realistically textured, while others (like the interior walls of the cockpit and the floor) show only simple colours and a light stab at some gradation here and there. These are trainers, for Godís sake! No plane gets more use and abuse than the lowly trainer. It seems like it could have been weathered some more. Also, looking up under the panel at the rudder pedals, thereís a lack of shadowing that further spoils the effect for me. And having said all that, theyíre still the best Tiger Moth VC renditions Iíve ever seen.
Now for the fun bit. I followed the simple checklist to get the Tiggie started. Itís short and sweet enough to have tattooed on the back of your hand. Interestingly, the magneto switches are mounted on the outside of the cockpit, usable by either the pilot or ground crew. A couple of good spins of the double-blades, and the engine fired right off. The sound set isnít bad, but Iíd been hoping for more of a rumble or a clatter. The engine music wafting from the cowling was more civilized and contained than Iíd expected. They say it was recorded from the real thing, so Iíll take them at their word that the sounds are authentic.
Taxiing reveals the first of many surprises for the Cessna jockey who is new to biplanes. Look ma, no brakes! That is, unless youíre piloting the Canadian ďCĒ model. Fortunately, backing off the throttle results in a quick bleed-off of ground speed. Itís akin to driving on an icy road Ė you can still stop, it just takes planning. Though only a simple skid supports the tail, the flight model has been tuned to allow for easy turning during taxi using the rudder pedals, even at low speeds.
Two fun features of the VC view are the fully operational ďwindyĒ backup mechanical airspeed indicator affixed to the left wing strut (DH.82A trainer only), and the world simplest fuel gauge mounted on the tank dead centre in the top wing. Itís a float Ė the more gas, the higher the pointer. As it sinks, you might want to go looking for a strip to set Ďer down.
Once cleared for takeoff, thereís not much for it but to check trim neutral and roll the throttle forward. The engine reaches a frantic note just as it tops 2100 RPM, and the light airframe picks up speed quickly. Out of habit, I had my right foot ready on the pedals to stop the nose swinging left as torque increased, and I was momentarily surprised when it instead canted to the right. It was a gentle move though, and was easily counteracted with a little opposite pedal. Holding the centreline was not difficult at all, and in no time the twin wings hopped into the sky.
A common saying among GA pilots is,
ďTime to spare? Go by air!Ē Nowhere is this more true than in the Tiggie.
The climb is stately at best; a solid 500-600 feet per minute at 60 knots.
Once at altitude, levelling off and pulling the throttle back to 2050
RPMís delivers a blistering 75 knot cruise. Thatís nearly as fast as a
car! But then, youíre not here to burn up speed records, youíre here to
learn how to properly pilot an aeroplane.
I performed a couple of turns to see how it would handle, and was not pleased to find that the craft wouldnít hold a bank angle unless the stick was hauled over to one side and held there. Also, the damned turn indicator showed some wicked adverse yaw in even the gentlest turn. As I got to know the plane better, it dawned on me that what I was experiencing was not shoddy flight dynamics design, but a faithful rendition of how this bird flies. One of the things, presumably, that the RAF liked about the Tiggie was its propensity to exaggerate the mistakes of young student pilots without killing them. We all know that turns require rudder in order to be coordinated. The Tiger Moth raps your hand with a ruler and insists that you always work your hand and foot together. Turns, even shallow ones, call for a stiff bootfull of rudder and your full attention. After a while it gets to be second nature, but the needle can still easily float over into slip territory if you get the least bit sloppy. Iíll probably tear the rudder off my 172 the next time, after so many hours in a de Havilland.
Another feature thatís been modelled in the DH.82A trainer version are the automatic pop-out slats. They spring into extended position automatically at low speeds to aid handling. I know this because I read about it, but honestly I never noticed them in flight, or their effect. For aerobatics, you must use the lever to your right in the cockpit to lock the slats closed before starting manoeuvres.
Iím no aerobat, and the low speed puttering of the Tiggie made me sweat at the thought of an actual loop. Sucking up my courage, I gained some altitude, then dove slightly to build my airspeed to the recommended entry of 100 knots. I hauled back on the stick, and the nimble little minx nosed up nicely, cutting a graceful arc before levelling out only a couple hundred feet below my starting point. Nice! Iím going to have to bone up on my other moves so I can really put this girl through her paces.
Landing is not particularly challenging,
which is good news for student pilots. There are no flaps to fiddle with,
and no gear to let down. Just point for the runway, keep your speed in
range, and try to put the rubber down on the asphalt.
Iím a prop head, and I love biplanes. The older, noisier, and leakier, the better. So I was predisposed to like the Tiger Moth. In many ways itís an outstanding effort. The exterior model is expertly crafted, with a satisfying variety of types and liveries. The VC is acceptably good, and the gauge refresh rate is fantastic. Sounds are anaemic but better than default, and the flight dynamics are well-tuned and feel quite realistic. The package carries an above-average price tag, a fact for which I have no explanation, but itís likely worth it if youíre a fan of the type. The only glaring error I found was in the canopied ďCĒ model. The turn and slip indicator movements in that variant seem to be reversed, a fact that makes it hard to judge when youíre in a coordinated turn. Also, the panel graphics in the Canadian VCs are rather blurry and crude, not to mention bland. That may echo real life, but I found myself avoiding the variant because of it. That, and the fact that the canopy just ruins an otherwise elegant line.
Iíll be flying this beauty again now that this review is in the bag, of that you can be sure. It works in FSX as well, although the developers note that not every feature of FSX is present, and a couple of minor details are inoperative. I test flew it for a few hours in the newest sim before dropping back into FS9 for this review, and it was as delightful in X as it was in 9. If you enjoy trainers, biplanes, or are simply rebelling against glass cockpits, you could do worse than slip into the cockpit of a Tiger Moth.
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Images by Nick Churchill