The De Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk is a delightful aircraft to fly. This Canadian-designed basic trainer (powered by a De H Gipsy Major 10 Mk 2 engine, driving a Fairey Reed metal propeller) was built both in Canada and the U.K., at the Hatfield and Chester factories of De Havilland, and under license in Portugal by OGMA. After the first military prototype, WB549, flew in 1949 it was followed by no less than 735 others (as the T. Mk 10) for the RAF and RAFVR training schools and later the University Air Squadrons and the Air Experience Flights of the Air Cadets.
Needless to say, when these were finally disposed of by the Ministry of Defence, they were much sought after by private pilots and flying schools. There had not been too many new sales of the civil version of the Chipmunk to civilian owners, due to the high initial cost of a machine which was built to an expensive military specification. However, ‘disposal sale’ prices had civilian bidders very interested. Unfortunately, that same ‘high-quality’ official specification now caused problems. The Civil Aviation Authority was not happy with various military aspects of the design (including parts of the fuel system), so it was not until a new model number - the Mk 22 - was allotted by De Havilland, and a series of agreed modifications carried out, that the ex-RAF machines began to appear in private hands in any numbers. Many ex-T.10s were modified as Mk 22A aircraft which had new wings with a 12 gallon tank each side, rather than the original 9 gallon unit.
The aircraft shown here (at Cotswold Airport, Gloucestershire), G-APLO, was built in 1950 for the RAF as WB696. It served with No. 11 Reserve Flying School (carrying the code ‘RCR-C’), based at Scone, near Perth in Scotland, then Aberdeen University Air Squadron from 1951 to 1956. After disposal by the Ministry of Defence, it was bought by Air Service Training Ltd, who used it from their Perth base to train future airline pilots for British European Airways, British Overseas Airways Corporation and British United Airways, amongst others.
A move south meant that G-APLO ended up with the Channel Islands Aero Club on Jersey, painted in a typical all-over silver training scheme as ‘WD379′, coded ‘K’, of Cambridge University Air Squadron. The aircraft is now owned by Lindholme Aircraft Ltd, St. Ouen, Jersey, and is finished in a very reasonable facsimile of one of the two RAF Chipmunks still active (WK518, WG486), both of them with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Coningsby. They are used to provide continuation training on ‘tail-dragger’ aircraft for display pilots of the BBMF - this is due to the fact that ALL the other aircraft of the Flight are ‘tail-draggers’.
Unfortunately, the RAF did not take too kindly to WB696 being finished in the BBMF’s ’high-conspicuity’ black scheme, with white bands, which had been chosen for their Chipmunks, as it was claimed that people would be ‘confused’. Actually, since the Ministry of Defence just scrapped or retired a very large proportion of the RAF’s fleet of aircraft, you would think that they would be happy to make potential adversaries think we had an extra Chipmunk!
The owners decided to mollify the authorities by putting large ‘racing numbers’ – a green ’8′ on a white circle – where the RAF roundels would normally go. Thus were the official feathers successfully unruffled. This is a smart aircraft, and I just wish the Ministry of Defence would allow it to carry a full RAF scheme.