Many people seem to think that the light aircraft - and this includes the Light Sport Aircraft - is a relatively modern phenomenon, as well as the adaptation of car engines as aircraft motive power. Here is living proof that these concepts were alive and well in the 1930s. The pretty, and unique, Dart Kitten II, one of just a handful of aircraft built by the Dunstable-based Dart Aircraft, is seen here at the Great Vintage Flying Weekend, Hullavington, Wiltshire.
Alfred Wyle had flown for the German Imperial Forces during WW1, and had had a distinguished career in the Aeronautical Engineering of Berlin University. However, along with many others he fled Germany during the mid 1930s. When he arrived in England, he quickly formed a partnership with Eric Zander, and they founded Dart Aircraft Ltd. An initial attempt to build what would be classified today as an ultralight gave rise to the Dart Kitten 1, with an Ava flat-four engine of only 27 hp. When tested by 'Flight' magazine, this was described as being 'underpowered', although their pilot did regard it as stable, having a wing-loading of only 5.3 lb/sq. ft. and with an innocuous stall. The Kitten had spruce/ply construction throughout, and the 32 foot span wings had a single spruce spar.
This particular single-seater, the Kitten II, was first flown in 1937, powered by one of the famous two-cylinder J.A.P. 99 engines which gave 37hp (as used in Mogan Super Sport three-wheelers and J.A.P motorcycles). Two more Kittens were built in 1937, and in May, 'Flight' tested one of these 'developed' machines. This time their pilot was full of praise, regarding the Kitten II as having 'little need for any application of rudder', and 'no need for goggles due to the extended screen'! The aircraft would climb at 600 ft/min, cruise at 83 mph (top speed of 90mph) and had a 10 gallon fuel tank immediately in front of the cockpit. This gave an endurance of 4 hours, and a still-air range of 340 miles. Surprisingly for an 'ultralight' of the period, there was a locker capable of taking a load of 20 lbs.
Unfortunately, before further Kittens could be built WW2 intervened, and they were laid up for the duration. Postwar, a couple more Kittens were produced (including a homebuilt version in Australia) and G-AEXT surfaced again, to start participating in Popular Flying Association rallies and other events. It appeared at the 1954 Leicester Aero Club Flying Display, where it was flown by Oscar Maidment - other 'highlights' of that display included the fabulous flying of Ranald Porteus in an Auster Aiglet (he was Auster's Chief Test Pilot) and displays by 1833 Squadron's Sea Furies from the Fleet Air Arm. There is an astonishing shot of the Kitten passing close behind a (static) Vampire FB.5 from RAF Honington.
G-AEXT had been owned from 1987 to 2009 by Alan Hartfield, who I had the good fortune to talk to several times. When Alan 'retired' from flying, the aircraft quickly passed through a couple of other owners. It is now owned by Robert Fleming from Otley, near Leeds, and is very active. It was last seen at the Wings & Wheels Fly-In at Breighton Airfield (EGBR) in September, 2012.
Long may this pretty Kitten grace the skies!