The deHavilland DH 83C Fox Moth was the smallest workhorse of aviation transportation in Canada’s northland from the mid 1930s to the late 1940s. Fox Moth aircraft were operated throughout Canada on floats, skis and occasionally on wheels. They were widely used on a multitude of jobs, operating off of small lakes and/or clearings in the winter.
Fox Moths, although once common, are now quite scarce. Built mostly of wood and covered with cloth, they required considerable maintenance. As they were replaced with more modern aircraft (the Cessna 180, for example) they were abandoned and allowed to rot away beyond reasonable restoration.
The Western Canada Aviation Musem acquired the remnants of DH 83C Fox Moth (C indicates constructed in Canada) from Ron Jackson of Calgary in 2003 by generous museum members who donated funds for its purchase. Since then many willing volunteers have donated their time and talents to bring this significant aircraft back to life.
The project started in early 2003 when the late Paul Latocki built a framing jig and made a complete set of ribs for the 1930s-era biplane as a home project.
The process of constructing the wing structure and covering with fabric began following a team meeting on November 27, 2008. The original spars were found to be dimensionally (in cross-section) considerably undersized from age and would have required considerable shimming at each attachment point to mate with the ribs manufactured by Latocki, whose ribs were made exactly to drawing specifications.
The Museum’s volunteer restoration team decided to fabricate new spars. This was a process that did not allow for trial and error because there was only enough material to do it once. In the early 1970s, the museum had received a quantity of aircraft grade Sitka spruce for its restoration projects. Over the years, this inventory was used up to the point that there was only enough material left for the Fox Moth wing spars. Knowing they had only one chance to cut the pieces correctly, the restoration craftsmen measured and re-measured before running the lumber through saws and planers .
Although there were Fox Mot h construction prints on hand, the information provided assumed that the user was familiar with English aircraft manufacture. Don Whellams, who worked with Canadian Airways in the 1930s, provided the crew with some direction on wing layout. Alex Hammond, a civil engineering student was able to translate information on the blueprints to the workbench and his understanding of the mathematical calculations involved at many questionable points in the restoration process made the team’s work easier.
As the spars were finished, they were moved onto a perfectly flat assembly bench where specially designed inboard spar restraints were attached to maintain wing alignment and spacing as the ribs were installed along with the bracing wires and trammelling functions. Leading and trailing edges
were fabricated and fitted at the same time as the installation and soldering of the static electricity grounding mesh was completed. All surfaces were then given coats of spar varnish.
The next job was to cover all wooden and fabric contact areas with Scotch tape to reduce fabric sticking during sewing and doping. Wrapping the wings in fabric and sewing seams began in February 2010. Doping started in March and was continuous until all four wings received eight coats of clear and aluminium dope. This was finished in June. Estelle Eaton also made the pilot’s seat cushion, a project she completed while watching the Olympics and waiting for the wings to be available. The wings of the Fox Moth were finished and ready for final painting and installation in June 2010.
Wing building and assembly: Gary Boggs, Alex Hammond, Wilf Keith, Larry LeGrange, Mike LeBlanc, Jim Lickley, Heinz Lampe, Al Nelson, Don Perera, Dick Thornhill, Gord Windat, Don Whellams, Bob Bird, Frank Gray and the late Paul Latocki.
Cotton fabric wing covers: Estelle Eaton, Jim Marland, Earl Kalenchuck, Ross Taylor, John Henry Friesen and Robert Bird.
A group of students from the University of Manitoba Faculty of Architecture spent several weeks in early 2010 working on the frames and coverings as part of a course examining the dynamics of flexible structures, of which wings are excellent examples.