All the components of a Second World War era biplane are sitting in Doug Watson’s garage. While there’s no need for it to fight again, he aims to make it fly in 2019.
Two years ago. Watson, who lives just north of Lindsay, found himself in possession of a chaotic heap of disassembled airplane parts. It meant that he had embroiled himself in a years-long construction project – and he couldn’t be happier.
The plane itself is Tiger Moth biplane; bi, of course, refers to the two wings on each side of of the cockpit that are stacked on top of one another. The plane was invented in the 1930s and quickly became mass produced in the wake of a global war.
The Tiger Moth has a long history, and was a crucial instrument of the commonwealth’s war effort in the Second World War. The Royal Air Force (RAF) used the biplane for maritime surveillance, invasion preparations, and, most importantly, as a training plane.
The log book that came with Watson’s plane reveals that his specific unit has had a busy history since its birth. After the war, the plane was sold to a flying school, where, presumably, it served as the initiatory plane for many aspiring pilots. Then in the 1950s, a U.S. citizen purchased the plane, and through a series of events it ended up as a show plane, starring in TV shows such as CHiPs. The Tiger Moth didn’t return to Canada until it was purchased by a citizen of Midland in 2001, who slightly restored the plane’s frame, and then sold the plane again to a Trans AM pilot in Gatineau. Watson then found the plane for sale in a magazine. He noted that, at the time, “I wasn’t looking for a project, but I thought it would be kind of neat.”
The Tiger Moth specifically has a history with Watson as well. One of the principle reasons he entertained the idea of reconstructing an entire airplane in the first place was that his dad had done the exact same thing before him. In 1947 his father, who was a private pilot, bought a Tiger Moth at an auction in Oshawa. For just $900 his father had a brand new construction project into which he could pour his passion and his time. Moreover, just like Watson himself, his father was not a mechanic. It was an endeavour they both were undertaking in the dark at different points in time.
Watson got his pilot’s license when he finished high school in 1972. A few years later he was instructing young pilots before he flew out to Edmonton and piloted pontoons for the summer. After his stint in the prairie province, he flew planes in the Northwest Territories, where the black flies could sometimes get so dense that it sounded like a downpour when you hit them. Then he got in with Air Canada flying 777’s in Asia, a huge airplane.
The Tiger Moth is scattered throughout Watson’s garage, different parts of the body resting at different stages of the process.
The engine of the plane, with its 130 horsepower, seems surprisingly modest. One identifying characteristic of the plane engine, however, is the fact that it is upside down, a peculiarity in design that ensures pilots can actually see out the front of their plane, as otherwise they would be looking at pistons instead of what lies before them.
The internet has been a big tool for the construction process, as Watson admits that it “was like a jigsaw puzzle” when he first got it. The internet helped him land a CD of Tiger Moth construction pictures and even find a missing Tiger Moth air gauge he needed on EBay from a similarly-inclined gentleman in England. Perhaps Watson’s most handy tool has been a construction manual, which contains pictures and captions capturing the painstaking details and intricate procedures necessary to the entire process. Step by step, the book delineated what goes where, and when. Watson isn’t completely alone in his venture. There’s some Tiger Moths as close by as Oshawa, and there are Tiger Moth clubs in Australia and England.
The pilot has always liked keeping himself busy with construction projects. He fixed up a 1972 Corvette, built the house he lives in and garage he builds in, and even built a violin to keep himself musically involved when a hand injury prevented him from playing the piano.
Surprisingly, even the government has a small role in the small plane restoration process. Due to some arcane legal complexity, the plane hasn’t technically been imported to the country yet. This importation process involves a representative of the Ministry of Transportation assessing the plane. Otherwise a mere inspection from an aircraft mechanic would suffice to get the plane in the air.
Watson hopes to have the plane ready to fly by next season. In the meanwhile, he’ll be doing all of the finicky little things that such a complicated machine would require to achieve flight success. By the time next fall rolls around, a piece of our military history may yet fly over Kawartha Lakes.