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75th Anniversary of the de Havilland Chipmunk – Springs Airfield

By Andre Venter

The de Havilland Canada DH-1 Chipmunk celebrated its 75th Anniversary on 22 May an event that Gavin Brown and his team at Classic Flying Collection were not about to let go by uncelebrated. A call was put out to all the Chipmunk owners around South Africa and for good measure, all historic de Havillands were invited as well. A call that resulted in Flippie Vermeulen making his way to Queenstown to return in the only de Havilland Dragon Rapide in the country.

Arriving at Springs Airfield early on Saturday morning one could not ignore the excitement in the air, the team from Classic Collection were busy moving their large collection of aircraft from their hangar. Marc Quesnel and his team of military re-enactors were starting to stir from a very cold night camping at the airfield.

Springs, as per usual served a very hearty breakfast at a marquee tent set up at the clubhouse and the coffee was very welcome as it was a very cold morning. The cold however didn’t dampen the spirits as was evident when the aircraft started arriving from all over Gauteng and neighbouring provinces.

In total nine Chipmunks made their way to Springs and everyone present was treated to a nine ship flypast, not something we often get to see. I was fortunate enough to be invited along for the de Havilland formation Chipmunks and Tigermoths got airborne from Springs and joined up with the Dragon Rapide, then we returned to the airfield for a flypast. The Chippies and Tigermoths then landed and Capt. Flippie Vermeulen did a short display in the Dragon Rapide.

The Puma Energy Flying Lions dropped in for a quick visit on their way back from Ermelo they could not leave without performing a display for the fairly large crowd that had assembled throughout the morning.

The de Havilland Chipmunk was celebrated in true aviation spirit, in other words, lots of flying. May these wonderful aircraft continue to grace our skies for many years to come. For those unfamiliar with the history of this classic aircraft here is a short summary of where they came from.

Immediately following the conclusion of the Second World War, there was a desire amongst some figures within Canadian aviation circles to take advantage of the recently expanded aircraft manufacturing industry which had been rapidly built up in Canada during the peace years.

Out of this desire, it was decided to embark on developing aircraft which would replace designs that were obsolete in light of the rapid advances made during the war in the aviation field. One such company, de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd, was interested in developing their own aircraft designs and chose to focus on producing a contemporary aircraft for pilot training, specifically intending for the envisioned type to serve as a successor to the de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane trainer, many thousands of which having been widely used during the war by various military services and had been developed prior to the conflict.

Wsiewołod Jakimiuk, a Polish pre-war engineer, served as the principal designer and led the design team in the development of the new aircraft, which became known as the Chipmunk. He designed a cantilever monoplane that incorporated numerous advances over typical trainer aircraft then in widespread service.

These included an enclosed cockpit complete with a rear-sliding canopy, and various aerodynamic features to manage the aircraft's flight performance. Strakes were fitted to deter spin conditions and stall breaker strips along the inboard leading edges of the wing ensured that a stall would originate in this position as opposed to the outboard section.

The Chipmunk would become the first indigenous aircraft design to be produced by de Havilland Canada.

The Chipmunk prototype, CF-DIO-X, first flew on 22 May 1946 at Downsview, Toronto, piloted by Pat Fillingham, a test pilot who had been seconded from the parent de Havilland company. The prototype was powered by a 145 hp de Havilland Gipsy Major 1C air-cooled reciprocating engine, this was replaced on the production version of the Chipmunk by a 145 hp inline de Havilland Gipsy Major 8 engine.

Chipmunk prototype

de Havilland Canada constructed the type at their factory in Downsview, Toronto, Ontario, where they produced a total of 217 Chipmunks during the 1940s and 1950s, the final example of which having been completed during 1956. In addition, a total of 1,000 Chipmunks were produced under licence in the United Kingdom by British aircraft manufacturer de Havilland; manufacturing was initially performed at the company's facility at Hatfield Aerodrome, Hertfordshire; it was later decided to transfer production to another of their plants, located at Hawarden Aerodrome, Broughton near Chester. A further 66 Chipmunks were licence-manufactured by OGMA (Oficinas Gerais de Material Aeronáutico), at Alverca from 1955 to 1961 in Portugal for the Portuguese Air Force.

Portuguese Air Force Chipmunk

Both British-built and early Canadian-built Chipmunks are notably different from the later Canadian-built RCAF/Lebanese versions. The later Canadian-built aircraft were fitted with a bubble canopy, which replaced the multi-panelled sliding canopy that had been used upon early Canadian-produced Chipmunks, along with all of the Portuguese and British-built aircraft.

Canadian-built RCAF/Lebanese version

On the early-built canopy, the rearmost panels intentionally bulged in order to provide the instructor's position with superior visibility. British-built Chipmunks also differed by a number of adjustments to suit the expressed preferences of the RAF. These included the repositioning of the undercarriage legs, the adoption of a variable-pitch propeller, anti-spin strakes, landing lights, and an all-around stressed airframe.

At one point, work was being conducted on a derivative of the Chipmunk which featured an extensive cabin modification in order to accommodate a side-by-side seating arrangement; the aircraft, which was referred to as the DHC-2, ultimately remained unbuilt. The DHC-2 designation was subsequently reallocated to the company's next product, the DHC-2 Beaver.

DHC-2 Beaver



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