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Photo of the Moth by Marlain Shoemaker from an aircraft piloted by Carlyle Jorgensen
Photo of the Moth by Marlain Shoemaker from an aircraft piloted by Carlyle Jorgensen
Flight of the Tiger Moth
Photos by Bill and Robin Hillman
Sixty-two years after its first flight, a 1942 de Havilland Canada D.H. 82C Tiger Moth training aircraft made an historic 4,500 kilometre homecoming journey to its birthplace in Toronto.

Distinguished Toronto-born test pilot, aeronautical engineer, and aerospace industry executive, William Robert "Bob" Laidlaw  donated his restored Tiger Moth to the Toronto Aerospace Museum. The Museum, located at Downsview Park, Toronto, is a new aviation history and educational centre celebrating Canada's flying achievements.

Bob left Helena, MT in the morning and made a refueling stop in Shelby, MT before flying across the US-Canada border to Lethbridge County Airport. The landing received full media coverage. Lethbridge was the first wartime home of No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School equipped with Tiger Moths, and later No. 8 Bombing & Gunnery School equipped with Anson, Battle, Lysander and Bolingbroke aircraft

Bob took off from Lethbridge at 10:00 a.m. for a one hour and thirty minute flight to Medicine Hat Airport. A group of journalists were waiting for him and he made a low pass for the cameras before taxing in and doing another round of interviews with the media. Medicine Hat airport opened in March 14, 1941. It was the wartime home of No. 34 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) equipped with Harvards and Oxford aircraft.

Bob took off from Medicine Hat on Thursday. Ideal flying conditions with favorable winds and a quick refueling stop in Swift Current brought him to Regina around 11:30 a.m., well ahead of schedule. Regina was the wartime home of No. 15 Elementary Flying Training School, managed by the Regina Flying Club and equipped with Tiger Moths.

Friday June 25
Bob and wife Nell took a rest day in Regina. The Tiger Moth was hangared at the Regina Flying Club.

Saturday June 26
Bob took off from Regina at about 7:30 a.m. heading east for Virden, Manitoba where this aircraft flew with No. 19 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) in 1942. He flew through some heavy rain showers, which finally broke after about 40 miles.

Bob landed at Virden to a 'beautiful reception." There were about 50 people waiting for the aircraft at the airport, including a lot of women and children and the publisher of the local newspaper. Bob heard that there had been a lot of clapping when he made a real smooth landing.

Bob was told that during the war Virden didn't have runways, but had a huge circular flying field which meant pilots simply pointed in the direction that would allow them to takeoff into the wind. About a half mile from where he stopped to refuel, one of the wartime hangars was still standing.

Bob took off after an hour visit and made several low passes of the airport before turning in the direction of Brandon. A local pilot flying a Cessna 140 fell into formation for the 35 minute flight and apparently took a lot of air-to-air pictures of the Tiger Moth.

Carlyle Jorgensen was the pilot for Marlain Shoemaker,
who took the aerial photos of the Tiger Moth as it headed back to Brandon
Photo of the Moth by Marlain Shoemaker from an aircraft piloted by Carlyle JorgensenPhoto of the Moth by Marlain Shoemaker from an aircraft piloted by Carlyle Jorgensen

Bob landed at Brandon at about noon and taxied to the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum (CATPM) at the airport.  At the time, the museum's Fairchild Cornell trainer was on the ramp giving museum volunteers rides.

Museum president John McNarry, and Stephen Hayter, the general manager were on hand to meet him.

"When I arrived, John McNarry came over and asked me 'Does your Tiger always sound like that?” recalls Bob. "I didn't know what he meant, but when I took off my headset I could hear quite a racket. There was a large knock coming from the engine of the Tiger."

"It sounded serious and we needed to check it out. The first thing I did was call Cecil Pittman up in Neepawa to tell him that the aircraft was 'sick' and unlikely to make it to the community celebration he had planned in Neepawa for Sunday."

The aircraft was pulled into the hangar at the museum and Bob and John started removing the cowlings to get access to the engine. They suspected a bearing problem, but wouldn't know for sure until they got access to the inside of the engine.

While they were working, Brent Fitzpatrick from CKX TV, a CTV affiliate station showed up to report on Bob's flight and the latest challenge in the journey.

When Bob got to the RV park that night he was absolutely bushed. It had been a long day of flying and trouble shooting, and he was still uncertain as to the problem.

Sunday June  27

The original plan for Sunday was a short flight to Neepawa where Bob's aircraft was stationed during the later part of the war with No. 35 (RAF) and No. 26 Elementary Flying Training School. Local historian Cecil Pittman had been corresponding with Bob for several years, and had mobilized the community for the homecoming of the Tiger Moth.

Instead, Bob and McNarry were in the hangar at Brandon trying to tear down the engine. They reached an impasse when they discovered they could make no further progress without a special tool to pull the propeller hub of the D.H. Gipsy Major 1C engine.

The publicity of the Tiger Moth flight across the Prairies and the aircraft's arrival in Brandon stimulated considerable community interest, and the Tiger Moth received a steady flow of visitors while on display at the Brandon museum.

While they were working on Sunday, Archie Londry, past president of the Museum, visited the hangar with his logbook. In Bob's presence, he opened to the page where he had flown Tiger Moth No. 3874 at No. 19 EFTS at Virden in December 1942.

Monday June 28

"Monday was an incredible day," says Bob Laidlaw.

"When I got up in the morning, I called Ed Clark, my engine man in Hawthorne, California for advice. Ed rebuilt my engine and confirms that we need a special tool to pull the propeller hub."

"John McNarry teaches machine shop at a local college. On hearing this, he goes down to the college, which is closed for the summer, and he spends the next five hours making the tool we need!"

"We took it back to the airport and got the hub off. You need to get the hub off, to remove a seal, which sets off a chain reaction of parts and allows you to remove the top cover of the engine."

“The whole exercise was anticlimactic because we got the top off and couldn't find a darn thing wrong with the engine.”

Tuesday, June 29

Bob and John worked on the engine the entire day. They put it back together, and by Tuesday night were ready to do some ground runs on the ramp at Brandon.  Bob started the engine and it ran as rough as ever.

Wednesday, June 30

The next morning, a local Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (AME) inspects the engine with a bore scope but is unable to determine the problem. Visitors speculate that it might be a connecting rod, or a pin or a misfiring cylinder.

“We were working the problem too much,” said Bob “and we needed to step back and take a large view of the problem.

“We didn’t know what was wrong with the engine, and we were unable to find out what the problem was by tearing the engine apart. We were not in a environment conducive to figuring out the problem, and we were up against a holiday weekend if we wanted to have parts couriered from the United States.

“Ed Clark reminded me that the Gipsy Major in the aircraft is 80 years old, and there are not too many people around who know how to fix one.”

 “Even if we change parts in the engine, or got another engine, we still had to fly across the wilds of northern Ontario to get to Toronto.”

“It would be nice to make this journey home to Toronto by air, but the most important objective was to get the aircraft to Toronto in one piece and on time.”

“I reviewed the situation, and decided that the aircraft better make the rest of the trip to Toronto by truck or train,” said Bob Laidlaw.

Bob called Paul Cabot at the Toronto Aerospace Museum and told him to start getting quotes to have the aircraft shipped from Brandon to Toronto.

Thursday, July 1

Bob Laidlaw and his wife Nell were invited to Neepawa to participate in Canada Day celebrations. They met Cecil Pittman, whose grandfather had the farm adjacent to RAF Station Neepawa.

Cecil has done a lot of work to commemorate the history of the flying school in the town. Bob and Nell were shown a granite memorial bench in front of the courthouse in the town, and they visited the local cemetery were seven airmen killed in wartime accidents at the station are buried.

Bob and Nell were treated royally by the town, and attended the annual community BBQ and shook lots of hands. Bob also made a courtesy visit to the local nursing home to visit a local RCAF veteran who had flown Tiger Moths during the war at No. 26 EFTS.  He pulled out his logbook, but they didn’t find No. 3874 listed, but a sister ship No. 3882.

Impressed with the hospitality, Bob invited Cecil and the folks of Neepawa to visit Brandon and see the aircraft on Friday and Saturday before he started dismantling the aircraft for its journey by surface means to Toronto.

Calling back to Toronto, Bob alerted the Toronto Aerospace Museum of his desire to fly the Tiger Moth in Toronto if the loan of an Gipsy Major 1C engine could be arranged.

Friday and Saturday July 2-3

Publicity during the week brought at lot of visitors from Neepawa and other communities to the museum in Brandon to see the Tiger Moth. Bob spent a solid two days meeting visitors and telling the story of the Tiger Moth, and his flight again (and again).

Sunday July 4

A decision was made to ship the aircraft to Toronto by CN inter-modal. CN would send a truck and 43 ft long trailer to Brandon to pick up the aircraft, and the trailer would be loaded on a railway car in Winnipeg for the rail journey to Toronto.

Bob, John and a group of volunteers began dismantling the aircraft of Sunday morning so it would be ready to load in the trailer on Monday morning.

Bob Laidlaw ~ John McNarry ~ Archie Londry
with volunteers Reg Forbes and Bill Hillman

Archie and Bob after removing the prop
 It is a “Laidlaw Lumber Co.” prop made in Toronto by the Laidlaw Co. for deHavilland. 
The lumber Co. owner Laidlaw was on the board of deHavilland and probably had an “in“ to market his product. 
Bob Lailaw, the Tiger guy, doesn’t think he is directly related to the Lumber Co. 
Interesting coincidence! 
You’ll note that in the rest of the pictures the Moth still has its prop. 
It had been taken off to inspect the engine but it stayed on for the shipping to Toronto.

Bill and Bob unbolting the wings

Robin ~ Bob ~ John
Removing Struts

Bob ~ Reg ~ John
Removing Cable Braces

Bill ~ Reg ~ Bob
Loosening Top Wing

Bob ~ Bill ~ Reg
Removing Top Wing

Bill & Bob lowering wing

Carrying off top wing

Cockpit closeup



The Wingless Moth
Photos by Bill and Robin Hillman
Monday, July 5

The truck and trailer from CN showed up at the Brandon museum in the morning, and Bob and half a dozen volunteers started loading the aircraft and packing up the parts. The doors were closed on the trailer just before 3 p.m. and the truck departed for Winnipeg with the containerized Tiger Moth safely stowed.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, plans were moving ahead to source an engine, and mobilize Toronto Aerospace Museum members and volunteers for Tiger Moth homecoming celebrations.

July 6th 
The Moth is shipped by train to Brampton

July 9th 
The Moth is shipped by truck to Oshawa

July 10th
Wing reassembly and engine replacement begins in Oshawa.

July 15th 
The Moth flies in to Downsview -- Media Day with full CBC and local media coverage

July 16th
Just after 11:00 a.m. W.R. (Bob) Laidlaw lifts off on his final flight in the aircraft. Accompanying him was Archie Londry of Brandon, MB who had flown into Toronto just an hour before to participate in this final flight before the Tiger Moth is retired to the Toronto Aerospace Museum and put on permanent display in the factory where it was originally built in 1942.

Londry and Laidlaw first met on June 26 when Moth No. 3874 landed in Brandon on its 4,300 km homecoming journey from Truckee-Tahoe Airport (near Lake Tahoe) California to Brandon. Londry is former president of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum in Brandon, and by coincidence, flew No. 3874 when he was a student at No. 19 No. 19 Elementary Flying Training School EFTS) in Virden in December 1942.

July 17th 
Handover Ceremoney at Downsview

July 18th
Public Celebration and Open House at Downsview

See the full coverage of the flight and ceremonies at the 
Toronto Aerospace Museum Site

Kenneth Swartz: Director
Toronto Aerospace Museum

Journal Text:
Kenneth Swartz ~  Director: Toronto Aerospace Museum

Aerial Photos of the Tiger Moth: 
Marlain Shoemaker from an aircraft piloted by Carlyle Jorgensen

Disassembly photos at the CATP Museum
Bill Hillman
Robin Hillman

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