75 years after its first flight on the 22nd of May 1946, the ‘Chippy” is still flown and loved by many.
From the late 1940s, the de Havilland Chipmunk became the RAF’s primary trainer aircraft.
The RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight still has two Chipmunks, invaluable for training fighter pilots to fly the WWII Spitfires and Hurricanes as they have the same tailwheel landing gear – two wheels at the front and one at the back – as opposed to the ‘tricycle’ formation of modern aircraft.
It has a two-seat tandem cockpit and is powered by a de Havilland Gypsy Major engine.
The de Havilland Chipmunk was designed as a two-seat single-engined primary trainer. The principal designer of the Chipmunk was Wsiewolod Jakimuik who led the design and development for De Havilland Canada. Jakamuik worked in Poland with PZL designer Zygmunt Pulawski on the design of the PZL 11 fighter. After Pulawski’s death he took over the P.7 and P.11 programmes and also designed the P.24 and then moved to Canada.
The prototype Chipmunk first flew at Downsview, Toronto and was flown by de Havilland test pilot Pat Fillingham. It was the first aircraft to emerge from de Havilland Canada and hence the designation DHC-1. 217 Chipmunks were constructed at Downsview and a further 1,000 produced under licence in the UK, initially at Hatfield and then at Hawarden. A number of Chipmunks were also produced by OGMA (Oficinas Gerais de Material Aeronautico in Portugal.
The RAF received 735 Chipmunks where it was designated T.10 and became the replacement for the ageing Tiger Moth. It had a long service as the RAF standard trainer before being phased out of service in 1996. It also served with the Army Air Corps and Royal Navy.
It is also notable that HRH Prince Philip had his first flying lesson in a Chipmunk and referred to it as his favourite aircraft. Prince Charles also learned to fly in a Chipmunk and that particular aircraft is still flying.
The Chipmunk was designed as a trainer and there are few that have ever been created that are better at this purpose and many are still used in this role now. It is an ideal stepping stone when “moving up” to the Harvard and on to the Spitfire and a number of Spitfire operators retain them for this purpose. Like the Spitfire the Chipmunk has differential braking – that is “hand and feet” (left foot and hand lever – left brake, right foot and hand lever – right brake, rudder controls central and hand lever – both brakes).
Although only 1/10th the power of a Spitfire the Chipmunk is an excellent energy management trainer for aerobatics and is often referred to as a “mini Spitfire” albeit the Chipmunk’s handling is actually better harmonised than a Spitfire. Because of this handling there are few better historic aircraft for the pure joy of flying. There are few better trainers for formation flying and you will still see display teams like the Four Chip Formation Team and the Red Sparrows.
218 fully aerobatic Chipmunks were built in Canada between 1946 and 1951. In the United Kingdom, 1014 Chipmunks were built with the RAF receiving 735 of them for the Oxford University Air Squadron, replacing the Tiger Moth.
Another 60 aircraft were built under license in Portugal.
About 41 de Havilland Chipmunks saw service in South Africa.
The de Havilland Chipmunk, is regarded by many as the best handling production light aircraft of all time.