15th July 2015 | Ontario, Canada and Virginia Beach, Virginia. Military aviation aficionados residing in the United States may best recall de Havilland Mosquitoes from the 1964 film 633 Squadron, which starred actor and pilot Cliff Robertson. Robertson was an accomplished aviator and owned de Havilland Tiger Moths, and a Messerschmitt Bf 108 and Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IX. In the motion picture he fittingly portrayed a fictional former Royal Air Force (RAF) Eagle Squadron pilot who had attained the rank of Wing Commander. His charges were Mosquito (also known as ‘Mossie’) fighter-bombers and their aircrews.
If single-seat day fighters were tantamount to predatory sharks, de Havilland Mosquitoes were, considering the type’s vertical tail and larger dimensions, Orcas. Mosquitoes were swift, rugged and heavily armed.
The planes became legends, but as Gavin Lyall recorded more than 40 years ago in The War in the Air: The Royal Air Force in World War II (page 244) the Mosquito was an aircraft “nobody seemed to have ordered (the makers had designed and produced it on their own initiative) but which was to become one of the few immortals of the air.”
David Mondey (page 77) confirms in the Concise Guide to British Aircraft of World War II that the Mosquito was “a private venture by the de Havilland company in the autumn of 1938. . . .” The new design heavily relied upon a plywood structure and was, as the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum’s Mosquito webpage states, constructed of “Alaskan spruce, English ash, Canadian birch and fir, and Ecuadorian balsa glued and screwed together in new, innovative ways. . . .” The cantilever wing, which was located in a mid-position, was a one-piece assembly that used plywood for the spar webs and all skin. Fabric externally covered the wooden structures, and the tail unit utilised a plywood-balsa-plywood sandwich process and spruce formers.
“There has never been a more successful, combat-proven warplane made of wood.,” states the Smithsonian webpage. Therefore one finds it puzzling the fact that the Air Ministry initially was uninterested in the aircraft.
Mondey points out (page 77) that it was not until after World War II had started that a wooden machine was considered because Kriegsmarine (Nazi Germany’s navy) U-boats were hindering imports to a great extent. It was thought that if “light alloy came into short supply, an all-wood aircraft might be a useful ace up the sleeve.”
Finally, states Mondey (page 78), when the prototype was “demonstrated to military and government officials . . . these sceptical gentlemen were to discover that the new bomber had the manoeuvrability of a fighter, a dashing high speed . . . and were staggered to see it performing smooth climbing rolls on one engine, the propeller of the second engine ‘feathered’ to prevent windmilling. . . .”
Nevertheless, reluctance on the part of leadership to fund the aircraft program remained. Lyall quotes Donald Bennett (pages 244) as having said the following: “At a meeting at the Air Ministry on the subject, Bomber Command and the Air Ministry were both very strongly opposed the adoption of the Mosquito. They argued that it was a frail wood machine totally unsuitable for Service conditions.” Holding his ground, Bennett checked the ministers’ intransigence with a few pointed comments about his having personally flown the birds by day and night and found them quite satisfactory. The Mosquito was then adopted. As Gavin Lyall concluded (page 245), “Thus, the greatness little aircraft ever built came into the squadron service as a bomber in the Royal Air Force.”
The ‘unwanted’ aircraft soon knew no limits of usage. The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum states that the “Royal Air Force never had enough Mosquitoes to perform the amazing variety of missions that air tacticians devised for this outstanding airplane. It excelled at day and night bombing from high or very low altitudes, long-range reconnaissance, combat in daylight and darkness, and finding and striking distant targets at sea.” As evidenced (Night Fighter, pages 198-199) by pilots such as Wing Commander J.R.D. Braham under the control of an experienced pilot a Mosquito could on occasion even take on smaller and lighter Luftwaffe single-seat day fighters, such Focke-Wulf Fw-190s and Messerschmitt Bf 109s, and emerge victorious. Due to their versatility and usefulness Mosquitoes remained in RAF service until 1952.
Serviceability is always an issue with military aircraft and Mosquitoes were relatively easy to keep in service. Mondey pointed out (page 78) that aircrew and the men and women (fitters and riggers) who maintained the aeroplanes, “discovered that the Mosquito had an enormous capacity to absorb punishment and . . . its structure was easy to repair.”
David Mondey summarized (page 80) the results of these critical roles undertaken by Mosquitoes when he wrote that the Mosquito played “a very extensive role . . . throughout . . . World War II, enhancing very much the RAF’s contribution to victory.”
Less well known is that the U.S. Army Air Forces made use of a limited number of the fabulous aircraft. A British-built B. Mk. 35 resides inside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which is near Dayton, Ohio. Another belongs to Kermit Weeks of Fantasy of Flight and is on loan to the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. However, these planes are static displays.
To see an airworthy example on the east coast of the United States one must travel to the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where KA114 roosts when not thrilling crowds elsewhere. Later this month (20-26 July) KA114 will be slightly less than 232 nautical miles from Canadian airspace when she appears at EAA Airventure 2015. Fundraising for this sortie is underway via indiegogo.com.
KA114 was one of more than 330 FB.26 marks completed. The aeroplane was manufactured at de Havilland Canada‘s Downsview Airfield (now the Downsview Park) in Downsview, Ontario. The Mk 26 was an improved version of the Mosquito FB Mk VI fighter-bomber. A pair of 1,620 hp (1,210 kW) Packard Merlin 225 reciprocating engines powered the sleek “wooden wonder”. Standard armament for the two-seat fighter-bomber versions consisted of four 20-mm cannon and four 0.303-calibre (7.7-mm) in the nose. They could carry 2,000 pounds in bombs or 1,000 pounds of bombs with eight rocket projectiles.
The Mk 26 production run commenced in October 1944 and consisted of 338 units. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) took possession of 197, and the remainder went to the RAF for utilisation primarily in the Middle East.
The history of KA114 began after completion when she was flown straightaway to Eastern Air Command reserve storage and officially taken on RCAF charge on 22 February 1945. The plane was then assigned to No. 7 Operational Training Unit at Debert, Nova Scotia, on 25 February 1945. KA114 returned to reserve storage on 20 April 1945. Subsequently, the aircraft was posted to No. 2 Air Command Reserve Storage on 23 May 1945. The Mosquito next appears on record at No. 103 Reserve Equipment Maintenance Satellite at Vulcan, Alberta.
On 3 April 1948 she was transferred to ‘War Assets’ for disposal and eventually transported after sale to a farm near Milo, Alberta, where the fighter-bomber deteriorated from neglect and exposure over the ensuing 3 decades. Mr. Ed Zalesky, in 1978, acquired the remnants of KA114 for the Canadian Museum of Flight and Transportation, and an excellent DVD about the airplane titled The Miracle of KA114 was produced by Cinema Sixteen in Ontario.
In 2004, the Fighter Factory purchased the project. What remained of KA114 was subsequently transferred to Avspecs in New Zealand for restoration to airworthiness. On 27 September 2012 the restored Mosquito completed a successful test flight at Ardmore Airport. Upon emerging from the facility KA114 bore the livery of No. 487 Squadron Royal New Zealand Air Force.
By early April 2013 KA114 had arrived at a new home, the Fighter Factory (a division of the Military Aviation Museum), and was reassembled before an appearance at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s 2013 Hamilton Air Show.
Mike Potter, Director of the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Virginia, told this writer that having KA114 on the premises is quite inspirational. He stated, “Personally, I have been fascinated by the ‘Mossie’ all my life. I believe that a very serious argument could be made that the Mossie was the single most important aircraft of WWII.”
Mr. Potter now has happy personal memories to counter the sad. “I remember when the last flying Mosquito crashed in the UK in 1996, and I remember being profoundly sad not only at the loss of the pilot and navigator but also the loss of the last flying example of such an iconic plane.” He continued, “Now, almost twenty years later this museum owns a meticulously restored example and flies it routinely. Next week this historic plane will fly to Oshkosh to add its voice to many other Merlins for the first time.”
A bonus provided by KA114’s presence at the Military Aviation Museum is that the Mosquito provides welcome diversions from the routine. Mike explained, “To be able, occasionally, to look up from my desk to see a Mosquito preparing to depart from the grass runway just a few hundred feet away is what makes this museum such a magical place.”
Regarding the livery selected for KA114, Mr. Potter said the following: “There are so many wonderful Commonwealth stories about the Mossie that it was difficult to choose a livery. It was eventually decided to honour the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s No. 487 Squadron with its fearsome squadron badge of a Maori ‘tekoteko‘ holding a bomb with the motto ‘Ki te mutunga’, which translates as ‘through to the end’ in English.”
About No. 487 Squadron, Mike Potter pointed out that the unit participated in some of the most famous Mosquito missions ever recorded, such as the ‘Operation Jericho’ mission to knock down the wall of the Amiens prison and the pinpoint destruction of the Gestapo headquarters in Denmark. So it is with great pride that we honour an example of all of the Commonwealth countries who served with such distinction.”
He added, “Many also remember the Mossie as the great ‘force multiplier’ for the RAF’s Bomber Command in the ‘Pathfinder’ force that so dramatically altered the effectiveness of their bombing campaigns.”
It seems that visitors are fascinated by the Mosquito. Mike Potter remarked, “People come from all over the world to see our museum, and guests are more than likely to ask a question: Which is the way is the Mossie?”
Mr. Potter elaborated by saying, “Many of course know the story of this painstaking restoration by the master craftsmen of Avspecs in New Zealand. But seeing the result of their years of painstaking restoration and re-manufacture is quite literally a stunning experience. It’s as if a lorry from de Havilland’s just pulled up with the very last Mossie fresh off the assembly line.”
A contemporary connection to the de Havilland Mosquito is that one of the Floridians 20th Century Aviation Magazine, and members of the Florida Aviation Historical Society, The Royal Canadian Legion/La Légion royale Canadienne, Royal Canadian Air Force Association/de l’Aviation royale Canadienne, Royal Air Force Historical Society, Honourable Order of Kentucky Colonels, Civil Air Patrol, Air Force Association and others will honour on 11 January 2016 is Flying Officer Claude Neal Wilcox, RCAF, of Fort Meade, Florida. Wilcox died while on operations in a Mosquito.
The Military Aviation Museum is located at 1341 Princess Anne Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23457. The facility’s telephone number is (757) 721-7767, and the normal hours of operation are Monday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The author (John Stemple) thanks Mike Potter of the Military Aviation Museum, photographer Eric Dumigan and Sheri MacDonald of Cinema Sixteen for their assistance and cooperation during the preparation of this article. Mr. Stemple maintains memberships with the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, Calgary Mosquito Aircraft Society, Royal Canadian Air Force Association/de l’Aviation royale Canadienne, The Royal Canadian Legion/La Légion royale Canadienne and Royal Air Force Historical Society.
Sources and Suggested Readings
Braham, J.R.D. Night Fighter. New York: Bantam Books, 1984.
Canadian Museum of Flight
Canadian Warplane Heritage
Cinema Sixteen Inc.
de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited
de Havilland Canada
De Havilland DH-98 B/TT Mk. 35 Mosquito
de Havilland D.H. 98-B Mosquito – N35MK
de Havilland DH 98 Mosquito
de Havilland DH 98 Mosquito
de Havilland DH-98 Mosquito
de Havilland DH-98 Mosquito
de Havilland Mosquito
de Havilland Mosquito operational history
De Havilland Mosquito FB.26 Ka114 Appreciation Page
EAA Airventure 2015
Florida’s RCAF and RAF WWII volunteers to be honored
KA114 at The Fighter Factory
Lyall, Gavin, ed. The War in the Air: The Royal Air Force in World War II. New York: Ballantine Books, 1968.
Military Aviation Museum
Mondey, David. Concise Guide to British Aircraft of World War II. Feltham: Temple Press, 1982.
Mosquito de Havilland KA114
The Miracle of KA114
Wooden Wonder: Rare Mosquito Added to Oshkosh 2015 Warbird Lineup