|Richard Wilsher flew Paul Miller's Portuguese-marked dehavilland Chipmunk from Culpeper, Viginia, to Oshkosh for AirVenture 2013. He calls the trainer "the poor man's Spitfire". (photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)
By Frederick A. Johnsen
August 3, 2013 - Pilot Richard Wilsher calls the postwar de Havilland Chipmunk trainer "the poor man's Spitfire." Beyond its tailwheel stance and British Commonwealth Canadian pedigree, the Chipmunk is said to be very responsive, like the Spitfire, according to pilots fortunate to have flown them both.
But there the similarities must end, as the diminutive Chipmunk motors along behind a Gipsy (sometimes spelled Gypsy) Major engine at about 90 knots. It typically burns 7-1/2 to 8 gallons of gasoline an hour in cruise, Wilsher explains, while consuming as much as 2 quarts of oil, giving rise to the alternative powerplant name "Dripsy Major."
He says a Chipmunk can be bought for around $55,000 to $85,000, with the price differential dependent on items that are time-limited. For example, wing spars have a service life of 30,000 hours, a number they can accrue at four times the clock speed for every hour spent in aerobatic flight, where stresses are greater.
Engine and airframe parts are available, but increasingly hard to find, with prices notching up accordingly, Wilsher explains. A stock Chipmunk (yes, there have been modified sport versions for many years) has a metal fuselage, with wings that are fabric covered aft of the spar.
The tailwheel is fully castering and not locking; new pilots are sometimes advised to get some taildragger currency in a Champ or similar lightplane before tackling the Chipmunk.
Several Chipmunks participated in AirVenture 2013. Their unique appearance always generates interest. Could one be yours next year?