1/72 Scratchbuilt De Havilland DH-53 Humming Bird

Gallery Article by Carmel J Attard on Dec 9 2013



Built by De Havilland of a conventional construction plywood covered spruce fuselage, and two spar fabric covered wings. It was fitted with a Douglas original engine that was later replaced by a 26 hp Tomtit two-cylinder engine, which gave much improved performance. An extra fuel tank was also fitted to the original design. This formed a streamlined headrest behind the pilot and renamed “L’Oiseau Mouche” and finished in silver and blue, carrying registration G-EBHX.

This aircraft left Stag Lane for Belgium on 8th December 1923, flown by Alan Cobham. The journey included stopping at Croydon Lympne and was flown 150 miles to the Brussels Aero Show in 4 hours. During the 1924-25 seasons the machine was raced by Cobham with some success. The second prototype “Sylvia II” had made its first flight on October 1st 1923 and received a Certificate of Airworthiness the same day and was registered G-EBHZ. 

In 1955 the prototype G-EBHX was rediscovered in a back garden by Squadron Leader Jackson of the Shuttleworth Trust. The starboard aileron, tail unit, engine mounting, controls and fuel tanks missing! Eventually these missing items were redesigned and built by De Havilland technical School, enabling the machine to be restored. HX flew for the first time in over 25 years on August 1st 1960 at Hatfield. After trials, the aircraft was handed over to Shuttleworth Trust to maintain in flying condition at Old Warden as the last survivor of the type. On four occasions I visited Old Warden and on two of these I was able to witness the Humming Bird fling during a display there.  The DH53 at Old Warden crashed last year which also took the life of pilot Trevor Roche. Apparently there is one example left which is under restoration at the De Havilland museum but not much has been done lately on it.

The Dh-53 was also in service with the RAF when back in 1923 it was looking for an economical aircraft for cheap communications and practical flying and the DH-53 proved the ideal type. The Air Ministry placed an order for eight of the machines, which they named Humming Bird. These were delivered in the summer of 1924 with serial numbers 107-114.

The RAF machines were all powered by 26hp Burney and Blackburn Tomtit two- cylinder engine. The last two aircraft were sent to Farnborough to be fitted with special trapeze experiments with R-33 Airship. These early Humming birds were finished in overall silver with RAF roundels carried on fuselage sides and wing undersides. All eight RAF machines were struck off charge in 1927, all receiving British registration.

Of the five other Humming Birds built three went to Australia, one to Czechoslovakia and one to Russia. The eventual fate of the Humming Birds remains unknown. One was rebuilt by students at the College of Aeronautical Engineering at Brooklands in 1936, another rebuilt as the Martin Monoplane the following year.


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The kit
I have used the old Airfix Tigermoth to model the DH-53. This was a simple conversion yet t added another completely new delightful model that falls in the ‘between wars’ category.

The kit fuselage halves were first joined together then shortened 1/8” from the tail end. The top decking was filed down to conform to scale plans I had. The inter cockpit decking was then removed and front fuselage at the leading edge of the front cockpit was sawn off. The lower fuselage was then sloped to conform to scale plans and filled up the stand gap. The sides of fuselage were flattened with a smooth file. The forward top decking was shaped from a solid piece of plastic, a new cockpit cut and engine cowling built up and shaped from laminated plastic card.

The Airfix kit lower wing, the ailerons, and locating holes for struts were filled and new ailerons scribed. Wings added to the fuselage so that they are at right angles at leading edge to fuselage side. Any further fairing with Plasto filler was done at this stage, which was mainly to the main wing root.

Tail unit was made from 1/16” plastic card and the surface ripples shaped with a half round file. Wing struts cut from thin plastic card and the undercarriage struts made out of stretch sprue and short lengths of Contrail struts. A set of wheels of the right size was picked from scrap box. These were glued in place, as also were the elevators and rudder. Measured lengths of control cables were cut after a piece of sprue was stretched to a very narrow section. These were then glued at the proper places. Other details such as the wing tip skids shaped from a thin steel wire were added. In the end rudder and elevator links added, a thin pitot tube glued to port wing leading edge, tail skid, two engine cylinders and propeller blades all came from scrap box.

Color and markings.
A photo of G-EBXN was picked from an old issue of Air Pictorial. The aircraft was overall aluminium dope finish with the exception of tail control surfaces, which were gloss white. Registration G-EBXN, came from my decal box. The Fuselage spine fairing was black.

The Dh-53 happened to be among the smallest aircraft models I have made. It is quite a marvel to think that one of the original aircraft that was built 90 years ago is was still flying at Old Warden, Begelswade, UK until recently.

Carmel J Attard

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Photos and text © by Carmel J Attard