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39. Conversation


We probably left the LAA Rally in slightly indecent haste, because my wife Sue had spotted (on Facebook) that there was a Pageant (an airshow) at the Shuttleworth Collection.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that the Shuttleworth Collection is the best collection of pre-WWI aircraft in flyable condition anywhere in the world, and we’ve been in regular touch with them throughout the project. They – and particularly their Chief Engineer, Jean Munn – have gone out of their way to provide us with every assistance possible, and it was ages since we’d been to see a display of theirs.

But the particular – indeed unique – attraction of this particular display was that they had two unique aircraft – reproductions of an RE8 and an Albatros V with original engines – that would be flown just once or twice before being taken to the RAF Museum at Hendon and never flown again.

Both had been built by The Vintage Aviator Ltd., (TVAL), the outfit funded by Peter Jackson (producer of the Lord of the Rings films) and headed by Gene DiMarco, who has no less than 13,000 hours in WWI aircraft, and who had come over with his aircraft to fly them, in conjunction with Kermit Weeks, owner of the Fantasy of Flight museum in Florida, and a very experienced pilot of vintage types (including the Mercedes-engined Albatros V).

We hurtled across there – Me, brother Rick, and our two wives / partners, and got there just as the SE5A and the Sopwith Triplane were airborne, so that we could hear the sound of a rotary engine doing its stuff. Magical!

Shuttleworth’s Sopwith Triplane, with 130hp Clerget rotary engine

Unfortunately we’d just missed the RE8 and Albatros, but we could see both Gene and Kermit standing with the other pilots while the 1923 ultralights did their stuff, and – miracle 0f miracles – the Edwardian machines, including the Bristol Boxkite, the Avro Triplane, and the oldest flying aircraft in Europe – the Blackburn monoplane, with its 50hp Gnome rotary, sounding quite different to the 130hp Clerget in the Triplane. The first two were built for the film ‘Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines’ and have modern engines, but the Blackburn Monoplane is original, utterly irreplaceable, and only flown when conditions are absolutely perfect.

The simply wonderful Blackburn Monoplane, that first flew only a couple of years before the Bristol Scout. Its 50hp Gnome engine has a wonderful gentle sound, unlike the harsh clatter of the 130hp Clerget engine in the Sopwith Triplane.

At the end of the display, we bumped into Jean Munn, and I saked if he wouldn’t mind introducing me to Gene DiMarco, which he very kindly did.

Gene DiMarco watching the Edwardian aircraft fly. Gene has 13,000 hours on WWI types!

It was a privilege and a pleasure to meet Gene, and I found that he was indeed interested in the possibility of a swap of airframe parts for an engine, and that he reckoned he might be able to put an 80hp engine together, all of which raises the possibility of an actual flying machine by a significant margin!

Looked at closely, the RE8 and the Albatros are of simply stunning quality; of course they are professionals and we are amateurs, and whether or not this comes to anything, it was a simply unforgettable day.

The TVAL RE8 and Albatros V destined for the RAF Museum at Hendon.

An original Bristol Scout propeller spotted at the Shuttleworth Collection. It looks as if it’s made in Walnut, which is what the parts list specifies.



From → Research, Shows

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