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97. We died and went to heaven…

22/02/2014

Theo and I have spent the last couple of days at Hood Aerodrome at Masterton in North Island, New Zealanad, home of The Vintage Aviator collection.

It’s quite simply the best place for World War I aviation in the world. Funded by Sir Peter Jackson, producer for the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, they have the best collection of WWI aircraft since – well, since WWI. They built reproductions of aircraft that haven’t flown since WWI – the BE2, the FE2, and so on. they have acquired other originals, reproductions and replicas of the better known WWI types, and on Saturday at their air show they had them all arrayed on the flight line. We lost count of them all – Albatros, Pfalz, Fokkers, Sopwiths, Bristol (Fe2B Fighter), Nieuport, and so on but was simply lost in amazement and wonder for the entire day.

The Nieuport 11 (known as the Bebe), a type flown by Granddad and powered by the 80hp le Rhone engine.

The Nieuport 11 (known as the Bebe), a type flown by Granddad and powered by the 80hp le Rhone engine.

It’s hard to highlight any particular part of the flying, since it was all simply wonderful but the staccato bark of the Sopwith Camel, with its utterly unmistakeable 160hp Gnome rotary, is something you feel as well as hear, and although I’d heard one run at the Old Rhinebeck, to watch it fly was truly awesome. Any Germans hearing one of those coming would have been intimidated by the sound alone.

Theo admiring the 160hp Sopwith Camel.

Theo admiring the 160hp Sopwith Camel.

The FE2B, with its very exposed gunner's position in the nose, and an original Beardmore engine. in the air, it seemed the very epitome of vulnerability, and I certainly would have felt very, very nervous having to operate one of these over enemy territory!

The FE2B, with its very exposed gunner’s position in the nose, and an original Beardmore engine. in the air, it seemed the very epitome of vulnerability, and I certainly would have felt very, very nervous having to operate one of these over enemy territory!

And last of all, as the wind died back, the FE2B, with its original Beardmore engine lumbered into the sky. Although it dated from 1917, the overwhelming impression was its vulnerability – the lack of performance and manoeuvrability, and the poor old gunner right out in the front, who might have had an excellent field of fire, but was completely unrestrained, and could easily fall overboard if he lost his footing in the heat of battle. The gun could be made to face backwards to shoot at someone on your tail, but the gunner had to stand on the edge of the cockpit to do so…

And to cap it all, at the end of the day, I was allowed to sit in the cockpit of the delightful Nieuport, which is the type my grandfather few in addition to the Scout, and whose superior speed inspired him to swap the Scout’s Gnome for the Nieuport’s spare le Rhone.

Sitting in the cockpit of the Nieuport. The rudder bar was as close to the seat as the Scout, but the deeper cockpit meant that my knees weren't jammed up under the instrument panel as they are in the Scout.

Sitting in the cockpit of the Nieuport. The rudder bar was as close to the seat as the Scout, but the deeper cockpit meant that my knees weren’t jammed up under the instrument panel as they are in the Scout.

Meanwhile my wife Sue was given a ride in the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – the car that was used to make the film, and became Truly Scrumptious in name as well as in fact.

Sue sitting in the car used in the making of the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Sue sitting in the car used in the making of the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The photo was taken by Keith Skilling, who’d earier flown a scintillating display in a WW2 Corsair, and had flown the DH Mosquito when it was completed in New Zealand last year. The driver is John Lanham who flew the Nieuport and an SE5A during the display.

But the most special moment is to come today, because we are going to return to Hood where we are going to receive an airworthy 80hp  le Rhone from their Chief Executive, Gene DeMarco, as part of an agreement we made a year or so ago. We know that it’s mounted on a lorry ready for a demonstration run today, and without doubt it’s the most exciting day of the entire project to date.

From → Building, Shows, Technical

One Comment
  1. Errol Cavit permalink

    Keep an eye on this Wings Over NZ forum thread for photos from the day.
    And thanks for sharing your progress with the Scout!
    http://rnzaf.proboards.com/post/206507/thread

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