Nine months after volunteers travelled to Missouri to learn everything there is to know about the Sopwith Pup biplane, the replica First World War aircraft has finally been built.
Well, sort of. Those who attended the unveiling ceremony at the Canadian Museum of Flight on Friday morning may have noticed that the biplane — built to look exactly like the fighters used by the Royal Air Force nearly 100 years ago — had sections held together by duct tape.
There are also temporary Cleco fasteners in place instead of rivets, the axels still need welding, and there are no brakes, nor any electrical components.
But after working non-stop for the past 14 days to meet deadline, the group of two dozen retired volunteers managed to piece the majority of the plane together for its grand reveal.
“It was tiring, I’ll tell you. I’m supposed to be retired, you know,” laughed Al MacDonald, lead builder of the plane.
“This starts off as a kit made by Airdrome Aeroplanes in Holdren, Missouri. And so the four of us (MacDonald, Sam Beljanski, Ray Sessenden and Steve Chamberlain) went down to Holdren, Missouri to do the initial build with the designer of the kit. We were there for just over two weeks, so we got the basic frames together and then when it came here, we had to sort out everything else that’s got to be done with it.”
The plane is one of two that will be built at the Canadian Museum of Flight as part of Wings of Courage, a program that includes documentaries and education initiatives to showcase aviation during the First World War.
And next year, on April 9, 2017, the museum’s biplanes will be joined by four other replica fighter aircraft in a flyover at Vimy Ridge in France, to commemorate 100 years since the battle.
Afterwards, the planes will return to Canada and will fly from the east to west coasts in an educational tour.
“This has been absolutely surreal because there are a lot of museums across our country, and there’s a lot at stake once you’re committed to this type of project and it’s so highly visible,” former Langley airport manager George Miller told The Times.
“We were delighted to be given the opportunity, but it even surprised me the level of craftsmanship that showed up to do this. It’s just been amazing. This is very special.”
Just as was done in the First World War, the outside of the plane has been painted with house paint, and the graphics were drawn freehand by Sam Beljanski.
On one side, the name “Betty” is painted, and on the other is the name “Phyllis.” These were the two sisters of the original pilot, Joseph Fall, who served in both the First and Second World Wars.
Although many replicas of Fall’s plane have been made, the Canadian Museum of Flight’s is the only to accurately portray both names, as period photographs show only “Betty” painted on the side. It was Fall’s son that gave the museum the inside scoop.
The entire body has a layer of Dacron fabric tightly wrapped around instead of cotton or linen, which would have been used originally.
And after all of the work to get the plane together, it will now be wheeled back into the hangar and taken apart. The team will then rebuild to proper modern-day specifications to ensure it can be safely flown through Canadian skies. That process is expected to take about a month.
“Today speaks so highly of the support that is behind this project,” Miller said.
“Not just the builders, because they are the stars, but from the community of the Township of Langley and the City of Langley, to all the people who have been made aware of this, and are in support of this.
“And now it will be going national, and international, when these aircraft fly in Vimy. I’ll be there, I’ve already made my reservations for the event. I’m taking my whole family over, they all need to see this.”