Canada’s original fighter planes a thrill for aviation buffs

The two Nieuport 11 planes — Canada’s original fighter planes — looked almost like they could be holding hands on a leisurely stroll through the sky.

“It’s so weird to see these little planes go by at 65 miles per hour at most,” said Helen Halliday, president and CEO of the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.


Replica Nieuport 11 planes from the First World War fly by the Royal Canadian Aviation Museum. The planes can be viewed at the museum this long weekend.

It’s also hard to imagine those planes putt-putting, with engines that sound like lawn mowers, into war against the likes of notorious Manfred von Richthofen, the German flying ace dubbed the Red Baron.

An appreciative crowd of about 75 aviation buffs turned out to watch the flyover Saturday at the aviation museum on Ferry Road. Another is being held Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at the same location.

Jack Tennant, 94, a radio operator in the Second World War who participated in the taking Juno Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, applauded the efforts of the people who build the replicas and fly them.

“It’s a reminder of those days,” he said. “I thought (the flyover) was spectacular. I commend these chaps who recreate those planes.”

Wayne Gooch, former owner of Gooch’s Bicycle and Hobby Shops in Winnipeg, was also on hand. “That was terrific, of course, but too short,” he said of the two flyovers.

The Nieuport 11 “is like a kiddie car today compared to a sports car,” he asserted.

In other words, the pilots of the Nieuport 11s were like the Snowbirds of a century ago. The Nieuport 11s were built only a dozen years after the Wright brothers invented airplanes.,

Visitors could also see a Nieuport 11 parked in the museum hangar.

“Beautiful,” said Gooch. “That is the aircraft that started our World War One effort.”

Dale Erhart, a retired Air Canada pilot and a former pilot with the Canadian Armed Forces, rebuilt the Nieuport 11 on loan to the aviation museum. The aircraft originated in Nieuport, France.

“It’s quite exhilarating” to pilot them, he said. “It’s an open cockpit so you feel the air in your face. You can hear the engine and even the flying wires” — guy wires holding the wings — as they vibrate.

On top is a Lewis machine gun with 36 rounds. Pilots actually reloaded the machine gun by standing up in the cockpit while flying.

The war planes were for air-to-air combat, not strafing troops on the ground, Erhart said. Only one in five Canadian airmen returned from fighting, versus the nine in 10 average for all Canadian forces, he said.

The flyovers are part of the Vimy Flight — Birth of a Nation tour.

They’re the same planes that flew past the Vimy Ridge Memorial during a ceremony in April, marking 100 years since the battle in which all four Canadian divisions fought together for the first time and successfully took the ridge from German forces.

The original Nieuport 11 exteriors were linen, which was highly flammable, whereas the replicas use a modern material called Dacron, a polyester textile fibre, coated with a rubberized latex finish.

Either way, you could easily punch a hole through it.

The planes are surprisingly compact. The replicas are 22 feet long, versus 28 feet on the originals, Erhart said. The original Nieuport 11 weighed 480 kilograms when fully loaded.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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