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Image supplied by Project 2014
Aviation has a rich & storied history with over 100 years separating our current complex, high speed & long range aircraft from those produced of wood, metal & fabric during our fledgling beginnings as we first pushed into the sphere of powered, heavier than air flight.
While grainy photos & stuttering films can try to convey a vista of the past, there is nothing like being able to walk around, touch & examine the aircraft as they were. You can truly appreciate how far we have come (and how brave our pioneers were) when you can see an aircraft from 100 years ago in the foreground while behind it sits a modern combat fighter.
Eugene Ely launches from USS Birmingham (US Navy photo)
In some cases preservation of these original machines has been possible, but in many instances there is only one example of the type which is kept on static display in a museum. The ability to get up close is often limited and there are very few that can actually be flown, allowing you to see how it handled & hear it as it flies past.
Enter the replica builders. Dedicated men & women who have a dream of recreating the past so we can enjoy it today. Spending months & years researching a specific aircraft type (or even a single example), hunting through archives to find plans, drawings, specifications & photos. Sometimes going to great lengths to use materials, colours & techniques that were in use when the original was flying. Agonising over changes required to allow a replica to actually fly with some level of safety. Painstakingly creating components, building sections and assembling them into the completed aircraft.
Boxkite at Pt Cook (RAAF Museum Archive, via Project 2014)
Often unappreciated by many, even within the aviation industry, it is thanks to their hard work that aviation’s pioneering beginnings can be preserved & displayed. We have been fortunate enough to meet a few replica builders and this show brings together a few of them to talk about their aircraft.
Bristol Military Boxkite:
We start by talking with Geoff Matthews who has been the primary builder of the Bristol Military Boxkite at the RAAF Museum in Point Cook. The Boxkite was the first aircraft to fly at Point Cook on March 1st, 1913 and “Project 2014” is producing a flying replica in time for the centenary celebrations in 2014.
With Ron Gretton AM working as project manager & arranging the many sponsors required to help fund the project, Geoff has built the aircraft and they are now arranging the paperwork necessary to allow the flight testing programme to commence.
You can learn more about this project at the Project 2014 website.
Following our chat with Geoff, we moved around the hangar a bit to meet Andrew Willox who is scratch building a BE2a replica from the original plans. The BE2a joined the Boxkite and a Deperdussin as the first aircraft available for military aviation at Point Cook in 1913. The museum already has a Deperdussin replica and Andrew’s efforts on the BE2a will ensure that all three types will be represented at the centenary in 2014.
The level of care & detail that Andrew is putting into this non-flying replica is fantastic, potentially producing an aircraft that exceeds the quality of those produced back in the early 1900s.
Andrew talks to us about the history of the BE2 in general, how he has gone about building the replica and the decisions he’s had to make to ensure it remains accurate to the original.
We also had a chat with Richard Gardner, Chairman of the Trustees at the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST). With a history of aviation knowledge going back to the original Balloon School and Army Engineers experimenting with various forms of aviation, FAST seeks to preserve Farnborough’s contribution to the development of aviation. Focusing on the scientific developments that have brought aviation to where it is today, the Trust helped supply a number of the plans & diagrams for the BE2a replica project.
Eugene Ely Curtis Pusher Replica (photo supplied by Bob C & Andrew K)
Back when we were at Oshkosh 2011, David Vanderhoof & Grant caught up with Bob Coolbaugh, the builder & pilot of a replica of the Curtis Pusher flown by Eugene Ely. Together with Andrew King who also flies the replica, they talk about Ely becoming the first person to land an aircraft on a ship & then take off again, an act that eventually lead to naval aviation as we currently know it.
We also discuss the handling characteristics of the replica and how Eugene & Andrew are flying it to air shows around the USA rather than shipping it, covering subjects such as tracking the aircraft, talking with ATC and flying into the Washington ADIZ.
Barnstorming Movie and the Wright Brothers:
After talking about the Curtis Pusher, Bob departs & Paul Glenshaw joins Andrew to talk with us about the Barnstorming Movie that Paul and a friend have produced. The movie captures Andrew & some pilot friends flying old aircraft to a gathering in the USA’s rural midwest that has been going on for a number of years around the time of Oshkosh.
The aircraft land in a field belonging to Matt Dirksen, a farmer who has been hosting the event for over 10 years. People from the surrounding area come bringing food and a great home-cooked meal is provided while aircraft fly “competitions” such as ribbon cutting, flour bombing & more.
After discussing Barnstorming, Andrew leaves and we spend some time talking to Paul about a movie he has reassembled from historical footage that shows the Wright Brothers at Fort Myer for the US Army’s speed & distance trials. This film is significant as it is the only one showing both Wilbur & Orville together as well as capturing Orville’s first flights since his recovery after the 1908 crash in which Thomas Selfridge became the first person to die in a powered-aircraft crash.