The Centenary of World War One is fast approaching and much will be made over the next four years about Australia’s involvement in the ground war, but what of Australia’s significant contribution in the air?
There is a lot of interest in that period of Australian aviation but with no collection of aircraft from that time flying here today, few people can appreciate what the machines were really like, how they performed and what the pilots of the day experienced.
That is now changing with the formation of The Australian Vintage Aviation Society (TAVAS), which will soon have several WW1 aircraft flying in Australian skies, with more to follow.
WW1 reproductions have been sadly lacking on Australian shores and TAVAS was established to help bring builders, owners and enthusiasts together to build and display flying examples to the Australian public – to educate them about this unique period in aviation History.
TAVAS focusses on bringing to life aircraft from the first 25 years of aviation, in particular WW1, because no one else in Australia is, and because so little is known about this time as very few aircraft from that period exist today.
It is incredible that in such a short space of time man went from believing that flying was impossible, to the safe, reliable, air transport we experience today. What few people realise is just how big a leap occurred during those first 25 years of aviation.
Everything we take for granted today had to be learnt the hard way. Methods of construction, control and propulsion, all had to be worked out through trial, error and experimentation. The aircraft from this period are an insight to the thinking, skills and materials available at the time.
By recreating the aircraft and more importantly, the engines of that period, TAVAS demonstrates just how the designers, builders and pilots overcame the challenges of what was then a very new endeavour.
For TAVAS to create interest in this unique bygone era of aviation, they needed an aircraft that would typify the period and that would capture the public’s attention, yet have a strong Australian connection. The answer was obvious – The Red Baron’s Fokker Triplane.
The all red Dr.I is undoubtedly the most famous aircraft in the world, known by aviation enthusiasts and non-aviation types alike. It is now pretty much accepted by all (except Canadians) that an Australian was responsible for shooting down the Red Baron – most likely Sergeant Cedric Popkin of the 24th machine gun company. Australian soldiers were the first to the crash site. Australians were the first to lift souvenirs from his aircraft (many of which are now housed in the National War Memorial in Canberra). Australians were the ones who buried the Red Baron himself, Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, with full military honours.
So TAVAS founder, Andrew Carter, looked into building an accurate all-red Fokker Dr.I Triplane and involving anyone who wanted to be part of the experience. However, lack of available building space, volunteers and time, meant that it wasn’t to be.
Luckily, a flying example from Florida in the United States, was listed for sale and Andrew jumped at the opportunity. It was constructed from both the Ron Sands plans and the Walt Redfern plans and is for the most part, incredibly accurate. (In the 1950’s Walt Redfern worked with Reinhold Platz – who was the designer of the Dr.I not Fokker – to produce accurate plans for sale to the home builder).
There are no original Fokker Dr.I’s anywhere in the world. The last one (one of Manfred Von Richthofen’s aircraft – 152/17) was hanging in a museum in Berlin and was destroyed during an allied bombing mission in WW2.
This will be the only Fokker Dr.I flying in Australia. There was one example flying in the 1990’s. It was operated by the RAAF Museum at Point Cook but it was severely overweight and overpowered by the Continental R-670 radial engine and hence was not as pleasant to handle as real Triplanes. It ended up in storage with the AWM in Canberra. It was then moved and is now on display at the Museum of Army Aviation in Oakey, Queensland.
A real coup was scored earlier this year when Achim Engels, the well known German builder of reproduction Fokker fighters from the Great War, sent three of his incredible aircraft to The Australian Vintage Aviation Society for them to complete to airworthy standard and use in flying displays in Australia.
The aircraft are an E.III Eindekker, D.VII and D.VIII. The span of the types is significant given that they represent the first to last of the Fokker aircraft in service during WW1. These are 100 per cent accurate reproductions, built just as they were almost 100 years ago. The quality of workmanship and detail in each of these aircraft has to be seen to be believed.
The D.VIII is the most complete aircraft only missing an engine and instruments and will be the first of these aircraft TAVAS will have flying Down Under. At this stage they are fitting an Australian built Rotec Radial engine to it. They intend replacing that with a genuine Gnome rotary engine they are having reversed engineered by Classic Aero Machining Services in NZ. That should be completed by mid next year.
The E.III and D.VII still require some construction, installation of engine and instruments, covering and finishing.
The E.III Eindekker is the aircraft that has generated the most interest, due to its sophisticated (for the time) construction and unique appearance. It is surprising just how few people (including aviation enthusiasts) know of that aircraft, yet alone the fact that it is recognised as the worlds first true fighter aircraft. It was the first to use a synchronised gear allowing the gun to be fired through the propeller. It entered service in 1915 and was highly successful, dominating the skies for a period of months referred to as ‘The Fokker Scourge’.
It does not have elevator or ailerons – instead it uses wing warping for roll control and a full flying stab for pitch. Andrew said that as a result the flight controls are incredibly heavy in roll but ridiculously light for pitch which is going to make it interesting when it comes to test flying.
Achim’s generosity has given TAVAS the chance to bring accurate WW1 reproductions to the Australian public and demonstrate these aircraft as they were almost 100 years ago. They will operate his new aircraft alongside their growing fleet of other WW1 aircraft. These additions give a much needed boost to the remarkable work being done by this society, especially as we head towards 2014 – 2018, the centenary of WW1.
Although the long term goal of TAVAS is to gather actual airworthy aircraft and present them in an interactive flying museum, the immediate requirement is to get more people building and flying WW1 aircraft with the intention of having as many as possible flying for the centenary of the Armistice of World War One on the 11th November 2018.
It was during this war that aviation truly came of age. Although now, we may view the flying machines of the time as elegant and beautiful, their use then was not. A great many people lost their lives in these aircraft fighting for their countries.
As an organisation TAVAS chooses to remember them and what they did, and to acknowledge the incredible advances made in aircraft design and construction at that time that eventually led to aviation as we know it today. They intend to do this by organising fly bys at various locations in each State on that date.
This will take some organisation at a National and State level, but with volunteers, they can make it happen. It will require the services of many people, not just builders and pilots.
The first step is to encourage people who are thinking about building an aeroplane to build a WWI era aircraft and get others involved as well. “Simply put, we want to see more WWI aircraft under construction and in the air. We want to make this as easy and as enjoyable as possible for anyone who wants to do so.” said Andrew.
A lot of work is currently going on by TAVAS members at Watts Bridge in South East Queensland, where multiple WW1 replicas are being built to represent the aircraft of that time, even though they are constructed using modern materials and engines. These aircraft consist of a Sopwith Pup that has been finished in the colours of Australian fighter Ace – Patrick Gordon Taylor and a Nieuport 24 being built by Bruce Clarke, a Sopwith Camel being built by Ron Dunn and an E.I Eindekker being built by John Innes.
These aircraft are all constructed from Airdrome kits and they have the look, performance and even the sound of the originals, giving people a real appreciation of the machines of the time.
After having completed the initial test flight on Bruce’s Sopwith Pup, Andrew Carter said “Having seen three of these Airdrome kits go together, I can confidently say they are without a doubt the cheapest, easiest and quickest way to get an accurate looking replica into the air. Having now flown one, I can also report that they are exactly as advertised – an absolute delight to fly.”
There are other individuals building WW1 aircraft around Australia, most to exceptionally high standards and levels of authenticity. Details of these builds can be found in the newsletter TAVAS puts out each quarter.
TAVAS is a Not For Profit organisation, run completely by volunteers. They have a team of volunteer directors, most with extensive aviation and business backgrounds. Two of them are teachers with a strong interest in aviation, particularly from this period, who will work to make education assist programs within the museum for teachers and students alike.
Funding such a huge undertaking is a major issue and more is needed to get the TAVAS reproductions flying. There are pages on their website for sales of products and to receive donations, which are fully tax deductible.
Being the only organisation in Australia with a fleet of flying WW1 era aircraft, TAVAS is obviously going to attract a lot of media attention over the next four years and this would be a major benefit to any business looking to be associated with the ANZAC spirit. Any sponsor would receive a lot of coverage for their involvement with this unique organisation.