Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sopwith Pup at Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley

Yesterday at Langley Airport, Hangar 3 was open to all. As well as aviation history buffs, this museum has plenty of child-friendly exhibits. The Sopwith Scout is an early biplane that was, unbelievably, used in war. Rebuilt by volunteers, two of these will fly over at the Vimy Memorial in April. Top speed? 80 mph.

Nicknamed Sopwith Pups, they're made of fabric stretched over a light aluminum frame, then ironed to shrink it tight (see below left). The original material was linen, and the "dope" that stiffened it was highly flammable glue.



The landing wheels look flimsier than the ones on a wheelbarrow, and the tiny tail wheel is  a modification. Since the original planes landed facing into the wind on fields, only a flap of wood protected the tail as it dragged along the rough ground.

The volunteers who have devoted their time to rebuild these planes would like to hop across the country with them as part of Canada's 150th birthday celebrations. Ottawa has agreed to host them, and feelers are out to other likely towns and cities. Even though these planes predate the WWII Commonwealth Air Training Plan, my hope is that they'll visit the towns that were busy with aircraft production and flight training when Canada was the "aerodrome of democracy."

It's a strange and terrible thing that aircraft development has always been driven by war. Likewise, war itself creates and sustains nationhood. The Battle of Vimy Ridge, where Canadians fought and died under their own commanders, was one decisive step toward independence from Britain.

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