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Comox, B.C. pilot Dale Erhart is packing six First World War replica biplanes all into one Boeing C-17 for his flight.

He and his flight team will be reenacting the harrowing experience of some of the earliest pilots when they head to France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the iconic Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9.

Canadian historians consider the battle to be a pivotal moment in our history.

"We want to honour our veterans and pay homage to really the birth of our nation," said Erhart, speaking during On the Island.

Erhart is part of the group Vimy Flight, a team that has been training with the planes at 19 Wing Comox Airport.

Once their mission is completed in France, the two Sopwith Camel "Pups" and four Nieuport scout aircraft will be loaded back into the Boeing and flown back to Canada.

There they will unload again, reassemble, and fly the biplanes to Ottawa in time to perform at Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations.

The flight team will be taking part in numerous activities during the celebrations overseas — Erhart said they have received numerous requests for flyovers at many locations, including Vimy.

He said the real work however begins when they touch down.

"Once we're on the ground we draw all the attention, and that's when we'll be able to provide the stories."

Erhart said he is eager to share the experiences of Canadian pilots, many of whom only had a few hours of flight experience before strapping into the single open cockpit aircraft and flying into battle more than a century ago.

A logistical challenge

Earhart said the biplanes are relatively small, with most measuring only 6.7 meters across.

With help from the Royal Canadian Air Force his team was able to interlock the Nieuport planes in a staggered position to make them all fit in the C-17.

WW1 replica aircraft

The replica aircraft include two Sopwith "Pups" and four Nieuport 11s. (Dale Erhart/Facebook)

They then took the wings off of the Sopwith Pups and slid them under the Nieuports, cramming the fuselages behind the bigger aircraft.

Earhart said there has been a tremendous amount of administrational support from the regulatory bodies involved including the French government and Transport Canada.

'Once you get into the air, it's marvelous'

Erhart was an Air Canada pilot for 20 years after his military career that saw him fly numerous aircraft.

After training with the biplane replicas for months in preparation for the celebration, he said piloting them is a completely different experience. 

"You get into something that weighs 600 pounds, where you're combating any sort of light wind gusts and you have very low power settings ... It's a challenge," he said.

"But once you get into the air, it's marvelous."

Erhart said he and his team (all of whom are former military pilots) felt incredible freedom flying the planes — they had a range of visibility rarely experienced in modern aircraft.

With files from On the Island


To listen to to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Vimy Ridge Anniversary Flight