British Columbia

B.C.-built replica WW1 planes land in France for Vimy Ridge centennial

Volunteers at the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, B.C. assembled two full size, operational Sopwith Pup replicas to be flown over the Vimy monument in France.

'It's been wild and woolly — and that's just the weather,' says retired pilot

Allan Snowie says it will be an honour to fly a replica Sopwith Pup over Vimy Ridge to mark the 100th anniversary of the historic battle. (Don Marce/CBC)

Volunteers with the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, B.C. built two replica Sopwith Pups — one of the earliest planes used in the First World War — to fly over Vimy Ridge this weekend to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the historic battle.

Now those planes, along with their Canadian pilots, have landed in France.

Pups first entered service for Allied pilots in August of 1916, where they quickly proved popular due to their quick manoeuvrability. They were eventually phased out of the war in late 1917 as they were outclassed by newer German fighters, but remained popular in training units back home.

Allan Snowie, a retired Canadian Navy and commercial pilot, will fly one of the planes in his role as team leader of Vimy Flight, a group of aircraft enthusiasts organizing the fly-by.

Snowie arrived in France prior to the ceremony along with nine other pilots and a total of five historic planes for a few practice flights before the real event.

He said they faced some challenges along the way.

"It's been wild and woolly — and that's just the weather!" said Snowie, told BC Almanac host Gloria Macarenko in an interview from France.

A pilot attempts to land a Sopwith Pup on a battlecruiser on August 7, 1917. (Wikimedia Commons)

The hard part, said Snowie, was getting the planes from the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, B.C. to the Canadian Air Force base on Comox, where they were transported on a C-17 Globemaster, a military transport aircraft.

Once the aircraft carrier landed, the pilots had to unload the planes in "really heavy wind conditions."

Snowie praised the reception the French locals have extended to the Canadians.

"The local people have just been astounding here," he said. "They can't seem not to help."

Snowie and the pilots have been practicing their fly-over in the lead-up to Sunday's ceremony.

"It's a magnificent monument and to go around it in a World War One biplane," Snowie said. "It's a thrill, I guess would be the best way to put it, but at the same time it's quite emotional," he said, adding that he got emotional during his first flight above the monument.

"I kind of misted up a little in my goggles."

Snowie said the locals he's spoken to about Sunday's commemoration are as excited as the Canadians.

"Their grandfathers at the time probably passed on to their children ... that finally, there was light at the end of this horrible occupation tunnel," he said.

Two replica Sopwith Pups, built at the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, B.C., are headed to France this spring for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. (Don Marce/CBC)
The Sopwith Pup was one of the first planes to have the firing rate of its machine gun synchronized with its propeller. Older designs had the gun mounted above the propeller to avoid damaging the plane (or the pilot). (Don Marce/CBC)
First introduced in 1916, the Sopwith Pup was mostly used to escort slower photo-reconnaissance planes. (Don Marce/CBC)
Though made to look as authentic as possible, the replica Pups have been built with modern construction materials. (Don Marce/CBC)

With files from CBC Radio One's B.C. Almanac