Biplane replicas ready to fly over Sunday's Vimy commemoration in France
Published Monday, April 3, 2017 10:00PM EDT
When Canada marks 100 years since the Battle of Vimy Ridge, replica First World War biplanes will roar past in honour of the pilots who risked their lives to collect crucial intelligence.
A group of aviation enthusiasts known as Vimy Flight have built the Nieuport biplane replicas and packed them into a Royal Canadian Air Force C-17 for transportation to the ceremony in France on April 9.
They’ve also reconstructed two Sopwith Pup fighter planes that will be displayed on the ground. After the ceremony, the planes will return to Canada for a cross-country tour, funded in part by a Canada 150 grant.
Vimy Flight team leader Allan Snowie says that the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service -- which included Canadian pilots as young as 18 years old -- were crucial to the Canadian victory over the Germans.
“The reason the Canadians took Vimy Ridge was the photoreconnaissance, the mapping they did,” he said. “Every Canadian soldier got a map, and every soldier knew what he was going to do that day because of the way it was well-mapped.”
Snowie said he plans to dedicate his flight to Joseph Fall, a Nanaimo, B.C. flying ace who shot down three dozen German planes. Fall’s Sopwith Pup, emblazoned with the names of his sisters Betty and Phyllis, is among the two rebuilt replicas.
“I call him Canada’s first snowbird because he stayed with the Royal Air Force and the first (British) Air Display (and) after the war he led the formation team,” Snowie said.
Ray Fessenden, an aviation mechanic and lead builder with Vimy Flight, said he can’t even picture what it was like for the men who “climbed into these fragile airplanes and went out there and got shot at.”
Snowie said that he’s visited the Vimy memorial before and that seeing it brought tears to his eyes.
“I’ll try to keep my goggles clean on this one,” he said.
More than 10,500 Canadians were killed or wounded during the four-day battle at Vimy, from April 9 to 12, 1917. CTV News will carry special coverage of the ceremony on Sunday.
With a report from CTV’s Melanie Nagy