News

Vimy Flight tour passes through Tillsonburg

By Chris Abbott, Postmedia Network

One of two Nieuport 11 replicas from Vimy Flight: Birth of a Nation tour on display at the Tillsonburg Regional Airport on Monday, July 17, 2017. (Chris Abbott/Tillsonburg News)

One of two Nieuport 11 replicas from Vimy Flight: Birth of a Nation tour on display at the Tillsonburg Regional Airport on Monday, July 17, 2017. (Chris Abbott/Tillsonburg News)

It has been an emotional tour for the Vimy Flight pilots who flew four Nieuport 11 replicas, accompanied by two Sopwith Pups, at the Vimy Ridge 100th anniversary ceremonies in France.

Since returning to Canada, they have been touring across the country stopping at small airports and big cities, sharing their experience and the Nieuports, a sesquiplane (modified biplane) that first saw action in World War I early in 1916.

Pilots Larry Ricker and Dave Wilson arrived at the Tillsonburg Regional Airport Monday, July 17, in two Nieuport 11 replicas and flew out Wednesday, July 19.

"The Canadian air force has been very supportive," said Ricker, from Moncton, New Brunswick, who also owns one of Nieuport 11 replicas. "They brought us over to Vimy in a C-17 and then brought us back to (CFB) Greenwood."

"They took the rudders off and put them in sideways, overlapped," said Wilson, from Nova Scotia, who was also in France for the Vimy anniversary as a backup pilot, and flew over Hill 70 the next day. "They fit in very nicely."

"It was very emotional," said Ricker, noting 25,000 people attended the Vimy ceremony. "On the day that we did Vimy Ridge, it was a beautiful day, April 9th, 23 degrees, bright sunshine, almost no wind. We had several occasions where we practiced that formation flight over the monument and in all the other cases there was quite a bit of wind, quite a bit of turbulence. But on that day it was perfectly smooth.

"It was emotional to the point that many cried," said Ricker, who was leading several pilots over the Vimy memorial for the first time. "That emotion just comes out when you see how much of a presence that monument has, and how much it means to Canada. When you see that monument, it really resonates with you. The monument is a dedication to the courage and the sacrifice of Canadian men and women who continue to this day to place themselves in harms way for us to have the ability to have the life that we lead."

The Birth of a Nation tour, which started May 6, travelled through Quebec in June, arriving in Ottawa just in time for Canada Day and Canada 150 celebrations.

"We did the July 2nd flypass over Parliament Hill - we actually had the privilege of leading 39 other aircraft," said Ricker. "We flew over the CN Tower a few days ago and now we're doing the tour through Ontario."

Weather permitting, the tour continues in August with stops in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and British Columbia in September, concluding with a Sept. 23 Vimy Flight Homecoming at CFB Comox.

"When it's done, I'm taking my aircraft back to Moncton, New Brunswick, where we live," said Ricker, "and Lucie and I will keep it on our family farm and fly it on nice summer afternoons."

SOUND BITES

* All of the Vimy Flight team are former air force pilots.

"Civilian pilots are exceptionally talented as well, but we wanted the ability to fly formation," said Vimy Flight pilot Larry Ricker. "We've all been trained to the same standard in the air force to fly close formation."

* Larry Ricker's Nieuport 11 replica is nicknamed Lucie.

"The pilots in World War I, they did name their aircraft after their mother perhaps or their girlfriends. I named mine after my wife Lucie - she's here today."

* The Nieuport 11 replicas are 7/8th scale.

"They're very close to the original aircraft," said Ricker. "The originals were built with wood and linen fabric. They didn't have the materials that we have today, so now these aircraft are built with aluminum and a newer type of fabric that goes over the wings. When these aircraft were built 13 years ago, they built them 7/8th scale because the regulations were such that you could only have an airplane of 600 pounds or less to be in the experimental, ultra light category. Since then, the regulations have changed. You can now have up to 1,200 pounds with a bigger engine and a full-scale aircraft."

CHAA Open House

The Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association hosted an open house July 17-18 featuring the cross-country commemorative warplane tour known as Vimy Flight at Tillsonburg Regional Airport. Static displays were open from 1-4 p.m., open to the public.

cabbott@postmedia.com