Canadian Museum of Flight general manager Mike Sattler summed it up best when he described seeing one of two Sopwith Pup replicas take to the air at the Langley airport as an “absolutely wow” moment.
The achievement was all the more impressive because it was the work of more than two dozen volunteers, mostly people with little or no experience building aircraft, it was done over a relatively short period of 18 months, and the project was completed in time for the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, despite an unexpected problem with the engines of both Sopwiths that required their replacement.
Not long after the test flight, the Pups were partially disassembled and packed into a Royal Canadian Air Force transport jet at Comox air force base for shipment to France, along with a Langley-built SE5a and four other replica fighters.
Work is now underway to reassemble the aircraft and prepare them for April 9, when a squadron of retired military pilots from across the country will fly a formation of replica First World War biplanes over Vimy Ridge.
It will re-create the fly-past seen in a 1936 photo which depicted biplanes flying over the Vimy memorial during the opening ceremony in 1936, an image that inspired the 2017 initiative.
Vimy is where four divisions of the Canadian corps fought together for the first time, with air support from Sopwiths like the Pups flown by the Royal Flying Corps, many with Canadian pilots.
After the celebrations in France next month, the planes and pilots will return to Halifax and begin a cross-Canada aerial tour, crossing from Shearwater, N.S. to the Comox Valley, between May and November.
The flight will include a flypast over the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa on July 1 during the 150th birthday celebrations.
Making the anniversary date took thousands of man-hours and a huge community effort, and it is a tribute to the many volunteers at the Langley museum and the particular expertise they have developed in building and restoring fabric-covered aircraft.
Or, as they would have said back in 1917, good show.