It’s been nearly 100 years since Sopwith Pup biplanes soared over the trenches of France during the First World War, but on June 17, two replica Pups came a step closer to taking to the skies once again.
For the past several months, volunteers at the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, B.C., have been building the single-seater biplanes in honour of the upcoming centenary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.
The fully-functional replicas were unveiled during an event at the museum June 17.
The build is part of Wings of Courage, the second instalment of A Nation Soars, a trilogy of films and accompanying educational materials commemorating Canada’s Great War flyers. The project is a partnership between Sound Venture Productions, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Heritage Canada, the Canadian Museum of Flight, and CPAC, which will broadcast the first two documentaries in November 2016.
Gilles Gagnier, publisher of Canadian Geographic, said the project fulfills a unique aspect of the organization's mission to make Canada better known to Canadians and the world.
“This project will help current and future generations of Canadians better understand their history and their geography, and connect today’s kids with yesterday’s heroes in a new and compelling way.”
Canadian Geographic Education has created a suite of free educational tools to go along with the project such as giant floor maps, downloadable tiled maps and lesson plans devoted to telling the story of Canada’s role in the Great War through a geographical lens.
Tim Joyce, president of Sound Venture, said getting young people engaged in the project was crucial, so the Canadian Museum of Flight brought in six young volunteers from the Fraser Valley's 746 Lightning Hawk Air Cadet squadron to help build the planes.
“The cadets are close to the age Canada’s Great War flying aces would have been,” Joyce explained.
“I was very excited to see underneath the skin of the planes,” said Richard Knopp, one of the six cadets who worked on the build. “It was interesting to see how to actually build one from the ground up, learning about the old way to build planes, and adapting them with new materials.”
Pilots in the First World War faced daunting odds. The war began only a decade after the Wright brothers’ first flight; aviation technology was raw and pilots paid the price: the average life expectancy of a new pilot was measured in weeks.
“I don’t think I would’ve had as much of an appreciation for what they went through if I hadn’t been a part of this,” Knopp said. "It’s an excellent way to put things into perspective and give us a reminder of our history."
The project's partners ultimately hope to take the planes to France and fly them as part of next year’s centenary observance of the battle of Vimy Ridge at Canada’s memorial.