Flight of a lifetime
Vimy flyover marks crucial contributions of aerial cameramen.
April 9, 2017, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. To honour such a pivotal moment in Canadian military history, several pilots plan to fly replica First World War biplanes over the Vimy Memorial in France. Their mission is called Vimy Flight.
“We want to make sure that when they do the Vimy Ridge (commemoration) in 2017 that they recognize the aerial element,” said Paul O’Rielly, a retired Royal Canadian Navy pilot who is participating in Vimy Flight. Five Nieuport II biplanes — and possibly two Sopwith Pups — are set to fly in formation over the memorial.
The replica Nieuports are slightly smaller than the originals but fly and manoeuvre in the same way. Unlike the originals, they carry modern safety equipment including a radio, a transponder, avionics, and a parachute.
In 1917, the Canadian military did not have its own air force. However, about twenty-three thousand Canadians joined the British Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service during the war.
Many of these men became aerial observers, cameramen who flew over enemy territory taking photos of German defences, guns, and troop movements. Although the job was not particularly glamorous, the intelligence and photos taken by these men were pivotal for the Canadian and British artillery’s success at Vimy.
The Vimy Flight mission this April consists of pilots who are all former members of the military. Their mission has the support and approval of the Canadian military. The mission is being funded almost entirely by the pilots themselves.
For Peter Thornton, a pilot for Vimy Flight who also served in the British Royal Air Force and, later, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the flight is his way of saying thank you to Canada. “It’s a way of celebrating this wonderful country.”
After the completion of Vimy Flight, the pilots also plan a cross-country tour in honour of Canadian veterans and to help celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.
This Nieuport II biplane will take part in the historic flight at Vimy.