Flight of a life­time

Vimy fly­over marks cru­cial con­tri­bu­tions of ae­rial cam­era­men.

Canada's History - - CURRENTS - by Tyler Hooper

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.

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