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Page last updated at 14:07 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 15:07 UK
Sopwith Pup's new lease of life

by Tammy McAllister
BBC Somerset

Sopwith pup

Tucked away in an aircraft hangar at RNAS Yeovilton is an World War I aircraft that is the only one of its kind in the world. It is being lovingly restored by its owner, Kelvyn Baker who's spent more than three decades on this project.

The Sopwith Pup was in service during the early days of naval aviation where aircraft would land on a ship at sea.

It was fast and easy to manoeuvre and saw great success in the war.

Kelvyn Baker, owner, said: "The engine is a rotary, it's a French design so the engine, which has nine cyinders, goes round with the propeller. The actual crank is bolted to the air-frame (the mechanical structure of the plane) and it is quite a good efficient engine for what it is."

This aircraft was built as a night fighter which at the time was very unusual.

Nick Carrey-Harris, who is helping to restore the plane, said: "As you can imagine in 1917 it was pretty rudimentary. What they've got in the cockpit are little pea-bulbs which are shaded and the shades have got different sized holes in the cover.

"You turn the shade around to allow more light or less light in or out as you want, and it shines onto the instruments as you want, rather than the instruments being back-lit like a car."

'Shade of blue'

So far the project has run into the thousands and it's expected that it will take several more to complete the plane; replica metal parts are specially made in aluminium which cost around £1,000 each to make.

Kelvyn (left) and Nick
Kelvyn (left) and Nick

There is also the question of the colours used for the plane.

Nick said: "We know what the specification was when it came out of the Standard Motor Company, but the aircraft was picked up and put into civilian garb.

"We've assumed from the black and white photographs it was silver which was a common colour of those days, however there is a school of thought at the moment that it could have been a shade of blue, a very light sky blue. We hope to get it right for purist's sake."

Detective work

It's these questions which have resulted in a lot of detective work for Kelvyn - some still haven't been answered, like the whereabouts of the plane after its final flight up until its discovery in the 1970s.

All that is known is that after it was decommissioned it was registered G-EAVX by the Aircraft Disposal Company in Croydon in 1919 and possibly bought by A.R.M. Rickards.

It crashed during the Aerial Derby, Hendon in 1921 and was broadcast on Pathé News at the time.

"The pilot who was Dring Lester Forestier-Walker was believed drunk. He'd crash landed it and buckled the under-carriage and damaged the prop somewhat," said Kelvyn.

'Soft spot'

The Sopwith Pup's life wasn't over yet.

Both Kelvyn and his friend Nick discovered evidence that it wasn't completely written-off after this disaster even though its nose crashed straight into the ground; flight records revealed it had flown as late as 1922.

In 2007, the aircraft was transported from Kelvyn's home in Winscombe to RNAS Yeovilton.

"It was by kind permission of the base commander, who had a soft spot for it, " said Kelvyn.

Now it seems the group of friends are on the home run and expect to complete it within two to four years.

"The restoration is more of assembly job. We've got the wing spars on trestles and the wing ribs just slid on. We need to fit them properly and glue and nail them on both sides.

"We have some other spars that are still being machined for us, but they will be ready fairly quickly. The rest of the kit that needs to go on the spars is already available. We'll get it to the stage where it's fully rigged but without the covering, then we can get the aircraft certificated, said Nick.

But even once the spars, which are the wooden structures of the wings, are complete the job still won't be over.

Further tests will be carried out on the air-frame, the mechanical structure of the aircraft and numerous ground-running tests will take place before it is allowed to fly.

Once the plane is fully restored the hope is for it to be housed at the Fleet Air Arm Museum and used for educational purposes. If you would like to see the plane, it will be put on display at the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2009.



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