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Reforged history at Wings

Wings Over Wairarapa preview. Gene de Marco of the Vintage Aviator. PHOTO/GERALD FORD

By Gerald Ford

Wings over Wairarapa is a chance for the region to show off its unequalled collection of World War I aircraft, according to pilot Gene de Marco.

The Hangar at Hood Aerodrome is home to a collection of World War I aircraft owned by The Vintage Aviator.

In World War I planes were initially used for reconnaissance, Mr de Marco said.

“The pilot literally carried a notepad and drew pictures of what he saw.”

Every aircraft in the hangar has its own story. These days World War I aircraft are rare enough in themselves, and flying ones even more so.

The museum houses “the only original flying Sopwith Camel in the world,” Mr de Marco said.

The plane is still marked experimental because it hasn’t yet clocked up enough air miles to be fully licenced, but that is due to change soon, Mr de Marco said.

“It’s brand new. It still has that new smell to it.”

The re-created planes are built in a Wellington factory from original plans – where available – where the plans weren’t available researchers disassembled engines and 3D scanned the parts.

The World War I planes were not factory assembled so had a level of craftmanship in their wooden parts and fabric covering.

“And then there was the metallurgy, finding out exactly what they were made of,” Mr de Marco said.

In researching another rare plane, the rear-propelled Fe2b, Mr de Marco found the notes of one pilot who was nervous about sitting in front of the engine and worried about being crushed by it in the event of a crash.

The pilot decided the solution was to leave his seatbelt off – a solution of which Mr de Marco was initially sceptical, but Mr de Marco later read the sequel where the pilot’s worst fear (of crashing into one of the English countryside’s many stone walls) was realised.

“He did indeed crash into a stone wall and he was indeed safely ejected.”

World War I pilots suffered from the cold and would cover their exposed skin with whale blubber to avoid frostbite, Mr de Marco said.

“It was a different time.”

Wings over Wairarapa runs February 17 to 19.

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