AERODROME ROAD, BLENHEIM (5kms from town, route sign-posted off SH6) MARLBOROUGH • NEW ZEALAND
This prize exhibit has the distinction of being the only Caproni Ca 22 remaining in the world. Until 2006 it was the property of the Caproni Museum in Italy, established by Gianna and Timina Caproni in 1929. The machine can be described as a virtual time-capsule, as it has changed very little on the past 85 years, most spent in storage, so it is a great privilege to be able to display it here at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre.
Produced from 1913, the Caproni Ca 22 was configured as a parasol monoplane, meaning that the wings were perched above and separate from the fuselage, just like a lady's parasol or umbrella. It served as a two-seat observation aircraft and also carried out bombing operations over enemy territory along the Austrian border.
At the time war broke out in Europe, Austrian designer Igo Etrich's elegant Taube had already been a successful aircraft for four years, having first flown in 1910. Harking back to the centuries of man wanting to 'fly like a bird', the Taube (Dove) has the distinction of being the most bird-like of any successful aeroplane ever built.
This is one of the most dramatic exhibits. The aircraft is displayed as though flying in formation with another Taube, at height above a huge photographic background. It is under fire from a British Be2c and the observer is twisting round to fire his rifle back at the attacker.
During mid-late 1915 the Fokker E.III Eindekker's speed, agility and revolutionary through-the-propeller machine gun fire capability, provided an advantage that decimated allied aircraft, during a period which became known as ‘The Fokker Scourge’. In answer, Geoffrey de Havilland's DH-2 reverting to the 'pusher' configuration. The goal was to produce an aircraft that could fire a machine gun forwards without the risk of hitting a turning propeller.
Despite the obvious advantages of the German monoplane, the antiquated looking DH-2 proved itself a worthy adversary and helped level the odds in the skies over France.
Constructed in 1915, the Morane-Saulnier Type BB was a small two-seat biplane. Intended for the reconnaissance role, the aircraft carried a crew of two, pilot and observer. Only one example of this little known aircraft survived, albeit in incomplete condition. The aircraft displayed here is a reproduction and is presently the world’s sole intact example.
Intact but minus a few bullet holes, as the aircraft features in the drama of a wounded pilot being dragged from the cockpit. The observer is most likely dead. A look of horror is on the face of the female ambulance driver as she negotiates the deep mud in which the aircraft has landed.
The Breguet is a type not previously seen in Australasia and this example was constructed in the northern hemisphere, and later acquired by the 14-18 Heritage Trust. After arriving in New Zealand, it was issued to The Vintage Aviator Ltd (TVAL) for upgrade to a more accurate display finish. This included the colour scheme change to represent an aircraft of the U.S. 96th Aero Squadron, complete with the unusual, almost 'metallic' paint finish carefully researched from original fabric samples and recreated by TVAL technicians. Other improvements included the installation of the scarff ring and Lewis gun along with the fixed Vickers gun, all these items created very accurately in-house at TVAL.
First flown in November 1916, the Breguet 14 series proved so successful that they remained in production for 10 years, some 8,000 being completed. Two original examples are known to survive, one in France, the other in Finland.
Nicknamed ‘Harry Tate’ after a popular music hall performer, the RAF R.E.8 was considered neither popular nor much of a performer. It was nevertheless built in considerable numbers and proved a necessary if not ideal workhorse.
Just two R.E.8s survived the ravages of time and these are displayed in museums in London and Brussells. The aircraft displayed here is a reproduction built exactly to the original 1916 specifications here in New Zealand.
Attention to detail is what strikes visitors most about this scene and people can spend hours peering into the corners to find hidden treasures. Accurate tools of the period such as the 'spoke-shave' can be seen, along wth the correct brand of cellulose dopes used for treating the linen aeroplane covering material, all the way to the bird nesting in the rafters, the detail of this display leaves visitors spellbound.
Designed by Glenn H. Curtiss, the beautiful flying boat on display (c/n NC 903 and US Navy A-5543) is one of only four examples known to exist. Manufactured by Naval Aircraft Factory at its facility in the Philadelphia Navy Yard it was the 61st built from a batch of 80. Little is known of this boat's early history but it was almost certainly operated at a Naval Aviation training station and thereafter released for sale as surplus sometime in the early 1920s.
A German scout of the mid-war period the Halberstadt D. series of single-seat fighters never quite achieved the success of their contemporaries from Albatros and Fokker. The aircraft nevertheless did its job and for a brief period in 1917 when his Albatros D.III was under repair, Manfred von Richthofen used a Halberstadt temporarily, but long enough to add another six victories to his tally.
The aircraft seen here is a full size reproduction which maintains a current Certificate of Airworthiness. It is the World's only representative example of a Halberstadt fighter.
A story to make all New Zealanders proud is that of Kiwi pilot Keith Logan 'Grid' Caldwell. A successful combatant and highly respected leader, Grid Caldwell became New Zealand's highest scoring ace with 25 aerial victories to his credit.
The display shows an amazing episode in Caldwell's story in which he managed to regain control of his SE5a fighter after it was crippled in a mid-air collision, managing to stabilise it by placing himself half in and half out of his cockpit for just long enough to nurse it back to the lines and jump clear just as it was about to crash. Caldwell survived his fall, and the war, and was C.O. Of RNZAF Base Woodbourne for the first half of the Second World War!
Easily the most photographed exhibit at the AHC is the 'aeroplane in a tree' display. Here we see a Royal Flying Corps Nieuport biplane that has been damaged in a dogfight with a German Siemens Schukert. The Nieuport has crashed in a large tree and the pilot has managed to clamber down where he has been greeted warmly by the German flyer who has landed nearby.
The two flyers share a cigartette as German soldiers look on, all of them standing in a think carpet of snow to produce what must be one of the most dramatic museum displays to be seen anywhere in New Zealand.
Few machines of the war period would be considered as distinctive as the Fokker Dr.I 'Dreidekker' or 'Triplane'. This agile little fighter was made famous by the successes of 'The Red Baron' and his fellow pilots of the famous 'Flying Circus'.
This part of the AHC display is home to no fewer than FOUR examples of this remarkable little machine. Since the last surviving original Fokker Triplane was destroyed when the Berlin Museum was inadvertently destroyed by RAF bombing during WW-II, these are all carefully crafted reproductions, built to original dimensions and techniques, and kept in current flying condition.
The Triplanes on display are wearing the specific and carefully researched colours of individual machines that were operational with Jasta 11 during March of 1918. During this period the Jasta was being led by Manfred von Richthofen flying his all red Dr.I.
All the aircraft of Jasta 11 were distinguished by the common colour of red for the cowlings, struts and undercarriage on aircraft which, apart from Manfred's, were still predominantly coloured in the streaky olive finish applied at the Fokker factory. Thereafter, each aircraft carried its individual pilot's chosen additional colours.
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An exhibit that tends to stop people in their tracks, and rightly so, is the one that depicts the death of Manfred von Richthofen on 21st April, 1918. The Baron had been mortally wounded by ground fire while pursuing a Sopwith Camel at low level, just as another Camel was trying to attack from behind. Barely able to hold onto consciousness, the German ace manged to crash-land the crippled aircraft before he died.
The display shows the crashed, blood-red Fokker Triplane with the late Baron lying beside it as Australian ground troops tear the Triplane apart for souvenirs, just as it happened 89 years ago. In the ornate octagonal structure of archways around the display can be seen a remarkable collection of original mementos from Manfred von Richthofen's own collection.
Built for the landmark WW1 aviation movie 'The Blue Max', filmed in Ireland during the late 1960s, this aircraft was one of two flying examples of the extinct Pfalz D.III produced for that landmark movie. In 1999 an effort was made to track down the aircraft from the film and this Pfalz was located in poor condition in a hangar in northern Alabama, USA, from where it was purchased and shipped to New Zealand.
The Pfalz D.III is now displayed in the exact colours it wore when built for the movie, however it has been fully restored here at Omaka and is able to be taken out and flown at any time!
Charles Nungesser was one of the more interesting personalities amongst the celebrated French 'Aces', known for his affinity for women, fast cars, and late night parties. Not a believer in fate, he painted symbols on his aircraft designed to taunt lady luck! As it happened, he lived to survive the war despite a number of crashes in both cars and aeroplanes, but eventually disappeared in early May, 1927 on a trans-Atlantic flight attempt.
The French designed Nieuport 24 was an agile fighter used by many countries including England and Italy. This full-size reproduction is presently airworthy.
An unusual 'negative stagger' arrangement of the wings gave the D.H.5 a distinctive look but did not give it the advantages in aerial combat that had been hoped for. As a result it was not built in large numbers and the type tended to be relegated to ground support duties.
No original example of the D.H.5 exists. This machine is a flyable reproduction and is the only representative example of the D.H.5 to be found anywhere in the world.
(NB. The D.H.5 is temporarily withdrawn from display in order to fit a replacement engine.)
Built as a two-seat day-bomber the D.H.4 was another successful design from the design office of Geoffrey de Havilland. So successful was the D.H.4 in fact that it outlived the First World War to be built in large numbers under license as a utility aircraft in the USA.
The aircraft on display is one of the American built examples and features a US-manufactured Liberty V-12 engine of 400 hp. Early long distance air mail routes were pioneered through remote parts of the USA using D.H.4s and the young Charles Lindbergh spent much of his early flying career as an air mail pilot flying aeroplanes just like this one.
Artefacts of the Pioneering Era
Pre-war artefacts from the pioneering era have been added to the display and serve to show how far aviation progressed in such a short time. Among them is a remarkable fabric covered propeller from 1908, Bleriot aircraft parts and even a mosaic plaque from the actual Bleriot factory wall.
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is home to an enthralling collection of artefacts and personal items belonging to some of the most famous aviators on both sides of the Great War. A whole new section has just been added in April 2011, almost doubling the size of the memorabilia displays, which have been redesigned into two distinct sections. The Allies, represented by Great Britain and her dominions, France, Russia, Italy and the United States in the first section and the Central Powers of predominantly Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey.
Highlights include the flying suit and tunic belonging to America's highest scoring Ace Eddie Rickenbacker, complete with name and the famous "Hat in Ring" Squadron insignia. The uniform of the overall Allied top scoring pilot, Frenchman René Fonk is among the collection, including his Croix de Guerre with 26 palms.
Also on display is Ernst Udet's Blue Max, Max Immelman's pocket watch and a pennant presented by British airmen, who were prisoners of war, at the funeral of the early German Ace and father of aerial combat, Oswald Boelcke.
Herman Goering features as an Ace of the Great War and amongst the collection are his own log books. There is also mention of his later involvement in the Second World War and amazingly here on display is the cap he was wearing when he was captured by the Americans in 1945.
Providing background to the displays are original artworks, as well as a great many salvaged aircraft insignia, not only British roundels and German crosses, but also the highly sought-after artwork of such squadrons as Lafayette Escadrille.
A very personal note is struck with the display of sweetheart badges and embroidery sent home to mothers and loved ones. Many objects were crafted from the detritus of the battlefield, including beautifully engraved shell cartridges, model aircraft and photo frames carved from wooden propellers and these too are amongst the collection, providing a rich texture of memories and insights.
A visitor can spend a few minutes or several hours captivated by the richness and significance of this exhibition.
In a separate area, adjacent to a diorama of Manfred von Richthofen's crashed Fokker Triplane, is a display of the actual fabric cross, cut from the starboard side of his famous red Triplane. With it are other items salvaged from the aircraft and his own monogrammed handkerchief.
Arranged in front of a photograph of Manfred's room, are other objects belonging to the Richthofens, including father Albrecht's dress uniform, the trophy awarded to brother Lothar on being credited with downing Albert Ball and two of the trophy cups Manfred had made to mark his victories. One of these is number 11, commissioned after Manfred fought his famous aerial battle with Britain's then most highly respected Ace, Lanoe Hawker.
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