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Reckon as much as we run our mouths ‘bout ‘em, they need their own thread.

The latest from here.

World War I plane takes students back to future

By Eric Feber
The Virginian-Pilot
© January 5, 2009

In the corner of the Aviation Institute of Maintenance's tidy, spacious classroom hangar on South Military Highway, the metal skeleton of an aviation ghost is rising out of metal tubing.

The World War I bi-plane, the Nieuport 24, stands regally in the corner of this former Food Lion building on the Chesapeake campus..

It's the same frame of a slightly more streamlined version of the single-seat Nieuport 17, heavily used in the "Great War" by France, along with England's Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, the Imperial Russian Air Service, and the U.S. Army Air Service, which used 287 of these biplanes for training schools in France.

One of France's top aces and war heroes, Charles Nungesser, who called himself the "Knight of Death," had 45 victories and the Croix de Guerre (a French/Belgium military decoration) to his credit while flying the Nieuport. His silver two-winged steed was well-known to enemy and friendly aviators with its black heart, Jolly Roger, coffin and two lit candles emblazoned on the fuselage's side.
But what's a modern aircraft mechanic training school doing building a World War I airplane,

It's a way to take its students back to the future to apply classroom theory in real life. A group of AIM students are part of a volunteer crew engaged in building from the ground up a working scale replica of a two-winged charger used by those famed and fabled "Knights of the Air."

The project's gauntlet was thrown down last year by school owner and vintage airplane collector Gerald Yagen, said Brad Groom, Chesapeake campus academic and program coordinator.

Yagen owns the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach's Pungo section. He recently received approval from the Beach City Council to expand the museum, which opened in May, to add five buildings that will include a period hanger to exhibit the World War I planes under construction at other campus sites.

"He challenged every school to come up with a replica (of a WW I plane) as a way to observe the upcoming 100th anniversary of the war and to construct living history," Groom said. "It's also a way for students to learn about the very basics of aircraft, which can be applied to modern aircraft. It's to have our students build something on their own, to build up school pride."
All of AIM's campuses - others are in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Orlando, Indianapolis and Manassas - took up the challenge, each choosing a particular model to build. Judges will select the overall winner. The top three schools will divide $100,000 for new equipment, and all aeronautic submissions will go on permanent display at Yagen's Pungo museum.
The Chesapeake campus' Nieuport project is headed by instructor Joe Eggers, a Portsmouth resident and former AIM student.
"He loves this for the engineering challenge," Broom said about Eggers. "He oversees everything; we call him our Einstein."
Anna Brown, a Williamsburg resident, has been with the project since July.

"I've always wanted to build an antique aircraft like this from scratch," she said. "You learn things you just don't get in a classroom."
Eggers thought the project was a good way to appreciate "the craftsmanship that goes into creating a craft of this type. You get to look at all the little details you don't see in modern aircraft."

When it's completed, more than 30 students will have worked on it. Those who began it last year have graduated and moved on to aviation jobs.

The current group of about 15 will graduate in several months, having completed a 19-month, FAA-approved course that includes instruction in hydraulics, sheet metal work, rigging, assembly, safety and engine/equipment maintenance.

All team members, after completing 10 hours work, get the right to wear the official team T-shirt with Nungesser's famous "Knight of Death" design. They work on it about two hours a day Monday through Thursday.

Each keeps his or her own log book, tracking the project's progress, challenges and mistakes. Broom also maintains a progress blog on the company's Web site at

When the project began last year, Eggers and his crew first drew up a plan of attack and gathered the necessary materials.
With the exception of the craft's Rotec R3600 nine-cylinder, 150-horsepower radial engine made in Australia, and its propeller and wheels, the plane is being made from scratch using only general diagram schematics offered by New Hampshire-based Floyd Redfern, a senior manager of Lockheed Martin Mission Services.

"We take the lessons we learned in aircraft drawing class and apply them to real life," explained Blake Barnett, a Virginia Beach resident who has been with the project since May. "These plans only give general information, there's no real step-by-step directions. We have to calculate everything."

The plane's overall cost in materials will be about $39,000 with $18,000 just for the engine. The labor cost? In the thousands of hours, calculated Groom and Eggers. So far, about 5,000 to 6,000 hours have been tallied.

Richard Wilcolt from South Norfolk is the newest team member. He enjoys the total "hands-on experience, applying classroom theory to actual situations."

The students literally construct wings, metal tubing, fuselage coverings, brake lines, landing gear assemblies, wing struts, cables, landing gear, cockpit, control board, controls and rudders. Even the clamps to hold the wing assemblies together and the wooden work tables are handmade.

"This isn't something where you can go to your local Home Depot for materials," Barnett said.

Although the entire project seemed akin to constructing a giant hobby model, Greg Lord from Virginia Beach said it's all done to real scale, and it's not as easy as it looks.

"Everything has to be precise," said Great Bridge resident Ryan Ralmen, who has been with the project for 13 months. "There's no margin for error. "

When completed at the end of this year, the plane will be ready to take to the air. It will be about 250 pounds heavier than the original, thanks to a few modern touches, such as brakes, a frame made out of metal instead of wood and additional safety features.

"We all agreed we wanted to see it fly before it goes into the museum," said Daniel Dockery, a Virginia Beach-based student.

"We've taken all safety measures; we have confidence it will fly," Barnett added. "... It's a bit of history that can fly."
Eric Feber, 222-5203,

Leo Tanner:
Well this is a great idear Arcey :D  Lot of here that loves planes.

     I'd like ta see pitchers of that bi-plane, please keep us posted if the paper continues ta follow the story.


Can’t figger why the blue hell they didn’t have a photographer. One image woodah been nice. A reporter came to the shoot Saturday ‘n he had a photographer. The photographer was there two hours before the reporter was fer Pete’s sake. Ya’d think a reporter could carry a digital hisownself.

I know where the place is. Wonder if they’d let me in there.

Anyways, we gottah place ta talk airplanes if we wanna.


Texas Lawdog:
I was watching the Military channel over the weekend. They were doing a feature on the old Douglas Skyraider. They had video of the planes at the Museum at da Beach that Arcey talks about. The collection includes a restored Skyraider. They had some real good video of all the planes in the Museum.

I LOVE those WWI planes.  All, the mono-, bi- and tri-planes.  They were so cool.

I just rewatched The Blue Max with George Peppard about a month ago.


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