Flight of the Replicator: Newly-built WWI fighter plane close to take-off

Retired aviation enthusiasts are awaiting safety clearance for the aircraft they built from scratch more than two decades ago.

A group of retired aviation enthusiasts in East Lothian are closer than ever to flying a replica First World War fighter plane they built from scratch more than 20 years ago.

The Aviation Preservation Society of Scotland (APSS) based near East Fortune, have now transported their Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter aircraft, nicknamed ‘Sophie’, to a local airfield – where it will now undergo a series of safety checks and tests before being certified as fit to fly.

They say it’s the biggest step forward in the project since they began constructing it in 1973.

With members ages ranging from 16 to 99 years old, the story of their mission to build and fly the First World War fighter plane has captured the hearts of people around the globe.

“Around the year 2000, the suggestion was – instead of just restoring the aircraft, why not try to build the aircraft,” Mike Harper, the chairman of the APSS told STV News.

“So they decided the aircraft to build should be a Sopwith ½ Strutter – the reason is, they used to be based at East Fortune when it used to be a royal naval station, that was in the First World War.

“They weren’t sure they could do it, but once they’d built a few parts from it and inspected it was confirmed they were capable of doing it.”

The Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter came into service in 1916 and in Scotland it became useful as a reconnaissance plane to protect the Forth coastline.

More than 6,000 were built, but now just three remain. If Sophie does take to the skies, she’ll be the only flying Strutter in the entire world.

“It’s taking such a long time because it’s not just being built as an exhibit, it’s being built to fly. Every single nut and bolt on that aircraft has been checked and inspected,” Mr Harper said.

When STV News asked how he and the APSS would feel to see the Stutter finally take flight, Mr Harper said: “I think the guys will be very relieved when they see her take off, but there will be some very proud guys standing on that airfield.”

Given the long duration of the project, some members who worked on the aircraft have since passed away. When Sophie takes to the skies for the first time, a memorial plaque will be placed in the rear cockpit, to honour their contribution.

“Our numbers were dwindling but I’m happy to say we’re swelling in numbers again and its great to see it,” Mr Harper added.

The society want to encourage more young people to sign up, and they’ve already started work on their second aircraft, a slightly smaller Sopwith Pup.

If the Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter passes all its checks and tests, the team are hopeful it’ll take to the skies over the Lothians once again by Summer 2023.

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