I’m delighted that James Mattocks from the Aircraft Preservation Society of Scotland has taken time out to answer a few of our questions about the exciting Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter Project.
Q. What is APSS ?
APSS is the Aircraft Preservation Society of Scotland, we are a group of aviation enthusiasts helping preserve the history of aviation and associated skills. Over 30 working members are actively involved in various projects.
We are based at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune, part of the National Museums Scotland and recently celebrated our 40th Anniversary.
Q. So James, when did the project begin and who’s idea was it?
“It started back in 2001, Evan Pole and I approached Adam Smith, the Museum curator at the time, about building a replica Bleriot. He came back and said he already had an idea to build a Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter, an aircraft which represented an important stage in the development of military aircraft, which saw widespread action in fighter and bomber versions and which was
Q. How many people are involved in the project?
“Initially there were 12 people in the team, this has varied over the years and sadly two have passed away since the inception of the project. Six of the original team are still involved in the build and we now have 14 members working at least one day a week on the Sopwith.”
Can you describe a typical team member, if there is such a thing?
“We have a wide cross section of people with exceptional skills in their field. We have 9 who are, or who have been pilots, Bernard McGinty and Evan Pole who are both retired professional engineers. Tim Rayner of LAA is our inspector, checking every piece of work. I still work on as an ordinary member, mainly due to the growing complexity of the project.
Any welding has to be done by a CAA certificated welder. Fortunately we obtained the services of “Stoorie”Muir who travelled up frequently from Prestwick, and still does when required, to do the necessary work.
The early work was mainly woodwork and proceeded rapidly because the group is graced by members with good woodworking skills.”
Q. What’s the most difficult job to date?
“The wing rigging wires are very precise indeed, and are a time consuming job. They have to be extremely accurate in length or the wing will warp.
Also we have outgrown our current workshop and accommodation in building 32; we cannot keep putting the Strutter together then dismantling and putting her back on the bench. When the engine and propeller, fuel and oil pipes and electrics are fitted the fuselage will have to remain on its undercarriage with the only items removable being the wings.”
Q. Will the Sopwith have any modern equipment or will it have WW1 style gear?
“As far as is possible the Sopwith will be built using the same techniques and materials as it’s WW1 predecessor, we have used modern aviation glues etc for safety reasons and we are using a brand new engine. This has arrived and it was an exciting day when it was fitted into the airframe.”
Q The Lewis gun looks very real, is real or a replica?
“It’s a replica, but it looks very real, it a lovely piece of work by Joy Guy.”
Q How is the project funded?
“ The original budget estimate was £34,000, in money of the day, but not including the engine. £4000 per annum for the airframe was to be supplied by the Museum of Flight, the rest to be found by APSS. It was to be powered by an original rotary engine which was to be supplied and paid for separately from the airframe budget, by the Museum of Flight.
Sadly after the initial funding the Museum withdrew from the project and we as APSS have continued with the project since then. Total spending so far is around £34,000 and we estimate the project will cost around £43,500 when it’s completed.
We have funded this by selling valuable assets such as the Brantley helicopter, the Taylorcraft Auster AOP5, and the Miles M17 Monarch, and the De Haviland Chipmunk.
The engine purchase was looked after by our Chairman, a retired business man of much experience, it was obtained at a good price but nevertheless was a major item of expenditure.”
Q When do you anticipate the aircraft being ready?
“In the light of my one time prediction of completion by 2006, I have to be careful here. The airframe is largely complete but there is much work to be done still in making and fitting tanks, piping, instruments, flying wires and then covering and painting.
Instinct tells me that this will be complete in two years time but since my instinct has in the past proved to be somewhat optimistic, I am going to double that and say June 2017.”
Q Can the public see the Sopwith at the Museum at all?
The Sopwith has been on public display in the Concorde Hangar, it’s been an enormously popular exhibit and we have had people come back time and time again to get updates on our work. We estimate we have had over 2000 people visit the Sopwith this year and thank everyone for their interest and support.
Q Will the 1 1/2 Strutter be used at air displays or based at East Fortune?
As to where it will fly, there are no fixed plans at present, but fly it will. Over the years, various ideas have been suggested, such as a local Lothian syndicate, a Perth Airport syndicate, or Shuttleworth. In the meantime we press on to ensure that our late production Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter takes to the skies.”
Q Will the aircraft take part in WW1 commemorative events?
It would be lovely if it was to be involved, a lot is dependent on the timescale for completion. Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutters were based at East Fortune, which was a Royal Naval Air Service Station during WW1 and involved in the protection of shipping in the Firth of Forth.
Q What’s your overall impression about the project?
“One thing comes to mind here and it is that throughout all these years, although this has been a absorbing and at times technically demanding project,the great friendship and companionship and cohesion of the team has never faltered.
The skills and dedication of the team have increased and refined over the period of build. We have all been involved in an important educational exercise designed to show to new generations the skill and dedication of our early aircraft designers and manufacturers, and we have thoroughly enjoyed it. “
Thanks James, I for one am looking forward to the day the Sopwith takes to the air again. It’s a fantastic project and I take my hat off to those involved. It’s fantastic to see craftsmanship like this still exists.