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Historic Vickers Vimy Replica Returns To Oshkosh

WWI replica bomber to make trans-Atlantic flight in June

May 24, 2005 - A lumbering, massive airplane made a return visit to EAA headquarters on Tuesday afternoon for the first time in four years. A replica of the Vickers Vimy World War I bomber, which thrilled thousands of aviation enthusiasts at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2001, landed for an overnight stop at Pioneer Airport about 1:40 p.m. CDT before continuing eastward to recreate history's first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight next month.

The Vickers Vimy makes a low pass at Pioneer Airport.

The aircraft, NX71MY, will depart from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, on a re-creation of the famous, albeit underappreciated, trans-Atlantic flight to Clifden, Ireland, made by John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown in June 1919, more than eight years before Charles Lindbergh's solo May 1927 flight. Vimys made two other historically significant flights-from England to Australia between November 12 and December 10, 1919, and from London to Cape Town, South Africa, between February 4 and March 20, 1920. The current reproduction Vimy already duplicated those flights.

Media gathers for the Vimy's arrival.

"The whole reason we're doing this is to bring credit and recognition to John Alcock and Arthur Brown," said pilot and EAA member Mark Rebholz, who took off work from United Airlines to make the flight with fellow EAAer and co-pilot Steve Fossett. (Fossett was not on board NX71MY when it arrived in Oshkosh.) "Before they took off from St. John's, Alcock told everyone in the crowd that he was going to hang his hat on the radio mast at the Marconi station in Clifton. That's exactly where they ended up, and I hope we can come that close."

When Rebholz and Fossett depart Newfoundland, they'll navigate by dead reckoning using a nautical sextant and a driftmeter. "All navigation is based on dead reckoning," Rebholz said. "It would be so easy otherwise; I'd be falling asleep if we were just following a GPS, waiting to get to Ireland."

In mid-June, they'll take off from St. John's for the 1,620-nm flight. Adcock and Brown made it in 15 hours, 30 minutes, but Fossett and Rebholz plan to spend 18 to 20 hours in the air. They have 25 hours worth of fuel, thanks to auxiliary fuel tanks installed in both the fore and aft cockpits.

"They (Adcock and Brown) had a great tailwind but had to fly in lousy weather and averaged 100 knots the whole way," Rebholz said. "We're going to go with good weather and not so much tailwind." Cruising speed for the replica is about 75 knots.
For the 1919 flight, the fore fuel tank was in the shape of a metal boat, which could be used in the event of an emergency. Rebholz and Fossett have an inflatable raft for such a case.

Curious onlookers get a close-up view at the Vickers Vimy Reproduction that landed Tuesday at Pioneer Airport.

The aircraft itself flies like a tri-motor, Rebholz said, "only a little heavier on the controls, a little less responsive, and a lot less performance.

Coming into Pioneer-Rebholz' first landing at the vintage airport's grass runway-he made a low approach at cruising speed, or 75 knots indicated. "If you can imagine crossing the Atlantic at that speed, you know it's going to take awhile," he said.

At 14,000 to 15,000 pounds at takeoff, the NX71MY will fly at about 1,000 to 1,500 feet altitude, eventually climbing to no more than 9,000 or 10,000 feet as the fuel load lightens. "I like to be as high as I can be for the fuel load that I have," Rebholz said. However, any higher than 10,000 feet is too cold for the open-cockpit aircraft.

Vickers Vimy pilot Mark Rebholz.

Other than improvements for safety and different engines, the airplane was built from the original plans and is generally authentic. "We have a double set of flying wires, where the original Vimys only had one," he said. "And we need a tail wheel because we sometimes land on runways. And because we have a tail wheel, we need brakes. I would rather land on grass with no crosswinds and a tailskid-that's what the airplane was designed to do."

The 600-horsepower Orenda engines use only 375 ponies because the RPMs are limited due to the length of the props.

Fossett and Rebholz will share flying duties, but for the most part Fossett will be the pilot, Rebholz will navigate. They'll also have the required radio equipment for a North Atlantic crossing. "The original guys had a radio, but it quit right after takeoff," Rebholz said.

They plan to leave on Wednesday for Toronto, with a possible stop in Ottawa (time permitting), then to St. John's.

The journey began late last week at Novato, California, but had to immediately divert to Concorde, California, for a six-hour weather delay. Then they flew eight hours to Lake Havasu, Arizona, for a two-day stopover for maintenance work.

They then flew nonstop for eight more hours to Dalhart, Texas, spent two hours on the ground, then departed for Salina, Kansas, four hours later. (They parked the Vimy right next to the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, which is hangared at Salina until it flies up to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2005 on July 26.)

They took off from Salina at 5 a.m. Wednesday "with a thunderstorm right on our tail" and arrived in Oshkosh in the early afternoon.

Rebholz said they are talking to several museums about the eventual permanent home for the airplane. Looking into the awaiting Pitcairn Hangar at Pioneer, he remarked, "It would fit real nice in there, wouldn't it?" 

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