Saturday, 11 July 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

The making of a triplane

Quietly in the background, in Peter Walton’s hangar at the Whitianga Airport, a replica Fokker Dr1 triplane has been taking shape.

In mid-2016, Peter and his wife, Lyn, popped into Airdrome Airplanes in Missouri, USA to have a look around. Peter is an avid pilot and the owner of a Mustang replica aircraft. He retired in 2007 after a successful business career. He and Lyn spend six months of the year in Whitianga, where their family home is, and the other six months, when it’s winter in New Zealand, in their motorhome and launch in North America.

“I’ve wanted to own a replica World War I aeroplane for a long time,” says Peter. “When a friend told me of the wide variety of kitset aircraft sold by Airdrome Airplanes, I simply couldn’t stay away. The Fokker triplane immediately caught my eye, not only because it’s a full-scale replica, but also because it’s the aeroplane the legendary Red Baron was best associated with. I ended up purchasing a kitset of the plane, which arrived in Whitianga in December 2017.”

Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron,” was a German fighter pilot who shot down 80 Allied aeroplanes during the course of his career, 19 while piloting a Fokker Dr1. “The plane I’m styling my triplane after was given the number FI 102/17 and was one of two prototypes. It was the first Dr1 the Red Baron flew, on 1 September 1917. He shot two aeroplanes down that day.”

Once the kitset arrived in Whitianga, Peter set to work. Today, somewhat more than three years later, the triplane is not far from flying for the first time. “Lyn and I plan to go back to the USA for six months in April this year,” says Peter. “I would love for the aeroplane to fly by then, but if not, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not a race. When I opened the kitset, all I saw was a pile of steel rods, some canvas and a few sheets of plans.

“Over the course of the past three years, I’ve been working on the plane whenever we were in Whitianga, about 15-months in total. During that time I’ve also had to replace my Mustang’s engine, which was a big undertaking all by itself.

“I treat the triplane build like a job, which means I get out of bed, ready to put in the hours that day. It’s the same way I treated life when I was in business, if you don’t make the hours count, you’re not going to get anywhere.

“Building the aeroplane required a lot of innovation along the way. To be honest, I probably relied more on a small toy model of the Red Baron’s plane than on the plans that came with the kitset.

“Several members of the Mercury Bay Aero Club are helping me with the build whenever they have a spare moment or two. Doug St George and Martin Little were vital in getting the canvas on and Keith Skilling has been a real help with the painting.”

Sporting the signature red colour scheme of the Red Baron’s Fokker, Peter’s triplane has already undertaken some taxi runs. “We’re getting to the point of fine-tuning,” he says. “Keep in mind that the Fokker Dr1 flew for the first time in 1917, not that long after the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903. Obviously, the designers of the triplane thought three sets of wings were better than one or two, which has proven over the years to be far from the case. I’m well aware that the plane won’t be easy to fly and am allowing for some modifications to make sure the pilot, whether it’s me or someone else, will be as safe as possible.”

Since Peter and Lyn started to explore North America 12 years ago, not long after Peter’s retirement, they’ve visited all 50 states of the USA and most of the Canadian Provinces. Whitianga remains their favourite place in the world, however. “It’s always great to come home,” says Peter. “Nothing beats spending Christmas with our children grandchildren in Whitianga. And who knows, Christmas this year may be extra special if I can take my Fokker triplane for a tiki tour overhead Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach early in the morning. I can only imagine the sense of satisfaction I will feel.”

Pictured: Quietly in the background, in a hangar at the Whitianga Airport, a triplane is taking shape.Quietly in the background, in a hangar at the Whitianga Airport, a triplane is taking shape.The main instigator is Mercury Bay Aero Club (MBAC) member and avid pilot, Peter Walton (on the right). Two fellow MBAC members, Martin Little (on the left)and Doug St George (centre) are of great help. The plane can be seen immediately behind the three of them. Read the story on page 3.

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