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ISSUE 28 - August 2008
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Contributing Editors, Allan Udy & Alex Mitchell, Photographs by Alex Mitchell
New Zealand

In recent years, New Zealand has developed a growing reputation in the area of World War One era aviation, particularly in terms of that early aviation oddity, the tri-plane. At the Classic Fighters Marlborough airshow in early 2007 visitors to the show were able to witness the formation flypast of no less than seven Fokker Dr.1 Triplane replicas. As far as we can determine this is the first and only time since 1918 that so many triplanes have been seen together in the air at the same time.

Recently a lesser known, but ultimately just as important triplane type has taken to the skies in New Zealand for the first time—a Sopwith Triplane, often referred to as simply a 'Tripe' or 'Tripehound'. This particular (full size) replica aircraft was started as a project by Chad Willie (Iowa) some years ago, but more recently was sold and shipped to New Zealand, and completed to a very high standard of authenticity by The Vintage Aviator Limited.

A Sopwith Triplane in New Zealand
skies for the first time.
N533 on the ground at Hood Aerodrome
in Masterton, NZ.

While the Fokker Dr.1 is without doubt the most well known triplane type, the Sopwith version was actually the first three winged aircraft design to see significant front line use during the First World War, and it was the success of the type that ultimately lead Anthony Fokker to develop the Dr.1.

Operated exclusively by the Royal Naval Air Service from December 1916 onwards, the Tripehound's performance was so impressive that as soon as it had entered service, German and Austrian aircraft manufacturers began to scramble to produce their own three-winged aircraft. In a short period of time in early 1917 over thirty competing triplane designs and prototypes were developed by the Germans.

The padded machine gun butt
doubles as a windshield.
The distinctive venetian blind effect
of the three wings.

Only 147 Sopwith Triplanes were built, and by August 1917 virtually all had been retired from front line service. In contrast, during that same month the first of 320 Fokker Dr.1 triplanes to be built arrived in Belgium to begin their service career. The Fokker design had a similarly brief service career, and by June 1918 most Dr.1.s had also been withdrawn from front line service.

On His Tail! A scene almost from
the Western Front....
This is now the eighth airworthy
tri-plane aircraft in New Zealand.

This aircraft is now finished in the colour scheme of Canadian ace Flight Sub-Lieutenant Raymond Collishaw, who commanded the famous 'Black Flight' of No. 10 Naval Squadron. Each of the five aircraft in this flight were painted with black cowls and tail fins, and they were given suitably sinister names: Black Death, Black Roger, Black Prince, Black Sheep and Black Maria (Collishaw's aircraft—a colloquial term for a horse-drawn hearse). Over a period of two months in June and July 1917, Black Flight claimed 86 victories for the loss of only one man captured and two killed.

The aircraft has
been finished in a very authentic manner.
Black Flight
once more!
The pilots view through the windscreen and sighting
along the gun barrel.

Sopwith Triplane Fly-By Video

Contributing Editors: Allan Udy & Alex Mitchell, New Zealand
Historical Aviation Film Unit

Contributing Photographer: Alex Mitchell, New Zealand
The Vintage Aviator Limited

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