After five months of touring across Canada, the Vimy Flight team came to the B.C. Aviation Museum in Victoria for their final series of flights over the weekend to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Larry Ricker, who flew the replica Nieuport 11 on a sunny Friday afternoon, said that “the left wing lifted a bit more than the other, but other than that, the airplane flew beautifully today.”
As an Air Canada pilot, Larry Ricker typically flies a Boeing 777, but over the last five months he and nine other ex-military pilots have been flying across Canada in replica World War I-era biplanes, stopping in small towns and talking about contributions that pilots made in the battle.
The story of Vimy Ridge, where the Canadian Expeditionary Force took the hill when other forces could not, is often considered a formative experience for the fledgling nation, and pilots were a key part of the Canadian success. Many pilots died to take aerial photos of the area so each soldier could have an accurate map.
“Canada took a different view than the Brits,” said Allan Snowie, team leader for Vimy Flight. “They said that every soldier will have a map, not just the higher ups. And when we took that ridge, everybody knew what they were doing on that day so if your officer or your sergeant was killed you as a private soldier could still carry on.”
Snowie began planning an anniversary flight six years ago, with the ultimate goal of flying past the Vimy memorial as was done when the memorial was first unveiled in 1936. First, they had to prove to the Canadian government that they were up to the task.
“Many people would volunteer to do something like this but do you have the qualifications, are the airplanes safe enough, was it worth the public risk to put us in?”
They got permission from Veterans Affairs and the French government, and the RCAF provided a C-17 Globemaster to carry the planes to France and fly over the memorial.
Every pilot in the group is a former military pilot, since they have extensive experience flying in formation. Ricker was on squadron with some members of the group.
“They wanted me because we work together well, we’ve been trained the same way, and we’re friends, and so it just makes sense. If you’re going to do the tour of a lifetime, you want the people that you know and the people that you trust,” said Ricker.
On Nov. 11, the group will do one last presentation in St. John’s, Nfld. but without their planes. The weather would be too severe, and by the the aircraft will have scattered to various museums, but Ricker was glad to visit small towns and hear people’s personal connections to the war.
“We’ve been very blessed. We’ve flown before tens of thousands of people and the stories they have told us have been inspiring and moving, really.”