Aviation enthusiast to recreate flight into wartime France

Aviation enthusiast to recreate flight into wartime France

PILOT: Stephen Slater in his restored biplane

TAIL WIND: The biplane - a faithful recreation of the very first plane to land in France during the First World War

READY FOR TAKE-OFF: The BE-2 observation aircraft, which will recreate an historic journey over the English Channel

HISTORY: photograph taken in Whitby in 1914 as the Royal Flying Corps made its way to Dover. It is believed this craft was the first to land in France, but research has found it was the 471, not the 347 which was the first to land.

First published in News Darlington and Stockton Times: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

A NORTH-EAST aviation enthusiast, who has restored a replica piece of the UK's military heritage, intends to recreate the 'Biggles' biplane's famous crossings into France at the start of the Great War.

The Royal Flying Corps’ fragile-looking BE-2 observation plane flew from Dover to France on August 13, 1914, in one of the first-ever military air deployment into a conflict zone.

At that point, only 50 pilots had ever even successfully flown over the channel, yet all 12 of the No 2 Squadron’s craft made the perilous crossing in the opening weeks of the First World War.

Stephen Slater, who grew up in Darlington, is going to attempt the crossing in a replica of the plane with Matthew Boddington.

The two of them have restored their own replica of the 1914 aircraft – which they christened the Biggles biplane, owing to the fact it was built in the 1960s for a Hollywood film which was never completed.

They discovered the wreck in America in 2005 and spent the next seven years rebuilding it.

Weather permitting, Mr Slater and Mr Boddington will fly the aircraft from Dover to France on Monday (August 11), to commemorate the first aircraft heading to France in 1914.

They will join a RAF memorial event at an airfield where the aircraft landed in Amiens 100 years ago.

The ceremony will begin with the biplane taxiing to a memorial to deliver a wreath.

Mr Slater, who grew up in Mowden and attended Hummersknott School and sixth form, said they were currently keeping a close eye on weather reports and nervously keeping an eye on a predicted hurricane which could potentially delay the flight.

He said: “The challenge with flying vintage aircraft is you’re flying in a very strong draught; it’s an exposed cockpit.

“If it’s gusty the controls aren’t as good as a modern aircraft and there’s dangers with the wings. The sheer size of the wings means it acts like a big sail and you don’t want it to tip over.”

Mr Slater learnt to fly in the 1970s, as a 'hangar brat' at what is now Durham Tees Valley Airport, where he was given flying lessons in exchange for polishing aircraft.

He now lives in Berkshire, although his parents still live in Darlington.

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