Biplane project brings aviation history to lifeDate: 21 December 2003
IN A hangar at the Swartkop Air Force Base outside Pretoria, an aircraft like no other in existence is being built. The Paterson biplane an exact replica of the aircraft used to train South Africas first pilots in 1913 is expected to fly in two to three years.
There is nothing else of that type in the world, Lieutenant-Colonel Neil Thomas, the officer commanding the South African Air Force Museum, said this week. Its the first flying replica to be built. A non-flying replica of the Paterson is on display at the Pioneers of Aviation Museum in Kimberley.
Painstakingly carved out of wood and manufactured without industrial machinery even the hinges are handmade and the petrol tank fashioned out of copper the aircraft has been more than 12 years in the making. Most of the work was done by a volunteer, Ben Rodriguez, who passed away three years ago. He was in his 80s and had hoped to see it fly but sadly he never did, Thomas said. He had skills you dont find easily anymore.
The aircraft has 1.5km of bracing wires supporting the wingspan which require careful maintenance. After each flight you would have had to tweak them using a piano tuner, Thomas said. Changes to the original Paterson biplane design include the use of a synthetic material and not canvas for the wings, and the use of a modern engine and propeller.
When it does fly, it will probably only do so once before being retired to the museum, and will not leave the airfield.
It will be very much like the Wright brothers flight, Thomas said. We will restrict it to the runway and fly down it for 300m to 400m. We will also only be allowed to fly when it is cold and there is no wind. There is better lift when it is cold. If the slightest thing goes wrong it can crash. And although it only flies at about 40km/h, if it hits the ground at that speed, it will collapse like a house of cards. Its a true fly-by-wire aircraft with a wire cable to the controls, and a pedal which you push one way or the other to control the plane.