NICK Caudwell has high expectations for a project that’s taken nearly a decade to complete.
In the next few months he plans to fly a Sopwith Snipe biplane that he has completely built from the ground up using original blueprints.
He has handcrafted the timber frame, and meticulously and laboriously shrunk and coated linen with about 10 layers of dope (plasticised lacquer) for the plane’s outer skin, which is stitched to the frame.
The one original specification not followed is the engine.
“I couldn’t get an original Bentley AR 1 rotary engine and have instead used a Second World War radial engine that was built in the United States,” Mr Caudwell said.
The seven-cylinder Continental W670 engine was used in the PT-Stearman training aircraft as well as Stuart tanks and military landing craft.
Other original equipment sourced from collectors around the world included gun sights from eBay.
Mr Caudwell’s plane took shape over the past nine and a half years in the garage of his Mt Eliza house with the wings and fuselage being taken separately to Tyabb airfield to be assembled.
Another Snipe built in New Zealand by film director Peter Jackson (King Kong, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) has already taken to the air.
“They started after me, when I was about halfway through, but they also had a team working on it,” Mr Caudwell said.
His decision to build the plane followed retirement from Cathay Pacific where he was captain of a Boeing 747, or jumbo jet.
He chose the Sopwith Snipe (successor to the more famous Sopwith Camel) because of its use over France in the First World War by the Australian Flying Corps, the forerunner of the RAAF. The plane was never based in Australia.
“The Snipe replaced the Sopwith Camel in the last few years of the war and was used by the RAF until 1926 in Iraq and Turkey,” Mr Caudwell said.
“Australian Elwyn Roy ‘Bo’ King was the top-scoring Snipe pilot, with seven kills. His actual tally was 26, but they were not all from the Snipe.”
King, whose kill count made him the fourth “highest scoring” Australian pilot of the war, survived the conflict and died in 1941 aged 47.
Mr Caudwell said that after retiring, he wanted to learn new skills – metalwork, turning and fitting and working with wood – and hand-building a plane seemed a fitting project.
These skills and more were needed to follow blueprints sourced from Hedon Museum in England and magazines published in the United States.
While Mr Caudwell’s Snipe will be on display at Tyabb Air Show on Sunday 9 March, its inaugural flight is some months away.
Once it has been issued a certificate of airworthiness, Mr Caudwell plans to head off into the wild blue yonder squeezed between two Vickers machineguns while sitting on a basket chair supported by the top of the fuel tank.
“It’ll be all right,” he confidently said on Friday while sitting in the cockpit safely on the ground at Tyabb.