Volunteers are currently restoring a Sopwith Pup which once completed, will be the only original flying Sopwith Pup. While there are a number of flying replicas around, there’s nothing quite like an original!
The Pup B1807 was built as a Home Defence night fighter in 1917, by the Standard Motor Company in Coventry.
Originally issued to 112 HD (Home Defence) Sqn at Throwley (now an empty field in Kent). The aircraft flew on an anti Gotha patrol on 12 August 1917, flown by Second Lieutenant J.G Goodyear.
On 22 August 1917 the aircraft was flown by Second Lieutenant N.E Chandler on another anti Gotha patrol.
There appears to be no record of any combat on either of those flights.
The Pup was then re-issued to 36 Home Defence Sqn which is believed to have been based at Cramlington, just north of Newcastle. There are no dates for this period.
Again the Pup was re-issued to 198 (Night) Training Sqn, based at Rochford (now called Southend airport) and the squadron code ‘A7’ was applied. Once again there are no dates for this period
On 18 September 1918 the aircraft was then moved to No.39 Sqdn at North Weald Basset in the Southern Area, where it remained until after armistice.
About this time during its military career, the original 100hp Monosoupape rotary engine was replaced with the standard fitment of an 80hp Le Rhone engine. Although it retained its distinctive ¾ cowling complete with cooling louvres . . which it retains to this day !
On 2 November 1920 the aircraft was registered on the Civil Register as G-EAVX by the Aircraft Disposal Company, at Waddon (Croydon). Being registered to A.R.M. Rickards.
F/O (later Wg/Cdr) A.R.M. Rickards D.S.O., of Fairford (Cirencester) Rickards was an R.A.F. pilot who was forced down at Waddon (Croydon, later to become London Airport of Imperial Airways fame) by bad weather whilst on a cross country flight, with his good friend and Senior Officer, a Norwegian called Trygge Gran.
At this time Waddon was one of the airfields used by the newly formed Aircraft Disposals Company which was founded by Frederick Handley Page, who put himself and his brother Theodore, at the helm of what became known as Airdisco. The Government of the day insisted that all contracts which were let to aircraft manufacturers during the First World War, were completed even though the War had ended. There were rows upon rows of aircraft, some of them brand new, straight off the production lines, waiting to be disposed of. Several thousand were sold to private buyers but a great many more of them were simply destroyed, some of them immediately after they had been inspected by airworthiness Engineers and in full sight of the factory where they were built.
I would recommend further reading on this company in the form of Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume’s “The Great War-Plane Sell Off . . . or . . . what to do with 25,000 redundant military aircraft, engines and spares”. It describes in great and amusing detail how this one company formed by a significant aircraft manufacturer, almost brought killed off the British aircraft manufacturing industry.
Both Rickards and Gran bought a Pup each during the forced visit, whilst looking around the serried rows of aircraft waiting to be disposed of. Gran intimated later in his writings that the aircraft type was familiar to both of them and known to be an easy to handle aircraft. Trygvve Grans’ aircraft was also a former night fighter sporting a manufacturers’ code of C312, and was registered (on 27 October 1920)as G-EAVW . . no trace of this aircraft exists beyond this point
In Grans’ book “My Life between Heaven and Earth” (Mitt liv mellom himmel og jord) 1979 he wrote . . .
One day in November Rickards and I were forced to land on a depot airfield due to
very bad weather. During our forced stay there we discovered two surplus Sopwith
machines for sale at very reasonable prices .
” Let’s buy them ,” I said , ” and fly them to Norway during the Christmas holiday “ .
“ Great “ said my friend , and a deal was done within the hour .
Two days later the machines were in the hanger at the Andover unit . Our best mechanics overhauled them and everything was ready for the journey, which we knew could be dangerous . There were plenty of people who warned me against this adventure and among these well meaning people there was also a lady from a very good family, an English princess . When Her Highness understood that the warnings were to no avail she gave me a good luck charm . With that and my own lucky penny around my neck I felt everything would be ok .
Rickards and I started one morning at dawn after a week waiting for good weather , heading for Amsterdam as our first stop . We flew side by side but before we reached the coast we flew straight into the worst snowstorm you can imagine , and we had to make an emergency landing in a field near Margate in Kent .
This was just a few days before Christmas and I realised our chances of reaching Norway in time for Christmas were very slim . I suggested to Rickards we use the prevailing wind and fly to Newcastle . That was Saturday and with some luck we could reach the Bergenske Dampskibs Selskap’s steamer ” Jupiter ” , due to depart for Norway that afternoon . Rickards agreed and we flew north . This flight was quite interesting . We flew one hot on the heels of the other while the snow whirled around us . Polar flying under bad weather conditions would not have been much different from this , but with the wind behind us we kept up a good speed and after 1½ hours we were flying over Hull . 1¼ hours later we landed at a military airport outside Newcastle . We were quite frozen and when we boarded ” Jupiter ” and told Captain Hansen about our adventure he exclaimed , ” Pilots are not as sane as ordinary folks “.
After 14 days holiday Rickards and I travelled back to Andover. Immediately my friend received orders to prepare for Egypt . The situation around Suez was becoming tense . Rickards looked forward to the mission and when the hour of departure actually came his face was beaming . In front of him was another adventure *.
Gran’s service records shows that he was on leave from 20 December 1920 until 22 January 1921. Rickards’ movement records show that his posting date for the Middle East was effective on 8 January 1921, so it is very possible that they both travelled back to the U.K. soon after New Year 1921, for Rickards to meet the requirements of his new posting.
Over the next three years Rickards went on to complete some astounding work, surveying Yemen and other areas in what is now Saudi Arabia. After being repatriated to the U.K. on other flying duties he returned several times to the Middle East. He was killed in a flying accident on 30 October 1937 at Khor Gharim.
‘VX re-appeared at the 1921 Aerial Derby at Hendon, where it witnessed the death of the famous Harry Hawker during a test flight prior to the racing. It was flown in the Derby by a Mr. Dring Leslie Forestier-Walker, who ground looped the aircraft after feeling unwell during the flight on 16th July 1921. Footage of the aircraft can be found on the British Pathe News reel at 00:46 on the Pathe News site.
It looks like the pilot has “ground looped” the aircraft. If anyone has any information on this pilot and how he came to be flying this aircraft, the team would be very interested to hear from them. The aircraft was taken to the Graham-White hangars on the airfield, where it remained for what is believed to be two years (the same hangars are now preserved at the RAF Museum), during that time the wings were sold to P.T. Capon who was an Engineer and Journalist and amongst other things, the Chief Engineer for Cierva (U.K.). After this G-EAVX was supposedly disposed of by being set fire to, along with two limousines!
However, Capon told Kelvyne Baker that the aircraft which was burnt, had a Monosoupape engine in it, clearly it wasn’t ours !
The remains were bought by Kelvyne Baker in 1972, who had been told that the fuselage of two aircraft were in a barn on a farm in Somerset, the property of which was being disposed of by auction. He was led to believe that the bits and pieces were parts of a De-Havilland Puss Moth. You’d be pleased to know that despite this, he is happy that he bought it. (That’s the current situation anyway!)
The aircraft were in a sorry state having been stored with their tails exposed to the elements. One fuselage was fairly quickly identified as a Bristol Fighter, but the other defied identification. There were other parts, including the wings which belonged to the ‘Brisfit’, undercarriage, wheels and parts of engines etc., which Kelvyne bought.
Intrigued by the unidentified fuselage, Kelvyne started rebuilding it almost immediately, although the aircraft was moved to several different workshops, where Kelvyne and his friends managed to almost complete the fuselage. It was during this rebuld that Wally Berry from the Shuttleworth collection paid Kelvyne a visit and identified the fuselage as a Sopwith Pup.
Now he had an aircraft type, so along with the manufacturer’s plate found with the aircraft, Kelvyne contacted the Civil Aviation Authority. The records they held identified the Pup as B1807 / G-EAVX, intriguingly stating that Kelvyne’s restoration will be rebuild number 2. There are no records of the first rebuild, although it is possible that rebuild 1 was when the Pup took on its’ civilian guise when Rickards owned it.
Since then the Popular Flying Association (now LAA) has scrutinised the work throughout the build, so the fuselage is ostensibly airworthy. Due to workshop ownership changes, the aircraft had to be placed in storage in 1985, and was subsequently moved to Kelvynes’ garage, where the build had almost stopped due to lack of space. A chance meeting with Nick Carey-Harris put Kelvyne in touch with the Royal Naval Historic Flight Director, John Beattie. On seeing the aircraft John immediately offered space in a hangar at RNAS Yeovilton for the rebuild to continue.
The aircraft moved to RNAS Yeovilton on 30 March 2007, where it was hoped that work would recommence on the aircraft. However, financial issues and changes in the team of volunteers meant that very little work was done.
In late 2010 the Pup was moved to a private airfield, owned by a North Somerset businessman, Derek Paget, and moved again to a large garage near Kelvyne’s home. The Pup moved once more to an airfield in Somerset, which boasts workshop facilities and expertise to assist the team . . . and maybe even speed them up !
Even after all these years, the Pup still has the original illuminated night-flying instruments, which still work. Other work includes refitting the turtle decking behind the cockpit, assembling the port side cowl fairing, and building from scratch the front fuselage lower cowl which forms part of the engine exhaust vent . . a major piece of kit !
The wings are probably the biggest job to complete now, as the original main spars needed to be remade as they were a bit out of shape! The Sitka Spruce for the spars was obtained at great cost, and has been machined to the required shape. The now completed main spars are currently being populated with ribs, compression struts, interplane wiring and a myriad of other bits and pieces, as this is being written.
Progress has been painfully slow due to all the team members using their own funds to contribute to the costs of the restoration. The team are still actively seeking sponsorship, however any contribution would be very gratefully received!
The people currently involved in the restoration include Kelvyne Baker, Nick Harris, Jason Nuttall, and Mike Waldron. Obviously we’re receiving lots of encouragement and assistance, which we are all very grateful for, especially from Kelvyne’s wife, Sue. Other supporters include Standard Motor Company Club members Phil Homer, Bob Richards and Joe Wardby.
Some prolonged research has found that this Pup is the only original example of the type. Most others are replicas or constructed from parts of original Pups. The only exception to that is the airworthy Shuttleworth Collection Pup, which was originally built post 1918 as a “Dove” . . a two seat Pup. It has been converted into a standard Pup.