Vimy Flight pilots kick off cross-Canada tour in Greenwood


Published on May 4, 2017

Vimy Flight pilots Larry Ricker and Dale Erhart posed for photos with their vintage First World War planes while visiting 14 Wing Greenwood May 4.

©Ashley Thompson

GREENWOOD - Vimy Flight pilot Dale Erhart likens the way his lightweight vintage aircraft moves with the wind to a dandelion floating in the sky.

“Every little motion you feel as the airplane gets tossed about,” he said in a recent interview at 14 Wing Greenwood.

“It’s definitely a thrill to fly.”

Erhart is among a small group of former military pilots flying a First World War replica aircraft in the Vimy Flight – Birth of a Nation cross-Canada tour.

“It’s a little bit like riding in a motorcycle. You have a helmet and a headset and the windshield is in front of you, but you certainly hear the engine,” the Vancouver Island resident said.

The Vimy Flight tour schedule includes a launch event at 14 Wing Greenwood May 6. This open house will give members of the public an opportunity to mingle with the pilots and learn about the aircraft flown by pilots 100 years ago in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Erhart had the unique opportunity to lead the Vimy Flight formation during a flyby at the commemorative ceremonies hosted in Vimy, France April 9.

“It was probably one of the highlights of my flying career,” he said, adding that he can only imagine what it would have been like to be a young, inexperienced pilot flying in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

“The original gun is mounted above the wing, so… when the magazine of bullets emptied they had to literally leave the fight, stand up, steer with their knees and then change the magazine while they’re getting shot at.”

Fellow Vimy Flight pilot Larry Ricker remembers seeing evidence of war in the landscape at the memorial site in France as he flew in the commemoration ceremony.

Vimy Flight pilot Dale Erhart poses with his aircraft during a recent visit to 14 Wing Greenwood.
Ashley Thompson

“It was very emotional because we know the story of Vimy Ridge and we know the important part that Canadians played in the success in that battle,” said Ricker, a Moncton, N.B. resident.

“Looking at the ground you see all these potholes from the bombs and shells that exploded there.”

The Royal Canadian Air Force transported the vintage Vimy Flight planes to France in a C-17.

The Vimy Flight aircraft is much smaller and lighter than the modern planes the participating pilots were accustomed to, Ricker said.

“They are very basic. These are the Nieuport 11 aircraft that are very similar to the ones that were flown in the (First World War) 100 years ago,” he said.

“They’re very maneuverable and we have to fly them manually all the time – no auto pilot . It’s challenging in its own way, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Ricker is looking forward to telling the Vimy story, and sharing his aircraft with Canadians throughout the country.

“When I first climbed into it, I realized it’s not like climbing into an airplane. You wear it, rather than you’re in it,” he said.

“It was a real thrill.”

Acting Wing Commander Sean Duggan was excited to welcome the Vimy Flight team to Greenwood’s military base.

“We don’t have anything of this vintage in our Greenwood Military Aviation Museum, so it’s nice to see these here,” said Duggan.

“I watched the coverage of the Vimy Ridge commemoration on April 9 and I got to see them fly past there, so it’s great to see them in person here.”

Learn more about the Vimy Flight tour at http://www.vimyflight.ca/.