First flight of WW1 fighter awaited
Restored by the Historic Aircraft Collection, Sopwith Pup N6161/G-ELRT made a static appearance at the Duxford Air Show on 10-11 September in advance of its maiden post-rebuild flight. The aircraft has been painstakingly reconstructed over the past four years using many original First World War component parts, including an original Le Rhone engine.
N6161 was built at Kingston-upon-Thames and delivered to St Pol, France, on 25 January 1917. Pilot Titch Rochford, test-flying the aircraft on 29 January 1917, recorded it as “very easy to loop. Comes over much easier than a Bristol Scout”. The Pup was allocated to No 9 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service on 1 February 1917, the day that the unit was formed.
That morning it was flown by George Elliott, who had just arrived in France and was on his first mission. His was one of two Pups escorting two Sopwith 1½ Strutters on a photo-reconnaissance flight over Bruges. At 12,500 feet they were intercepted by two Rumpler floatplanes flown by German pilots Carl Meyer and Bernd Niemeyer. Meyer, who was a very experienced pilot with four combat successes, managed to force Elliott down to land on the beach in Bredene. N6161 was captured intact and Elliott survived as a prisoner of war. It is said that Meyer wrote to Elliott in the Prisoner of War camps.
The Pup was then flown to Neumünster, where it was photographed in its British markings and then repaired and test-flown in German markings. It seems to have suffered a taxiing or landing accident and was pictured on its nose some time later.
Some of the original parts of the aircraft were retained by Meyer and, together with other personal effects, were passed down to his family following his death while testing a prototype Aviatik on 31 December 1917. They ended up in a small private museum in Alsace and subsequently were acquired by the present owner, Roy Palmer.
These remaining original parts have been incorporated, alongside other original Sopwith factory and period Pup components, in the reconstruction of N6161, which was undertaken by Retrotec, the restoration arm of the Historic Aircraft Collection. The aircraft now awaits test-flying at Duxford, and can meanwhile be seen on static display inside the airfield’s Air and Sea hangar. N6161 will initially be flown in its original British markings, but later on it is planned to paint it in the German colours.