Building a Replica

Maintenance schools build replicas of WWI aircraft for flight upon completion

Can we make history come alive? Yes — and that is the goal of eight aviation maintenance schools across the country. The contest is on for the Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM) students to build a replica World War I aircraft that will be flown upon completion.

The eight campuses (Atlanta, Chesapeake, Dallas, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Manassas, Orlando, and Philadelphia) each have a team project. The program is designed to help students develop a sense of the responsibility associated with working on an airworthy aircraft, rather than on a training aide. AIM selected WWI replica aircraft because there are plenty of proven replica plans available, they are relatively easy to construct with simple materials, and they provide a high profile item for school marketing and recruitment.

The WWI student project in Chesapeake, VA, started February 2007, with the decision to build a Nieuport 24 biplane. The plans were purchased and students started ordering materials. As the material started coming in, student excitement increased.

The first item on the agenda was to build special long tables with adjustable feet so the table can be level for the construction process. These tables will be used for the fabrication of the fuselage which is the main body of the aircraft and also for the wings.

Once the tables were constructed, the project then focused on the aircraft plans and learning how to bend steel tubing and construct the fuselage.

Students elected to make some changes in the name of safety, like the use of steel tubing. “In 1917 when this aircraft was first made, steel tubing was not used for the fuselage but our students also wanted to make this airplane better and safer than the original aircraft,”says Brad Groom, academic coordinator, AIM.

Different teams were set up to start the construction of the fuselage, rudder, stabilizer, and the elevator. Team Chesapeake was on a roll!

The fuselage was constructed by building the top and bottom first, placed in a jig, and then the vertical sides were welded in place. Meanwhile the other teams of students made progress bending tubing to form the rudder, stabilizer, and elevator.

After these flight controls were completed they needed to be installed onto the fuselage. The landing gear needed to be built next. This took a little more time than when it was built in 1917 because the students had to come up with a modern-day braking system.

The next task for the students was to create a reservoir to hold the hydraulic fluid and construct all the tubing which carries the fluid to the brake system. When the fuselage was on the landing gear the flight controls could be secured in place. Slowly but surely, the pieces were coming together and it was starting to look like an aircraft.

In WWI this aircraft had a radial engine installed on it. Trying to make this replica as close as possible to the original, AIM purchased a new Rotec 3600 radial engine to give this airplane an authentic look with the reliability of a modern engine.

The students started working on the instrumentation for the cockpit, the rudder pedals, and cables to control the flight controls, the seat, and the control stick that is used to operate the flight controls. As before, teams of students took on these tasks and moved forward with the challenges and succeeded.

Many tasks and challenges lay ahead for these students, but the students are committed to this long-term project with the supervision of their airframe and powerplant instructors.

After completion of the aircraft, the necessary pre-flight and flight-testing will be accomplished at an airport near each school. The aircraft will then be available for display at local events and nearby air shows. When all eight airplanes are completed, they will be transported to AIM’s company airport ( in Virginia Beach, VA. There, the aircraft will be reassembled and flown individually and as a group to demonstrate their capabilities.

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