Stow Maries/Maldon: Lord of the Wings - Oscar winner to help bring First World War planes to Essex
11:32 29 January 2014
Oscar winning director Peter Jackson – famous for his interpretation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy – is part of an ambitious scheme to bring a collection of First World War fighter planes to an Essex airfield.
The high-flying filmmaker –whose other credits include The Hobbit and a remaking of King Kong – is chairman of a New Zealand-based trust, which maintains around 40 reproduction aircraft – some of which, it is hoped, will ultimately form a permanent collection at the Stow Maries Aerodrome in Purleigh near Maldon.
To make the dream a reality, Mr Jackson’s organisation is working with a group of enthusiasts in the UK – the World War I Aviation Heritage Trust – to ship a number of planes halfway across the world each year between 2014 and 2018.
The reproduction Fokkers and Sopwiths will initially be flown at air shows and displays around the country as part of the First World War centenary commemorations.
According to chief trustee Dick Forsythe, the idea of shipping planes across in batches – starting with aircraft from 1914 – is to show the incredible development in flying technology that took place during the conflict.
He said: “At the start of the war, the Air Force only had 30 planes, which could reach a maximum height of 3,000ft and took three days to fly to France. “By 1918, there were 22,000 aircraft, with some able to reach 20,000ft. Huge advancements were made during the war and we hope to tell that story.”
According to Mr Forsythe, whose grandfather earned a Distinguished Flying Cross during the conflict, one of the most significant developments was the ability to synchronise the machine gun with the rotation of the propeller so the bullets could pass through.
“The Germans got there first in 1915 and the Brits were still putting metal tips on the propellers to deflect bullets that hit them,” he added.
The World War I Aviation Heritage Trust hopes to raise the funds to buy one plane from each year, which will remain in the country and be housed at Stow Maries.
The north Essex aerodrome is currently in a state of disrepair but was recently awarded a £1.5million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to help restore its historic location – the only existing First World War airfield to remain virtually untouched since 1918.
There are also plans to develop an apprenticeship scheme aimed at training people in the skills needed to restore and preserve the planes.
“With the centenary commemorations in view, this is a unique opportunity to bring these planes across and explain how the story of the First World War in the air happened,” said Mr Forsythe.