Vimy Flight group’s last pass over Victoria

Canadian pilot Larry Ricker soars high above the Saanich Peninsula during an Oct. 13 flight demonstration for the Vimy Flight: Birth of A Nation tour. Credit: Heath Moffatt Photography

Canadian pilot Larry Ricker soars high above the Saanich Peninsula during an Oct. 13 flight demonstration for the Vimy Flight: Birth of A Nation tour. Credit: Heath Moffatt Photography

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Those magnificent men and their First World War flying machines made one last flight, soaring high over the British Columbia Aviation Museum, located near the Victoria International Airport.

Over the Oct. 14 weekend, Captain (Retired) Larry Ricker, lead pilot in the Vimy Flight: Birth of A Nation tour, delighted onlookers with demonstration flights in his replica Nieuport 11, a First-World-War-era bi-plane.

Over 200 spectators attended the event that was the final stop in the group of 10 volunteer pilot’s 33 city, cross-country tour that began in May.

Ricker is a pilot for Air Canada and says he marvels at the simplicity of the planes every time he steps in the cockpit.

“The Nieuport is a true delight to fly, it’s a pilot’s aircraft,” he said after a smooth landing back at the museum. “You need to have your hands on the ­controls all the time when you are flying or you will get into trouble fairly quickly. It’s a challenging aircraft, probably the smallest I have ever flown.”

Prior to embarking on their pan-Canadian tour in the spring, the Vimy Flight group loaded four Nieuports 11s, two Sopwith Pups, and one SE5A from the Canadian Flight Museum in Surrey into a Canadian Forces C-17 Cargo plane in Comox, which transported them to France. Vimy Flight pilots then performed before an international audience in a commemorative fly-past during 100th Anniversary commemorative events for the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9.

Now their travelling air show is coming to an end with a final non-flying appearance at the Rooms Museum in St. John’s, Newfoundland on Nov. 11.

“Now that we can see the end post of this tour in sight, we are starting to realize the enormity of the journey this group has been through,” said Major (Retired) Paul O’Reilly, a founding member of Vimy Flight. “Every time I see the planes take off at the end of the tour a little bit of me goes with them and I almost feel a tear welling up in my eye.”

The grand finale in Newfoundland will also feature the third and final film in the documentary series A Nation Soars. The final of the trilogy Flight Path of Heroes, produced by Sound Venture Productions, will focus on the 2017 flight at Vimy and feature spectacular aerial footage from the cockpits of the planes.

O’Reilly was unable to fly his plane, nicknamed Pokey, and dedicated to former Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Air Commodore Alan Duncan Bell-Irving, who became the first-ever Canadian ace in Royal Flying Corps. A medical condition kept him grounded and Captain Brent Handy, an RCAF pilot from 15 Wing Moose Jaw, took O’Reilly’s place for the Vimy flyover.

O’Reilly and Ricker both said the Vimy Flight helped raise awareness of what young aviators faced when they climbed into these warplanes planes with little or no flying experience. Ricker noted the stark contrast to today’s world, pointing out that the 10 Vimy Flight pilots have over 230,000 hours of combined flying experience.

“You think about it, these young pilots, some as young as 17 or 18, would climb into these planes with no parachute, no radios, and most of them had as little as seven hours of training experience before going into combat,” said Ricker. “That took a huge amount of courage, and that is what we dedicated our tour to, those young brave Canadian aviators.”

Ricker said O’Reilly’s plane used for the tour will be donated to the RCAF, and then he hopes to see it put on public display at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum or other museums.

The weekend-long event at the B.C. Aviation Museum also included a meet and greet with Ricker and four other pilots in the group, a multimedia presentation on the Battle of Vimy Ridge by volunteer pilot Dale Erhart, and performances by the members of Victoria Esquimalt Military Re-Enactors Association..

For more information about the Vimy Flight Group visit their website:

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