Taking an Aeroplane Across the World

Nieuport 17 completed parts
Nieuport 17 completed parts
I have been peeling glue from my fingers for a week. This, too, is strangely cathartic. Insert long-winded, slightly purple prose about shedding the old skin and leaving troubles behind, blah-blah-blah. In reality, there are little fingerprint flakes all over my favourite spot on the chesterfield. Don’t tell His Nibs.

The Captain and I cut out the plastic bits last night after his hockey game (which his team won by a resounding 10-2), and this morning, before I was even out of bed, The Captain had glued together the wheels, the machine gun, the engine, and The Man Himself…the one we’ve all been waiting for… MISTER BILLY BISHOP! WWI Flying Ace! Dogfight Champion! The only British Air Force pilot to ever successfully complete a solo strafing run on a German aerodrome! (He was awarded the Victoria Cross for that one.) Sure, at the moment he’s all pasty white and looks just like every OTHER WWI Pilot, but this weekend is for covering the frames with tissue paper and painting the insignias and the miniatures. I’m sure we can get this little plastic pilot to look at least a *little* like Billy Bishop.

As we sat together last night working on the aeroplanes, I said something to him about how David would have been an awesome person to have helping us with the project. The Captain glanced over at me and said, “I’m not sure it’s healthy for you to dwell so much on things, Mum.”

I said, “of course, you’re right. But there is a time for grief, and for expressing your sorrow that you won’t be able to create new memories with your friend. I think building this plane has helped me not be so sad about things. And thinking about David isn’t a bad thing, I don’t think.”

He sighed and said, “I think I just cut my finger on this plastic.”

Once I had all of the component parts complete, I laid them out on the table in order of where they’d go on the finished product. I thought how amazing it is that just a week ago, this object taking shape before me had been a series of numbered, weirdly shaped flat pieces of balsa wood in die-cut lots at the bottom of a cardboard box. I remembered opening the box and thinking, this is going to be a hell of a ride, because all the models I’d done to that point had been cast or molded plastic. I’d never actually had to build a fuselage or a wing before. I’d never seen these parts take shape before my eyes.

Nieuport 17 completed parts - top view
Nieuport 17 completed parts – top view
Billy Bishop barely graduated from high school. He went to the Royal Military College and was asked to leave, but WWI broke out before they had the chance to actually give him the boot, and he signed up. He was not…good…at academics. He was ill when his unit got shipped overseas. As it ended up, he wasn’t even particularly good at flying. But he was very good at taking photographs and telling stories. And he was very, very good at shooting. He had a patron in Great Britain who got him audiences with all of the Most Important People. Not that he wanted that. But it was wanted on his behalf because it was felt that the troops needed a hero. Billy Bishop was that hero. And, incidentally, the day he did the strafing run on the German aerodrome solo was because his mates were too hung over and/or still too drunk to fly. When he returned, his plane was full of holes and was trailing bits behind it. But he returned. Time and time again, he returned. At a time when most pilots died within ten days, he claimed more than 72 “victories” (enemy aircraft shot down). For a time, he was the third most successful flying ace in the WORLD, behind a French aviator who was second to the Red Baron himself (Baron von Richthoven). By the end of the war, Bishop had outdone Rene Fonck (the French aviator) by a score of three, and the Red Baron had been shot down by Arthur Brown, another Canadian in the RAF.

I can’t think of another more testosterone-fuelled, absolutely ludicrous and insane thing to do than to get into vehicles made of chopsticks and burlap with unreliable motors that would then trundle down a field and maybe – MAYBE – lift off before smashing into the trees (Billy Bishop did that, btw)…only to then fly around in an open cockpit with a gun MOUNTED TO THE TOP WING and shoot at other people in chopstick-and-burlap planes while trying to dodge their bullets. Like, if I wrote a book about this, NOBODY WOULD BUY IT. They would tell me, “that’s ridiculous. That would never happen. It just doesn’t even make sense.”

In addition to fusing balsa wood like it’s going out of style, it turns out that model plane cement is also good for fixing shoes. At David’s wake, I threw a heel on my favourite boots. As Pete the Shoemaker from my mum’s hometown would say, “gluick. Gluick will fix. Pete will gluick.” Pete’s long gone, but whenever I have to repair something, I always say “Pete will gluick.” And, as you can see here, Pete, as it were, has gluicked.

Adventurer's Boots
Adventurer’s Boots

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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