Written by: Maggie Ganley- Senior, Morningside College
As visitors walk into the soaring lobby of the museum, they are greeted by a locally home built replica of an early 1900’s French Nieuport 11 airplane. The plane marks the first time America became heavily involved with air warfare. Looking back to February of 1916, a fleet of Nieuport 11s were sent out to help with the Battle of Verdun--one of the longest and bloodiest battles during the war.
In the early 1900’s, the United States didn’t see a need for aviation. It wasn’t until the U.S. got involved in World War I that a true need for air defense for our country arose. At the time, the U.S. didn’t have an air-force, so any American who wanted to learn to be a fighter pilot, had to train in France. Once the pilots were trained, they doubled as both bomber pilots and forward observers in the single engine, single seat Nieuport 11. During combat, the pilots would act as bomber pilots, flying over the enemy with their racks of hand grenades, pulling the pins, and throwing the grenades overboard. As forward observers, the pilots would record information about the enemy troops as they flew overhead. They then put their notes into a canister and dropped the canister off over their home base.
The Nieuport planes, weren’t originally well equipped for combat. In fact, the first Nieuports had issues with their machine gun mounts. The guns weren’t timed with the propellers properly so they shot the propellers off. However, engineers soon resolved this problem. After adding the timing chain, which ensured that the machine gun would only fire when the propellers were in the horizontal position, the pilots were able to properly mount and use machine guns during battle.
The Nieuport 11 at the museum was built by Bob Heath, a Sioux City native, from plans drafted by Graham Lee of Canada. The aircraft is a flyable, ⅞th scaled version of the original, because the full version would need a larger engine. This was Heath’s first home built aircraft inspected by the FAA and received an Airworthiness Certificate. He acquired knowledge about planes and their construction while in the U.S. Air Force. The airplane was mostly constructed in the basement of his house. Upon completion it was reassembled outdoors.
Come see the Nieuport 11 at the Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation (MAMAT) and immerse yourself in America’s proud history of flight.