Johnson’s model plane at Quidi Vidi Lake.
model of the Vicars Vimy as it appears on the History
By Michelle Osmond
Dennis Johnson has always had an interest in building models
and in aviation history. Now, a model plane he worked on
for over two years is the star in a documentary on The History
Channel entitled The Great Atlantic Air Race.
Mr. Johnson, an electronic technologist with the Faculty
of Engineering and Applied Science, built the replica of
the Vicars Vimy in 1994 to commemorate the 75th anniversary
of the first non-stop transatlantic flight, made in 1919
by Capt. John Alcock and Lieut. Arthur Whitten Brown. The
original Vickers Vimy was built as a bomber for the first
World War but production was not completed in time.
It was built mainly of wood with fabric covering and was
powered by two Rolls Royce Eagle engines that could fly
for 100 hours before they needed to be serviced. After some
alterations were made it was put in crates and transported
to an airfield in Newfoundland on the May 26, 1919. Capt.
Alcock and Lieut. Brown took off for that famous flight
on the afternoon of June 14, 1919, from Lester’s Field.
The crew faced many problems. Besides delays, their radio
broke down shortly after take off and fog enveloped the
plane and prevented the fliers from seeing anything for
much of the journey. The next morning, however, Capt. Alcock
and Lieut. Brown reached Ireland.
Mr. Johnson also faced a number of problems
when building the model of the famous plane. There were
no plans, so he started with 3-D view drawings he got out
of a book. “It was a challenge just finding all of
the information I needed because it wasn’t just a
scale model, but a flying model. I did quite a bit of research.”
Mr. Johnson says he got a lot of help from friends and colleagues
in piecing together information.
About 1,800 hours and $1,000 later, he had duplicated the
aircraft’s control systems, materials and construction
“I felt it was important to recreate the history accurately
so every knob, dial and gage is like it appears in the original
and it all works the same way.” And it must have impressed
the experts because in 1996 there was a province-wide model
contest held at the Arts and Culture Centre. Mr. Johnson
didn’t show up for the awards ceremony but when he
came to take his model home, he had three trophies waiting
for him: Best in Show, Technical Achievement and Best in
In 2002, the model plane was on display in Labrador when
some Americans from Vimy Restorations Incorporated saw it.
They called The History Channel, who in turn, called Mr.
Johnson. He says he was very flattered by the request because
he has a lot of respect for the flight that “took
air flight from infancy to young adulthood in a single stroke
and pioneered the transatlantic route that aircrafts still
fly today.” Filming, he adds, took quite some time
but when he saw the finished product, about 80 per cent
of the shots used in the film were of his model.
In June 2004 the Vimy Atlantic team of Vimy Restorations
Incorporated will recreate the first direct crossing of
the Atlantic by John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown in
1919. Meanwhile, The Great Atlantic Air Race will
appear on The History Channel on Dec. 17 at 9 p.m.