It’s 1914 and you’re high above the Russian Front, wrapped up in your flying gear, scarf, helmet and goggles. You’re flying a tiny monoplane constructed of wood and wire bracing, covered in fabric. As you search below, you spot an enemy aircraft climbing menacingly up towards you. Your aircraft is not equipped to carry guns but you do have one weapon, a grappling hook!
Such is the scenario that greets visitors to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, and its display of aviation from the Great War, known as the Knights of the Sky exhibition. The new exhibit was installed just last week (July 4th) in the reception foyer and is a full-scale replica Morane Saulnier G, as used by the Russian Ace, Aleksandr Kozakov.
In the early stages of the Great War, few aircraft were armed, but pilots soon began experimenting with ways to bring down the enemy and stop them spying on troop movements behind the lines. Some tried hurling bricks, others took pot shots with pistols or hunting rifles.
On the occasion depicted Kozakov flung a grappling hook on a long length of wire, with the intention of ripping apart the lightweight structure of his opponent’s machine. Unfortunately the two aircraft became entwined and Kozakov then attempted ramming his enemy in order to pull free. They both plummeted, until barely 200 feet from the ground, they disentangled and neither was killed. The German was taken prisoner and Kozakov went on to become Imperial Russia’s highest scoring Ace, using rather more conventional methods.
The idea of a Kozakov display had been in the back of my mind ever since I read about this bizarre episode. When Marlborough hosted the Russian rugby team during the Rugby World Cup, the idea gained traction and the Omaka AHC Board agreed to commission the build. Local enthusiast Dave Lochead was contracted to carry out the work, with the understanding that the wider aviation community would be on hand to volunteer expertise and facilities. In fact it turned into quite a community project and took two years to complete.
The aircraft was built to airworthy standard, so one day the decision might even be made to remove it from static display and see if it will fly. Perhaps without the grappling hook!
In the meantime this new display is a dramatic welcome to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre and sets the scene for the spectacular Knights of the Sky exhibition inside.