History

The story of how this Dr1 came to be where it is today is a very compelling one, to say the least.

Now that we have toiled for the past 25 years to get this aircraft back into our Family, this Dr.1 will be enjoyed for future generations.

Being one of two Dr1 Triplanes built by Bitz Flugzeugbau in Germany in 1964 for the film industry, it rapidly became highly popular and well recognized as one of the stars of many classic aviation movies like The Blue Max, Von Richtofen and Brown, and others. The fleet of World War One replicas, owned by ex-RCAF fighter pilot Lynn Garrison’s “Blue Max Aviation”, was based at Baldonnel  before being moved to Weston Aerodrome at Leixlip. To some, getting the aircraft for them selves would see them dismantling it in the quiet seclusion of the aerodrome where the collection was stored, slipping away to the harbors with their stolen loot, USA being their destination.

The one scene that seems to be emblazoned in everyone’

s memory is the scene where the Blue Max Triplane is flown under a bridge as Stachel and Willi Von Klugermann battle in a contest of flying skills and courage.

Stunt pilot, Derek Piggott, flew both Stachel’s and Von Klugermann’s planes for the bridge storming scene, but this was preceded by owner/operator, Lynn Garrison demonstrating the maneuver first. With multiple camera angles (including one from a trailing helicopter) Piggott actually flew under the bridge over twenty times. To prove that the sequence was real, sheep were placed in the field next to the bridge so that they would scatter as the plane approached. However, as can be seen in the continuity, by the 20th take the sheep had become blasé and didn’t scatter any more, and required a scare from the herder to move. Preceding this scene though, is the moment that the late Charles Boddington performs a perfect barrel roll maneuver. If you have not yet seen the film, it is something that you must view. The engine sounds and choreography is superb, especially for the era.

The theft of this aircraft, by The Director of the Aeroflex Museum, during 1978, will make an interesting story on this site in the future, along with the tracking of the missing machine until its recovery at The Wings and Wheels Auction, coordinated by Christies Auction House, and its director, Mr. P. Lindsay…

.also a collector of aircraft. The owner, Lynn Garrison heard a rumor that this was the case, and proceeded to follow through with the courts in California and Florida to re-gain possession of his beloved Triplane. This story is delved into with much greater detail in the February 2011 release of the online publication, WWI Aero.

You can read the full article right here on Blue-Max-Triplane.org as well
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It was, in fact, his favourite aircraft of all that he had owned in his extensive career.   Shortly after, he was driving back to Chino California with it on a trailer behind his faithful Chevrolet pickup. It was to be stored at Bruce Goessling’ shop Unlimited Aircraft Limted, before it was Chino Planes of Fame that dominated the scene. The hopes were that it would sit safely in front of the shop where it was to be restored in the following years. Bruce was in the midst of many other projects at that time, restoring aircraft that  are now in some of the most prominent collections of Warbirds in the USA . Again, in the shadows of the seclusion on the Chino airfield, someone slipped away yet again with the Dr1, this time aided by the fact that it was already loaded onto a trailer, ready to haul. In the trusted world of aviation, temptation befell yet another. It was a short path to being abandoned at a Los Angeles area A+P technician’

s shop. Years later, the business closed down, and the owner of the shop took the Dr1 home to store in his back yard. Again, after more time passing, his home was sold, and the aircraft lay hidden in the over grown shrubbery, waiting to be discovered by the startled new owners of the house.

After a prominent life in the film industry, the Bitz built Dr1 of Blue Max fame found itself stored, derelict and neglected for decades under a lean-to in the back yard of a residence in Southern California. FLABOB Airfield has been in the area the longest, and was once the home of the Appelby’s WWI aircraft replica shop, and was also the home of the first chapter of the EAA. This was where the Dr1 was to be sent, and in came these three gentlemen pictured below. They had the task of cutting away the vegetation that obscured the bird, and loaded it’

s remains to a trainer and placed it in a closed secure storage in a distant corner of FLABOB where it would sit for the next 6 years.

John Lyon, Executive Director of FLABOB and two assistants, Jim and Carl spent some time cutting the years of blackberry and thick grape vine growth away from the airframe, and carefully removed what remained of the wings from the pile that they were in, all done in a manner that preserved their condition in the best way.

Time was to tell if the efforts of the staff at FLABOB to find the last legal owner would bring any success.

Then, in the Winter of 2008, a posting was made on the internet , on the Aerodrome chat forum, asking a question about a Triplane of unknown origin. The process of verifying the identity of this aircraft and proving our legal ownership of it had been started. In the following months, the story would be unfolding, leaving more questions than were answered. One thing was clear in it all though-

This Dr1 was heading home for the last time.

The process of re-creating the wings for the Bitz Dr.1 has been started.  We have Ron Sands Wing Drawings as well as an original Bitz set for this very aircraft, and we have been offered copies of engine manufacture notes and repair manuals.

It is a steel tubing fuselage, wood winged, full scale Dr1 Triplane, powered by a

SH-14  7 cylinder radial air-cooled engine.

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Lynn goes a bit deeper into the theft of the Blue Max Triplane for WWI Aero, and we were given the cover for February 2010

Read the full article below, or, click the link to purchase a full copy of the February issue or WWI Aero .

YOU CAN GET YOUR OWN FULL COPY BY CLINKING THE LINK BELOW
at WWI AERO MAGAZINE-CLICK THIS LINK

FEBRUARY 2011

Third Time’s A Charm – The Blue Max Triplane Comes Home

Lynn Garrison

Email: bitztriplane@gmail.com

Website: www.blue-max-triplane.org

This Fokker Triplane was one of two examples built for the film industry in 1964 by Bitz Flugzeugbau. The aircraft was part of the author’s “Blue Max” collection, and appeared in such films as The Blue Max and Von Richthofen and Brown before it was stolen in 1978. Over the last 30 years, the machine has amassed an amazing history that included two thefts and decades of neglect, before it was permanently returned to its original owner in 2009. This photo was taken in Ireland in 1978. Photo: Lynn Garrison

Unlike a wedding anniversary, there are dates that remain riveted in your memory, forever.

October 15, 1978 is one such moment in time.

Sunday morning was one of those “soft days,” as the Irish called them; hours of steady drizzle from a solid overcast. This particular “soft day”had been with us for a week, with no end in sight. One of those Atlantic depressions was stuck over the island, waiting for another destination. I had decided to remain indoors, working on an article for Air Progress when the phones two-tone ring interrupted my concentration.

Before I could say hello, a frantic voice, at the other end of the connection, squeaked…”Someone’s stolen the Triplane!!!” Since my crew was prone to making jokes, I didn’t take the comment seriously until the details were explained.

Sometime during the night my hangar at Powersourt Estate, just outside of Dublin, had been broken into. My Fokker Dr.1 Triplane had been broken down for transport off-site and removed.  My engineer had already informed the authorities, and they were on the way.

Air Progress was forgotten as I made the 20 minute drive to Powerscourt, a beautiful estate that had been the residence of Oliver Cromwell when he was suppressing the rebellious Irish between 1649 and 1653. It was now home to the Slazenger family, of sporting goods fame. The entire Slazenger family was involved with aviation and welcomed my film operation to their facility, which had a very nice grass field.  My two hangars were nestled beneath some mature trees at the end of this strip.

Frederick Forsyth in the Blue Max Triplane

As a side comment, Frederick Forsyth, who wrote Day of the Jackal, Odessa File and Dogs of War lived right at the end of our take-off path. Forsyth had been an RAF pilot in 1954, when I was flying with the RCAF, so he would spend his spare time with our aircraft.

.

As I drove towards the problem, I thought back over the events that had brought me to this point in time.  My first thoughts were of the memories of a being a small boy growing up during World War Two which, to my young mind, was just one big adventure, full of exciting aircraft. Calgary, Alberta, my home-town, was the center of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which turned out something like 150,000 aircrew for service overseas. My family hosted aircrew trainees, during their fortnightly leave, and I became hooked on aviation. My one goal was to fly and, during March of 1954 I set out along the path that had finally brought me to Powerscourt Estate, in mid-seventies, having transferred my operation from an earlier base at Weston Aerodrome, Liexlip, Ireland. Powerscourt became a second home for my two sons, Tony and Patrick, both of whom have retained a deep interest in aviation.

I flew for 10 years in the RCAF and started to collect aircraft, scattered around the countryside as left-overs of the war.  1965 saw me in California for a project and I soon became involved with the folks that were producing The Blue Max. 20th Century Fox had accumulated a sizeable collection of aircraft for this production, backed by everything else such as uniforms and period vehicles.  I purchased these and, among other things, found myself the proud owner of two replica Fokker Dr.1 Triplanes, constructed by Joseph Bitz in Germany. Bitz designed the Bucker Jungmeister, and Jungman.  In 2011, Bitz Flugzeugbau still exists.

The Triplane became one of my favourites, after I mastered its eccentricities. It lacked many of the subtleties found in most aircraft, but had some special traits of its own.  With the Siemens SH-14 radial, it had plenty of power and would bounce into the air within a couple of hundred feet.

Flying off a grass strip had its advantages. You could just point into the wind and go! This avoided the problems involved with crosswinds. It also reduced the problems of steering the Triplane on the ground.  The tail skid maintained a drag which allowed some control. Try and taxi this aircraft on pavement, and you will know what I mean. It just goes around in circles.

In general, the control feel was similar to that exhibited by a Link Trainer.

These were the thoughts that transited my mind, during the 20 minute drive to Powerscourt. I pulled into the parking area and left my car next to that of the Garda Siochana, Ireland’s police.  A Superintendent was already inside the hangar, looking at the floor where a few pieces of the missing aircraft remained.

It was obvious that the thieves had used bolt cutters to facilitate their crime. Tracks from their vehicle had left indentations in the grass.

I managed to keep the investigation alive by suggesting that some IRA fanatic might put rockets on the aircraft for an attack of Stormont Castle in Northern Ireland. The severities hosted many problems in Ireland and an attack on Stormont, home of Northern Ireland’s parliament, would be a major, unwanted event.

All leads were exhausted, with absolutely no result. Early that Sunday morning a milkman had observed the Triplane being towed along the road, perched on a trailer.

Fokker Dr.1 Triplane EI-APW had simply ceased to exist in a country where there were no secrets, if one waited long enough. Patience would see someone talk. But, in this case, patience did absolutely nothing! The police worry turned to disbelief as no word of the machine came to them, through their very efficient network of informants. No one boasted of the theft.

In 1979 I returned to California in an effort to put a TV series together with the Hawaii 5-0 team.  Time passed and EI-APW was forgotten.

On December 1, 1981 I was wandering through a supermarket and stopped at the magazine rack to leaf through the latest Air Progress. To my amazement, in the centerfold, was an ad for the WINGS & WHEELS auction in Orlando, Florida. Featured on this ad was a photo of my Triplane, easily identified by a special panel behind the cockpit for the mounting of camera equipment. The auction was being coordinated by Patrick Lindsay, a director of Christies auction house. I knew Patrick Lindsay, who was a collector of aircraft and owned a Spitfire. He had tried to purchase one of my Fokker D-V11s but wouldn’t meet my price.

The auction was scheduled for December 6, which left little time.

Someone recommended an attorney in Orlando. He was fascinated by the case and promised to handle it for me but said I would probably require some sort of bond in order to support what he planned to do. Another call to another old aviation friend, and I received a promise to supply a bond, in whatever sum I might need. A flight to Orlando, a quick appearance before a judge who was also intrigued with this crime, and we had a document that effectively short-circuited the Constitution. It allowed us to take possession of the Triplane before any legal action was initiated. The Sheriff was also intrigued with the situation and personally drove me to the huge former-Strategic Air Command hangar where WINGS & WHEELS had been located, now focus of a major Christies aviation/automotive auction. Their entire collection was there, along with items offered by others. At any other time, I would have gladly wandered around the space, looking at the countless marvels gathered there.

But I was now closely following the Sheriff as he made a b-line through the displays to where Triplane EI-APW sat – squarely in the middle of the vast space, tightly surrounded by other treasures. Patrick Lindsay arrived and said hello to me just as the Sheriff handed him papers giving me immediate possession of the Blue Max Triplane. He ordered – and that’s the word- Ordered Lindsay to remove the aircraft and place it outside the hangar – immediately!!!

Lindsay was flustered, and blustered, saying this was unsportsmanlike. I pointed out the fact that he should have known the aircraft came from my collection and could have called me.

Moving my Triplane out of the hangar presented a major logistics problem. The Sheriff finally agreed to leave the aircraft in the middle of the auction, provided that one of his deputies remain with it…and the documents were to be taped to the fuselage.

And so it was!

A police investigation would finally reveal the bizarre case that saw the Director of the Aeroflex Foundation underwrite the theft and removal of the aircraft from Ireland. The Triplane was hauled away, on the trailer spotted by the milkman, and stored in another American’s warehouse for almost a year. It was then shipped to the States where it became a part of the Aeroflex collection.  The guy died, and that was why the aircraft ended up at the auction.

After the auction was completed, I loaded the bits and pieces on a trailer and hauled it back to Chino, California, where I placed the load behind Bruce Goessling’s hanger. I had known Bruce since the mid-sixties, when he stored my Corsair at the Monterey airport. He had moved to Chino where he became the foremost rebuilder of classic fighter aircraft.

There it sat, waiting for the time when I could focus upon its rebuild. I had offered it to the Stan Reynold’s Museum in Alberta but had not received an answer.

In 1991 I was asked to assist the Haitian government as it was faced with an international embargo. This absorbed my time from August, 1991 through October of 1994.  During this period Bruce Goessling’s smoking had finally caught up with him and lung-cancer took another friend.

At some point the Blue Max Triplane began another voyage into the unknown. I returned to Los Angeles and discovered it has disappeared – again!!

I left California and based myself in Florida, as the closest access to Haiti.  My life now revolved around Haiti, and it’s troubles. Once again, the Blue Max Triplane became another one of those foggy memories buried in the recesses of my mind. From time-to-time we would type Bitz Fokker Dr.1 Triplane EI-APW  into the Google Search Engine, with no tangible results, other than to tell me what I already knew.

Then POW!!! It popped up on the Aerodrome forum, used by enthusiasts of WWI Aviation, but also for aircraft builders and restorers. Here is the link to the original posting, and the quote below~

http://www.theaerodrome.com/forum/replica-aircraft/39700-stolen-bitz-triplane-ei-apw.html

“The story as I’ve been able to gather is that the plane was brought out from the LA area to a fellow in the Inland Empire area to have some work done. The fellow who did the work was then unable to contact the owner. After storing the plane for several years he moved and took the plane with him. After several more years and still unable to contact the owner, he was going to move again but didn’t want to move the plane again. That’s when he dropped it off at Flabob.

As you can see, it’s a bit of a mystery plane. Maybe something from the movie industry?

Are there any missing Triplanes out there??

Mark Lightsey

END QUOTE

~Found at last!

We replied that there was a missing Triplane. The process began that saw our aircraft returned, and more friends created.

It seems as though someone took the Blue Max Triplane from Goessling’s place, when I was in Haiti, and somehow became involved with a concept to rebuild it. The facts are very vague, but the Dr.1 was abandoned in some guy’s hangar, and he dragged it around with him after his business collapsed, hoping the owner would reappear. In the process of a home sale, the aircraft was discovered and the folks at FLABOB airfield were invited to come collect the remnants. Flabob is well known as the center of light aviation where many great concepts have been born. The Flabob people gave the aircraft shelter and there it remained, gathering dust among other mementos from the past; An old motorcycle, an antique gasoline pump from an earlier time before digital electronics, a wire-spoked wheel from an unknown machine.

Mark Lightsey was the magical connection between the past and present.  He had just completed an exquisite Caudron racer and was looking for a new challenge. And Flabob had preserved his next possible challenge. Without Flabob, the Blue Max Triplane would have probably been trashed – totally.

We should take a brief look at how FLABOB has survived as the focus of aviation.

In 1999, Tom Wathen retired as chairman of Pinkerton’s, the international security and detective firm, and set out to fulfill his longtime plan to devote his time and his resources to charitable activities. With the help and advice of friends, he determined that his Wathen Foundation would be dedicated to aviation education and preservation. It quickly became apparent that the Foundation needed a facility for its work, in effect a “campus” where teachers, volunteers, young people and others could get together. Knowing that Flabob Airport had long been for sale, Wathen thought it might be a good site for the Foundation’s work. When the Wathen Foundation inquired early in 2000 if Flabob was still for sale, it was told that it were too late, as an offer to purchase the land for non-aviation development was far advanced. Fortunately, when the family owners realized that the Wathen Foundation was serious in its interest in purchasing and preserving Flabob, they gave their enthusiastic support and cooperation to the effort. On May 31, 2000, the Wathen Foundation completed its purchase of Flabob Airport. Under the ownership of the Wathen Foundation.

Now John D. Lyon, Flabob’s executive director would speed the process along. Documents were passed back and forth. Soon my son Patrick was on his way to California with a vehicle/trailer combination for the final step in Fokker Dr.1 EI-APW’s recovery, from its second disappearance.

The Blue Max Triplane is now registered as N-403BM the 403 standing for 403 City of Calgary Squadron, RCAF, and the BM for Blue Max Aviation.

I can remember the rule of thumb we used in our film projects, when trying to explain the challenge of building an aircraft from scratch. We would say that 1900 hours were required, therefore, the aircraft could be ready by next weekend, or even the month’s end.  That is with the benefit of deep pockets, open budgets, and few distractions. Patrick is starting ahead of zero, but much is left to be done along the way before the 1964/65 Bitz Triplane takes to the air again. Other aircraft are being tracked down, simultaneously, and some are being re-acquired. All of the original parts for the Blue Max Triplane have been located, with the original rudder being located in a collection in Texas, and the original twin Spandau movie guns that have been located in a collection in the Pacific Northwest.

In the search for the remaining birds from the Former Blue Max Collection, we have located a pair of the 7/8th scale R.A.F. Se5a replicas from the filming of Darling Lily, Zeppelin, and Von Richtofen and Brown, amongst many others. Now, the Blue Max Triplane has at least one old friend coming to live by it’s side in the hanger here at home, where they belong for the next few generations, and all of the airshow attending public to enjoy.  If you wish to discuss these exceptionally influential aircraft, or have aspirations to participate in the restoration, please do contact us at bitztriplane@gmail.com, and also, we invite you to visit us at our home on the web

www.blue-max-triplane.org

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Above: An additional view of the Triplane, photographed on December 18, 2010. The team has a complete set of drawings for the aircraft and has been offered manufacturer’s notes and manuals for the engine. They will be posting updates as restoration proceeds and will also be offering photographs, t-shirts, posters, as well as pieces of the fabric and wood rib sections, with all proceeds benefiting the project.

Below: The search for aircraft from the Blue Max Collection also resulted in the recent acquisition of this 7/8 scale S.E.5a.


Currently, the aircraft has new Stits covering on the fuselage and tail feathers and is waiting for wood inspection before the wings are covered. It is powered by a Lycoming 0-235 4 cylinder engine and was said to be quite a pleasant bird to fly. Restoration of the S.E.5a will be relatively simple, and it is expected to be airworthy before the Triplane is completed. A group of Mini S.E.5a machines were built for the filming of “Darling Lili”. Two were sent to Turkey where they were flown by Derek Piggot and Charles Boddington in “You Can’t Win ‘Em All”, but also were used in“Richthofen & Brown”, “Zeppelin”, “I Shot Down the Red Baron, I Think…”

Comments

  1. I am very intrested to hear that you are in the prosess of restoreing the Fokker Triplane that was in the film The Blue Max, on your t-shirt you show the aircraft about to fly under the Railway Viaduct in Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland. I am sure if you post this on my facebook page (Fermoy – a pictorial history) and contact local newspapers would contribute more sale’s towards your project.

  2. admin says:

    Sean- Thank you very much for that piece of information. We are currently out on the road, but will do this once we have settled back in at home base in late November.

  3. Dave Hoffman says:

    Were can I find minature replica’s of these majestic aircraft?

  4. Willie ryan says:

    Hi to all concerned, so glad to see this piece of aviation history being restored, this aircraft set me on the road to loving all things aviation, as a young boy i got to sit in its cockpit at powerscourt, could hardly see over the cockpit coaming, this brings back great memories, pity my parents had no camera, wishing you all the best of irish luck,Willie

  5. admin says:

    Great to hear from you Willie Ryan- We share the same memories of this old bird. Lovely to have that image in my mind of another young lad being able to sit in the same seat, around the same time. Being a child, and experiencing these machines, is the stuff of dreams…but ours were real. Hats off.

  6. Out of curiousity I was on Ebay looking for a suitable replacement for my Blue Max pendent.
    I came upon a listing that led me to this site about the restoration of this wonderful aircraft and the history since the filming of the Blue Max..
    I liked that movie a lot and thought George Peppard played Richtofen really well.
    I also saw Robert Redford in “The Great Waldo Pepper”, which also featured a Dr 1 triplane which appeared in the film about making a film of Richtofen and Brown’s encounter.
    A recent release of another movie “The Red Baron” is another good movie featuring this aircraft and the “Flyboys” is another WWI era story of an American group flying for France.
    This was a wonderful story to read and glad to hear that this aircraft is being restored.
    Number one on my bucket list is building a WWI aircraft replica and flying it. I’ve logged thousands of hours flying under combat conditions in various video games and flight simulators. Must admit I do rather well. I am much fonder of the WWI aircraft than the fighters of WWII wbich are not generally as nimble in their characteristics.
    Wish you all the success in the world in your endeavor. If by chance you make it to one of our nearby fly-ins or airshows in Snohomish County please let me know and perhaps we could do lunch or dinner. Blessings, Roger

  7. admin says:

    Thank you Roger- That would be a lovely thing to visit airshows in Snohomish County . We are working away at arranging a new shop space with 10,000 square feet dedicated to restoration. That has us a bit pre-occupied, but when we are all moved in, we will have live feeds from the shop.

    As a side note, the Dr1 in The Great Waldo Pepper was actually a different bird, powered by a Warner Scarab. The two aircraft from our collection that were in that film were a pair of the Slingsby built Se5a that made a cameo appearance in the hangers during the last scenes when both pilots are on the ground, agreeing to drop their parachutes on the ground pre-flight.
    The Dr1 was in Blue Max, Darling Lilly, Von Richtofen and Brown, and I Shot Down The Red Baron, I Think- never completed.
    All the best-

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