Photo by Brett Brock
David Greig with the Comper Swift at EAA AirVenture 2009.
The Klemm L25 D2
August 1, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin
- Australia, as one would expect from any sovereign state, has a deep
interest in preserving its heritage.
“You have to apply to the minister of arts
to take anything that is historically significant to Australia out of the
country,” said Roy Fox of Sydney. “Both this and the other plane are
on the historical register, so I had to sign papers that I would bring
Fox is referring to the nearly original 1932
Klemm L25 D II and the equally original 1932 Comper Swift he brought here
to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2009.
Both airplanes traveled here inside a
container, on a trek sponsored in part by the BBC and Fly for Life.
Initially, plans included only the Klemm, but available room in the
container allowed the Comper to also make the trip.
The Klemm is believed to be the oldest
continuously flying humanitarian-mission aircraft in the world.
It was originally ordered from its German
manufacturer as one of a pair of L25s, one named St. Peter, and this one
named St. Paul. They were to support Catholic missionary transportation
needs in Papua, New Guinea.
Having found evidence of patched bullet holes,
Fox referred to the craft as a “plain clothes” warbird.
While it never fired a shot, it played a large
part in evacuating children as the World War II Japanese invasion spread
across Papua, New Guinea.
“They packed kids into the front cockpit and
into the baggage compartment,” Fox said.
Ultimately the Klemm, along with an
extraordinary effort by the Qantas air service, evacuated 210 missionaries
The Klemm has flown continuously since its
construction in 1932.
While it has passed through a number of
different hands, it maintained an active status, a fact that along with
the dry Australian climate, likely contributed to the craft’s longevity.
Other than a conversion to a more modern
Continental engine, the airframe is substantially complete and original.
Fox did update the paint, though.
“When we got it, it had been painted with
house paint and a brush,” he said. “You could see all of the brush
strokes, so we rubbed it down and painted it properly.”
Fox’s other Australian heritage artifact
here is the 1932 Comper Swift.
According to Dave Greig, a volunteer restorer
and pilot who accompanied Fox to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the Comper is the
only remaining example of three built with Gypsy III, 160-hp, inline,
“This was built as a racer for the 1932 King’s
Cup,” Greig said. The King’s Cup was a pre-war British air race.
“Only three were built with the Gypsy, and
this is the only one left,” he said.
Nick Comper, an English World War I fighter
pilot, was looking for a light, sporty, affordable plane. At the time most
of the available aircraft were ex-military and could be a handful to fly.
According to Greig, “His goal was to make a
plane that could be stored in the garage. So the wings on the Swift fold
In another nod to the sport mission of the
single-seater, the baggage compartment door was sized exactly to fit a
popular overnight case used in Britain at the time.
Comper built about 60 radial engine-powered
versions of the Swift. The Fox collection has one of those as well, though
it currently is under restoration. Fox hopes to fly the two examples
together in the not-too-distant future.
Like the Klemm, the Comper is close to
Other than the addition of brakes, conversion
of the tailskid to a tailwheel, and a widening of the landing gear, the
404-hour airframe is as it was when it left its British factory. The
engine is the original.
“We had to make some wing rib repairs,”
Greig said. “But we are lucky that it has been kept in very dry
The idea of bringing the planes came to Fox
during a visit to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh last year.
“We were chatting, and they mentioned that
this year there would be a commemoration of missionary and humanitarian
aviation,” Fox said. “And I said that we have the oldest missionary
aircraft in the world over in Australia, at least we think so.
“It’s even been on a postage stamp.”
One thing led to another, and along with some
generous support, Fox and the planes are here.
Although he has received a tremendous number
of requests for the planes to visit other air shows while they are in the
United States, Fox said schedules and other commitments will not allow for
that. As was his promise, both aircraft will begin the return trip to
Australia next week.
Until then both planes can be seen in the