A living piece of World War I history is soon to be gracing the skies above Hood Aerodrome.

The Vintage Aviator in Masterton recently acquired what is believed to be the world's only original Sopwith Camel which can still be flown.

The World War I single-seat biplane fighter was obtained from an American museum and has spent the past year being restored and repaired.

The 1917 plane has been on display for several weeks and it is hoped it will soon be given certification to fly during The Vintage Aviator Flying Weekends.


Senior tour guide Scott Thomson said the plane was one of only seven original Camels left in the world, and the only one still flying.

While its identification label is missing, it is speculated that the plane may have once belonged to the man who managed the plane collection of American business tycoon Howard Hughes for the 1930 war film Hell's Angels.

Since acquiring the plane, The Vintage Aviator team has made it safe to fly and repainted it in the colours of the Royal Naval Air Service Squadron number 10.

A plane with a "rotten temper and poor personal hygiene", Mr Thomson said the Sopwith Camel was notoriously difficult to fly, with as many as one in five experienced pilots dying while mastering its quirks. More manoeuvrable than its predecessors, the Camel could execute a 270-degree turn to the right in the same time the German Albatros took to make a 90-degree turn.

"Once we'd mastered it, it was probably the most successful fighter of the war with over 1300 kills."

Along with the SE5a, the Camel helped give the British the edge in aerial battle, Mr Thomson said. "These put the British on top and although the Germans came back with a very good Fokker DVII design, it was too little, too late."

The hangar is open to the public each weekend with Flying Weekends held on the last weekends of February and April.