First-ever display of the famous World War I flying ace's fighter
Snoopy's Sopwith Camel
SEATTLE, April. 1, 2016--Today the Museum opens a major new exhibition of the Sopwith Camel airplane flown by World War I flying ace, Snoopy. The famous aircraft has never been seen in public, and until recently, historians have believed it among the thousands of fighter aircraft lost forever in combat over France nearly one hundred years ago. It is now part of the Museum's permanent collection. "The Museum of Flight has a new crown jewel," proclaimed the Museum's Senior Curator, Dan Hagedorn. "This aircraft is undoubtedly the most important artifact of the world's first air war, not to mention one of the greatest finds of the century."
Snoopy's Camel now takes its place in the World War I gallery in the Museum's Personal Courage Wing, below a Fokker Triplane representing the fighter flown by Snoopy's arch rival, The Red Baron of Germany. A special scavenger hunt accompanies the exhibit, with instructions available at Museum admissions.
The True Story of Snoopy's Sopwith Camel and How it Came to The Museum of Flight
Snoopy's exploits as a fighter pilot flying Sopwith Camels during the First World War are legendary. It is believed that the term describing aerial combat-dog fight-was coined by his comrades to describe his tenacity as a soldier of the air. And the gregarious pilot's stories of the war have inspired generations around the world and even to the Moon-in 1969 the Apollo 10 astronauts gave the name Snoopy to their Lunar Module.
Snoopy began flying the Camels shortly after they were introduced to the front lines in June 1917. He often joked that he probably crashed more of them than anybody else, but he always returned for another fight, often against the greatest ace of the war, Germany's Manfred von Richthofen, known as The Red Baron. Despite decades of searching by aviation archeologists, none of the Camels flown in combat by Snoopy were believed to exist-until last year. "It was like finding the Holy Grail," stated Museum of Flight Curator, Dan Hagedorn.
Hagedorn recalled that during his 20-year tenure at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, securing the Camel was high on the institution's wish list. "We had Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" and the Command Module from the first flight to the Moon, but we didn't have Snoopy's Camel." Hagedorn began his own investigations that resulted in decades of correspondence with Snoopy, but to no avail. "He was very cooperative, and his memory was always as sharp as a tack. Our searches were as thorough as humanly possible, but ultimately in-vain. Then last year he called me and said, 'Dan, I hope you have a cold root beer handy. The Camel exists. I just returned from France, and saw it. And I want you to bring it to The Museum of Flight.'"
In September 2015 Hagedorn led a team of investigators to a farm north of Pont-a-Mousson, France. The estate has been owned by the same family since the time of Napoleon II, and the current generation asked to remain anonymous for what they had to show Hagedorn's team. Inside of a stone barn that miraculously survived being near the front of two world wars, was a World War I Sopwith Camel. "I was thunderstruck," recalled Hagedorn. "The family then told us the story, and knowing Snoopy, it all made sense."
On the morning of April 12, 1918, Snoopy became ensnarled in another fierce dogfight with The Red Baron over the Western Front. His Camel was riddled with bullets, and only after his engine was hit did he break away and nurse his crippled plane toward his base at Pont-à-Mousson. Soon the engine quit but he managed to crash land in a fair fallow field in France. Suffering head and paw wounds, the aviator was rescued by a beautiful mademoiselle who pulled him from the plane and carried him to her family's farm house. She and the family nursed him for a week. Snoopy dodged The Red Baron's bullets but not Cupid's arrows, for the combat-harded Snoopy and the lass fell in love. He was then found by a military search party charged to take him back to his comrades in arms. Leaving, he promised to return for her when the war was over.
Snoopy kept his word, but it was too late. Only hours before he arrived at the French family's farm, the mademoiselle succumbed to influenza. He bravely consoled the family through the funeral before the tragedy overwhelmed him, and he bid a final adieu. Not wanting to add to his grief, the family did not present him the wedding gift their daughter had prepared for him-his beloved Camel, that she had dragged from the field and lovingly patched together in their ancient barn. There the family preserved it ever since, as a memorial to the young lovers.
Last year, on the anniversary of the mademoiselle's death, her descendants decided it was finally time to share their secret with Snoopy.
Hagedorn and his team verified the authenticity of the Camel. DNA testing of the Beagle hairs found in the plane were a perfect match with Snoopy's. "The plane was indeed riddled with bullet holes. It was a miracle the pilot was not hit," Hagedorn added, "and our forensic investigation concluded that they could only have come from aerial combat. The bullets were fired from the special Spandau machine guns found only on the plane of non-other than Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen-The Red Baron."
With Snoopy's consent, the French family presented the Camel to Hagedorn's team. Official permission to export the airplane was also secured from the Royal Air Force, the U.S. Air Force and the Luftwaffe. The plane has been under secret conservation at The Museum of Flight for the for five months. Snoopy attended a small, private ceremony at the Museum yesterday to dedicate the installation of the Camel exhibit in the Personal Courage Wing. As everyone raised their mugs of root beer, Snoopy offered this toast, "your display of my trusty Sopwith Camel is for all who fought and perished in the Great War, but most of all, it is l'amour, toujours l'amour!"
Image: Snoopy's Sopwith Camel on exhibit in the World War I gallery at The Museum of Flight. Ted Huetter/The Museum of Flight, Seattle.
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Founded in 1965, the independent, non-profit Museum of Flight is one of the largest air and space museums in the world, serving more than 560,000 visitors annually. The Museum's collection includes more than 160 historically significant airplanes and spacecraft, from the first fighter plane (1914) to today's 787 Dreamliner. Attractions also include the original Boeing Company factory, and the world's only full-scale NASA Space Shuttle Trainer. The Museum's aviation and space library and archives are the largest on the West Coast. More than 150,000 individuals are served annually by the Museum's on-site and outreach educational programs. The Museum of Flight is accredited by the American Association of Museums, and is an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.
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