Fort Mill Times

Sopwith Camel built by Fort Mill students heading to Charlotte museum

A full-scale replica Sopwith Camel bi-plane was wheeled in for display at Fort Mill High School this week.

But it’s not staying. It’s heading for a Charlotte museum to show off Fort Mill’s past and future.

Two years ago, Fort Mill residents David Griffin and Ell Close flew the idea of recreating the iconic plane steered by Col. Elliott Springs as a British Royal Flying Corps fighter pilot in World War I. The late Col. Springs was Close’s grandfather. The Close family funded the project through an earmarked gift to Foundation for Fort Mill Schools. Griffin and students would build it.

“This project allowed kids to get a real opportunity to do things they learn in all those classrooms,” said Dee Christopher, principal at Fort Mill High.

More than 80 students Fort Mill High’s engineering and Nation Ford High School’s auto tech programs participated. Students used school facilities for design, construction and computer-aided manufacturing techniques.

Initially, Griffin, a licensed pilot, planned to fly the plane. Instead it will travel, by ground, this month for display at Carolinas Aviation Museum. Superintendent of Schools Chuck Epps commended Griffin’s and students’ work Thursday.

“What a learning experience for our kids,” he said. “Looking at this, I’m amazed any of those guys came back down when they went up.”

A retired aeronautical engineer, Griffin wanted to expose students to opportunities their state offers. South Carolina has Boeing in Charleston, and jobs in maintenance, air traffic control, administration and aviation support systems.

“Working with Mr. Griffin has given me a better look and understanding of aeronautical engineering, which is a field I am seriously considering pursuing in college,” said Fort Mill junior Preston Reddeck.

Griffin hopes the recent partnership won’t be the last. Fort Mill resident Cyrus Sumner built the engine, but Griffin decided he’d use it for a similar project later if he can “finagle the space.” Griffin told guests Thursday it’s too easy hearing unflattering stories of young people, but he believes the most are more like the ones he built a plane alongside.

“This allowed me to have confidence in those generations reinvigorated,” Griffin said. “I don’t worry for the future of America.”

Lessons relied heavily on science and math, but the history aspect wasn’t lost. The 2012 book “Letters from a war bird: The World War I correspondence of Elliott White Springs” details the experiences of a top flying ace who went on to prolific writing and textile operating careers.

“We know what his legacy is in our town,” Christopher said.

Ell Close appreciates how his friend and local students brought a family story to life through the bi-plane. Close also appreciates the opportunity students received toward writing their own stories.

“Dave’s passion for aviation has clearly inspired many students to seriously consider a field in aeronautical engineering,” Close said.