Evan French

In a dusty workshop, a small group of skilled labourers re-assemble an airplane. When they are finished, a full-scale working replica of an SE5a - the British biplane made famous during the First World War – stands before them.

“Our wings are built the way the originals were – it’s very labour intensive,” says Keith Robb, builder and pilot at Brampton Airport’s Great War Flying Museum.

Many of their planes have been used in Hollywood movies, most recently Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.

Robb says his airplanes attract attention from film companies primarily because the machines he creates are equipped with new engines.

“These engines are much more reliable than the originals which were prone to mechanical failure,” says Robb. “It’s one of the reasons flying an airplane over the western front was often more dangerous than being down in the trenches.”

Movie producers who want realistic First World War planes would have a hard time convincing vintage aircraft owners to surrender their antique machines.

Robb says his crew is often approached by film companies while touring the airshow circuit.  

He says that the only thing he wouldn’t do for a movie is “fly upside down for half-an-hour straight.”  

The advantages of using real aircrafts in film are all too evident to airplane enthusiasts, because computerized graphics don’t create the same effect on screen. Although he’s not one to argue with movie directors, Robb says he prefers any kind of real aircraft in a film. 

When they aren’t starring in blockbuster films, the museum’s aircrafts are used in television roles. Most recently, they starred in the CBC series, The Great War.

Robb says he feels the demand for functioning replicas will only grow over the coming decade.

“Over the next several years, as we get further away from 1945, we’re continuing to see more and more documentaries being made, so I think this industry, if anything, will still be growing in 2014.”