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Machine Gun Replicas Made by
From a report relating to a Sopwith Engineering Know-how Symposium held in the UK in September 1982
"On the table there was the unbelievable sight of a Vickers and a
Lewis machine gun. A close examination was necessary to make
sure they were harmless and replicas made by John McKenzie.
John has been interested in First World War aeroplanes for as
long as he can remember and after a lot of research started to build
as a hobby project a Fokker Dr1 Triplane. Further research made
him realise that the accuracy of the detail was going to fall short of
what he wanted and also, that he did not have the facilities to finish
the job. Leisure Sport bought the project and Viv Bellamy
completed it. John says that during the negotiations for the sale,
probably because he wanted to keep in touch with what was going
on, he somehow found he had offered to make the machine guns.
At this time he made up his mind to build an adequately-sized
workshop in the back garden. By the time the workshop was
completed the Dr1 was flying and Leisure Sport wanted several
more guns for the aircraft they were planning to have built. He
decided to get into this branch of WW1 aviation and contracted to
build several batches of replica guns.
John's guns are so near to the real thing that unless they are
stripped down it is pretty well impossible to know whether they are
the real thing or replicas. People at the Symposium had thought
them to be real. Examples can be seen at the RAF Museum and
Jack Bruce said it had not been necessary to make any alteration
to them. John will tackle any part or fitting which is apparently
unavailable and requires specialist skills.
The guns are machined out of steel and only employ other
material where it was used in the originals. The action of the guns is
exactly as the real thing as we were able to see and try for
ourselves. The finish can be the original gun black which has to be
kept lightly oiled to preserve it, or there is a slightly more modern
finish with greater durability. All the mechanisms operate and are
adjustable in an authentic manner.
At this point someone asked how much one of the guns would
cost. There is a lot of work involved and John says he can produce
a Vickers for a little over £1,600 (1982 values).
The drawings for the Lewis gun are based on the original
manufacturer's drawings, suitably modified so that they cannot be
made to fire. It is illegal to own any part of a fully automatic
weapon. If a real one was available it would have to be removed
from the aeroplane after every flight and locked away. Museums
can obtain special exemption but their guns have to be drastically
de-activated. Such an exemption is not allowed for a private
The Vickers drawings were made by measuring actual
examples. Something in the region of 150 drawings had to be
made to enable it to be manufactured. The details covered the
smallest special screws and bolts to the largest parts. A variety of
press tools had to be made to produce parts such as the Lewis
drum and the Vickers fluted barrel jacket. Most parts were
machined from a billet of steel or castings of special materials.
John demonstrates his wide range of skills by the fact that he
makes all the patterns for the complex parts such as the feed block
on the Vickers which is a bronze casting. There is a possibility that
John will be making two guns for the RAF Museum's Dolphin and
in reply to a question by Jack Bruce, John said that the feed could
be made either right hand or left hand. This would require some
alteration and the changing of components. The cocking handle
design would be made to suit the particular aircraft. The Vickers
gun which was on show is for the Pup, 1
1/2 Strutter and Triplane,
which all used the Sopwith Kauper interrupter gear. The Camel,
Snipe and Dolphin used a different gear and a different cocking
handle. The handles on the butt plate of the gun were machined
away. They were only retained on the Pup, 11/2 Strutter and
Triplane for the padded screen to be fitted. The screen is an
aluminium casting which is machined all over. The padding is
leather or Rexine.
In reply to another question, John stated that the weight of the
Vickers gun replica was about 30 Ibs (approx. 14kgs) depending
on the model which is a little less than the weight of the real gun. A
replica could be made a little lighter if all the inter nal parts were not
required. Apart from the gun being lighter than the original, there is
a further weight saving of 70 Ibs (approx. 33kgs) in the case of the
Pup and more in the case of the Triplane, due to there being no
The barrels are externally tapered and with the exception of a
few inches at the muzzle end are bored 5/8in. in diameter. The few
inches at the muzzle and muzzle attachments are bored 0.303in.
which makes it look right and enables a bullet to be poked in by
any one wishing to test the size.
John makes, in addition to most types of WW1 guns, other
special parts such as special castings, metal fittings and in general
the sort of parts one could not have made or obtained elsewhere
and which will satisfy the most ardent purist."
John McKenzie’s work in creating the BE2b and FE2b exhibits at RAF
Museum Hendon were discussed in the previous issue of Aerogram
and John may be contacted on 0011 442 38077 2122. Ed.
Aerogram December 2008
All the component parts
of an LMG 08/15 aircraft
gun, machined from new
completely faithful to
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