Marlborough man builds '100-year-old brand new' WWI airplane engines to order video

SCOTT HAMMOND/Stuff.co.nz

Tony Wytenburg fires up the replica 1915 Gnome rotary aircraft engine he built at his engineering workshop in Blenheim.

Tony Wytenburg was always the kid who pulled things apart growing up.

In his early days, he couldn't always put them back together again, but he's a bit more careful now.

Tony, a self-confessed petrolhead, has been interested in motors since the age of 10 or 11.

Classic Aero Machining Service chief engineer Tony Wytenburg, left, and engineers Nick Foster and Neil Patterson with ...
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

Classic Aero Machining Service chief engineer Tony Wytenburg, left, and engineers Nick Foster and Neil Patterson with the replica rotary engine they built.

"It's the sheer joy you get when you put the different parts together and make it work," he says. "I've always been a petrolhead.

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"I remember I asked my grandfather why race cars go faster than other cars, I can't remember his answer but I didn't understand it."

This passion led him to a career in engineering, making parts for planes, including some World War I replica rotary engines.

Tony, who is managing director at Classic Aero Machining Service in Blenheim, enjoys making the rotary engines because their design is so different to modern day, or even other older aircraft, designs.

Their crank shaft is stationary, with the whole engine turning around the crank shaft which generates huge force. 

"It's not the normal way of doing it. The first time I saw one, I looked at it and thought 'that's just so wrong'. Being a petrolhead, I thought 'I could make one of those'."

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To make the rotary engines, Tony first had to get his hands on an original and pull it apart to make a computer model.

Tony has also made the first electronic starter for one of his rotary engines.

It was trial and error getting the electric starter to work because it had never been done before so he had nothing to go on, he says.

Tony is the only person in New Zealand who makes WWI replica engines on a commercial basis.

The first one was a replica 1915 Gnome engine, and he has made two more that will be used in WWI Sopwith Camel aircraft.

Each engine costs about $82,000 to make and uses more than 1500 kilograms of steel.

He uses new technology to make the replicas. 

"They are 100-year-old brand new engines," he says.

Tony hopes the engines will last longer than the originals.

"I like to think they will do 100 hours."

 - The Marlborough Express

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