A GROUP of aviation enthusiasts who have spent 20 years building a working replica of a First World War plane are fundraising to keep it in East Lothian.

Volunteers for the Aviation Preservation Society Scotland (APSS) were commissioned by the National Museum of Flight, at East Fortune, to build a working replica of a Sopwith Strutter.

The plane was one of those that helped defend East Lothian during the war.

APSS is a group of mostly older volunteers that helped the museum for over 40 years by carrying out tasks including repair, cleaning and maintenance work to the aircraft on display.

At the start of the Strutter project 20 years ago, the museum gave APSS £5,000 to complete the build.

The 100-strong volunteer group, some of whom have not lived to see the project completed, built the plane from scratch.

They used a variety of materials including pieces of scrap metal and scrap wood.

Two years ago the group were told they could no longer stay at the Museum of Flight and the plane could not be housed in the museum.

This is because APSS asked for a bigger space to complete their strutter build and the museum said no.

APSS then moved to a temporary workshop space about two miles to the north.

Mr Guy described their temporary hangar, owned by a local farmer, as an “old shed”, and said it was full of holes, had a leaky roof and was covered in mouse droppings.

It costs APSS £8,000 a year in rent, something the group cannot afford.

About £250,000 needs to be raised to either buy the temporary hangar and develop it or build a new hangar with strip of land for flying – if this amount is not reached, the group says it will have to either sell the Strutter or move it out of Scotland to a new location in England.

John Guy, a previous chairman of APSS and a current volunteer, said the Museum of Flight told them it does not have room for the Strutter, something he says is not true.

Management at the museum when APSS first started the Strutter project were very accommodating, he acknowledged.

However, they felt that in recent years bosses at the National Museums Scotland did not have the same level of interest.

Mr Guy claimed: “The museum has not been accommodating, they did everything they could to stop us assisting them. I am horrified at the way we have been treated.

“Near the start of the project, we exhibited what we had built so far in front of Concorde and the public loved it, we had some fantastic comments. People were more interested in us than in Concorde.

“Yet the museum don’t want us – we have never been able to understand it.

“We have tried to make it as easy as possible for them, we have so much to offer.

“It’s given a lot of pleasure not only to the public but to the members of APSS, it has given them some sort of direction during their retirement, they have a lot of experience and skills to offer.

“Every obstacle you can imagine has been put in our way.”

Fellow volunteer and fundraiser Gerard Lohan, who has been making a documentary on the whole process for the past seven years, also believed that that the Museum of Flight had not treated the group well recently but had helped out a lot in the past.

He said: “They sort of have been helpful, they gave us a shed and all the heating free for the past 20 years.

“It gave us enough space during the critical moment of assembling the airplane but there is no space now and when we said we wanted to move to a bigger space they said no.

“We did not suit their plans for the future.”

He added: “This is really skilled work and it would be great to pass on our skills to the next generation.”

Mr Guy hoped any potential new hangar would still be local but said people who want to see planes will go to the Museum of Flight, so he hoped the Strutter could stay there.

A spokeswoman from National Museums Scotland said: “National Museums Scotland has been hugely supportive of the APSS throughout their 15-year, rent-free tenure at the National Museum of Flight.

“As their project neared its conclusion, the APSS had to find a new site as we did not have the space and facilities to house an operational aircraft.

“In addition, the museum does not have a runway and the APSS wish to fly their aircraft.”

Donations can be made here.